This is a life skill, kids. Mastering it is not negotiable.

Kate with her kids. Who can all ride bikes.


For someone like me – a child of the seventies whose scarred knees tell the story of poorly judged corners, the idea of an Australian kid not being able to ride a bike was  inconceivable.

Riding a two-wheeler was considered a skill as essential as walking.

Today, it seems riding a bike an optional extra, like tennis or gymnastics.

I heard of a high school in Brisbane that offers bike riding lessons before the year 8 camp. Mountain biking is one of the activities on offer and a fair percentage of  kids CAN’T RIDE A BIKE AT ALL. Their parents didn’t teach them. They never had the chance to teach themselves.

These kids can  probably perform a complete restore on an iPhone without losing a single contact, but they can’t pedal down a driveway.

I get that it might not matter. Plenty of people never learn to ride a bike and their lives remain rich and fulfilled. I understand that parents worry about cars and crazies and bike riding isn’t a priority.

But I think those kids are missing out.

My first bike was a gold dragster with a long, glittery gold seat  and an upturned u-shaped ‘sissy-bar’. I learned to ride it on the rooftop of Indooroopilly Shoppingtown, which closed at noon on a Saturday, leaving the carpark a perfect arena for bike riding. The metal speed-bumps were excellent jumps for more accomplished riders.

I don’t remember my parents teaching me to ride. I don’t remember training wheels. I do remember being left to learn, and feeling so desperate to be like the bigger kids that I ignored the pain of scraped ankles and the embarrassment of a sideways tumble and I worked it out.

Then my bike meant freedom. It was how I got to my friends’ houses and riding around the streets was what we did after school.


I never knew a kid who couldn’t ride. Would I have been unkind to them if I had? I like to think not, but I don’t know.

Bike riding for kids today is a planned ‘activity’.

Bike riding for lots of kids today is a planned ‘activity’ that involves taking bikes to a park, donning helmets, avoiding joggers on designated paths and ringing bells to warn walkers of one’s approach.

It’s a palaver and who can be bothered? I wish I could say I pushed my kids down the street, telling them to be home before the streetlights came on, but no, we schlepped to the park and I held onto their seats until they were confident.

They wear helmets and ring bells. I like my son to call me when he arrives at his mate’s house.

But at least they can ride. There were tears and falls, but I insisted.

My daughter told me, as I pressed a tissue to her bleeding knee, that she was more interested in horse riding than bike riding. I replied that she had more chance of getting a Malvern Star than a pony, so the bike lessons were more practical.

I couldn’t care less if she never rode a bike again, but learning was not negotiable.

When she’s nineteen and her Contiki tour gets to Amsterdam, she’ll be cycling, not smoking dope in a cafe. That’s what I choose to think anyway.

Perhaps I should stop romanticising the past, when all kids slept in single beds, looked up things in encyclopaedias and raced their bikes around the block. None of those things is necessary – there are more comfortable, faster, safer ways to live. But  they aren’t as much fun.

Do you think being able to ride a bike is an essential life skill?

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