Born to Ride


There are three requsite skills every child should learn on their path to young adulthood.  They are, in order of accomplishment and/or importance: climbing, swimming and bike riding.  Kid’s should learn a number of other things like reading, writing, counting, looking both ways before they cross the street, not to get in cars with strangers, tying their shoes and how to blame your brother for the vase you broke practicing your slap shot.  But climbing, swimming and bike riding are vital.

Climbing – as every parent who has put their little lad or lass into a crib and headed downstairs to pour a glass of wine and watch the premire of Game of Thrones Season Five with your spouse only to find your precocious offspring asking what that short man is doing with that naked dragon woman discovers–kids are natural climbers.  This instinct goes way back to our little fuzzy ancestors trying to stay out of the toothy jaws of the dinosaurs.  The trick with climbing is teaching them how to get down.

Swimming – the thing with swimming is it’s fun, it can lead to grand adventures in the water and it keeps your kid from drowning.  Every child should learn how to swim.  There are a great number of approaches to teaching this skill from the old school “Throw ‘em in and let ‘em figure it out!” method to the three times a week with a private coach at the country club.  For our boys it’s been a combination of early lessons at the Old Town Y and lots of supervised free play at the town pool, local lake, distant ocean and right-across-the-street river.

They’ve learned from their friends, their parents, their dogs and the occassional camp counselor. Now both of them can motor about in the water fully confident in their abilities to stay afloat.  Augi, age six, is still going to wear his life vest, though, when we swim out to the rocks in the Stillwater and they’re both putting them on for canoes, kayak and paddleboard time.

Like climbing, swimming requires a certain level of physical ability.  They just aren’t capable of the act until their limbs have matured enough.  Unlike climbing, swimming requires concious trust that they can perform the act.  They must overcome the fear of sinking and that’s a big step.  For some kids, this takes awhile but with encouragement and postive feedback it will be done.  And, it’s a good reminder for them when it comes to facing…the bike.

(It’s also a good idea to get in the water with them from time to time.  Hey, no one cares how you look in a bathing suit these days.  Own it, get in there and have fun.  If you child looks up and sees you sitting on the sidelines playing with your phone they’re going to think that’s more fun than swimming and one day they’ll be strolling along, playing with their phone and fall in the ocean.  And then you’ll both wish you’d spent more time in the pool.)

Bike riding – The key to bike riding is finding the balance and it’s hard to describe to a kid where that balance is.  They also have to overcome the fear of falling and that’s much easier for them to identify as it’s the ground rushing up to their heads.


Augi at his Montessori Bike Rodeo last year.

Augi at his Montessori Bike Rodeo last year.


There are as many ways to teach your kid how to ride a bike as there are bikes in China…well, maybe not that many.  Maybe China, Maine.  A brief survey found the following:

Hell Ride – Drag your kid to the top of a hill, put a helmet on them and maybe some knee pads, plop ‘em on the bike and give a good push.  If the kids survives the descent they’ll probably know how to ride a bike.  This is similar to the “chuck ‘em in and let ‘em swim” method and while it may work from time to time it does show a lack of commiment and basic safety concern.

Organic Interest Experiencing – Under this philosophy a bicycle is presented to a child and it is up to the child to determine it’s level of interest – if any.  When the child choses to ride, the child will ride.  Upside is, again, a lack of necessary effort on the part of the parent.  Downside, this could take a long time.  A really long time.  Maybe by the time they’ve chosen to go to college and stop living in the basement they might decide it’s time to try that old bicycle which is, of course, way to small at this point so why bother.

Peddeless Power – We tried this one.  Give a kid a bike without pedels.  Let ‘em walk it around for awhile, coast down some hills, find their balance and pretty soon they’ll ask for the pedals and off they go.  Except they didn’t.  The whole no pedal thing offered no interest except by some older kids next door who enjoyed careening down our driveway at high speeds to see who could stop closest to the shed without going splat.  The little guy just wanted me to pull him along in the tag-a-long.

Training Wheels – Old School method that produces uneven results as in the kid always seems to be on one wheel or the other and turning is nearly impossible resulting in spills and a distrust of the whole process.  It does help with peddle teqhnique and learning to stop.

The Tag-a-Long (or Daddy’s Resistance Training) – It makes sense doesn’t it?  Attach half a bike to Dad’s bike and pull the kid along to the Farmer’s market, the school, the pool, the playground, wherever.  Get the kid used to speed and a bit of balance but here’s the thing…pulling that tag along is like dragging an unruely mule behind me.  I’m going right and it’s going left and Augi’s laughing his head off as Dad turns purple trying to make it up the hill.  And here’s another thing…Augi is BIG.  He’s taller than most of the 2nd graders and packs nearly 60 lbs of Kindergarten muscle on that frame.  I’m not making it up that hill with him this summer.  Kid’s got to learn to ride.

The Run-Along – A classic method with predictable results.  Eventually, this one works most of the time.  It might take days, it might take weeks, it might take one angry afternoon but it does work.  Dad or Mom run alonside the well helmeted and padded kid holding onto the seat and at that precise moment of balance let go.  Before the kid knows it they’re riding wild and free.  This method is tried and true and shows real parental commitment, effort and investment in the child’s progress and saftey.  It also kills your back and can lead to catastrophic pile-ups when the kid takes an unannounced 90 degree turn wiping out himself, his dad, the dog and the neighbor’s petunias.  There are differing philosophies on whether this method should be done on pavement – smooth surface/hard impact or turf – bumpier, slower/bouncier.  One reader also offered that a broom handle can be used to keep the kid steady.  My question: Where do you put the handle?

Whatever path you choose, by whatever means you get to it, get that kid on a bike – and make sure they wear a helmet.  The rewards are many, the freedom of the open sidewalk is at their command, friend’s houses are sudenly not so far away, your gas bills go down and once they learn, they never forget.

Now if we can just get him to stop!

Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.