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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, March 1, 2016
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Biking 101


I recently unlocked one of my bigger parenting challenges when I finally got my kids off their bicycle training wheels that I had been trying to wean them off for what felt like ages. Riding a bicycle is one life skill that I felt like I needed to teach my tablet, computer and internet dependent kids and I had almost given up on that personal challenge when I finally found a way to get rid of those darn training wheels that they had become dependent on.

Tip for parents: the breakthrough came after I got them a scooter. It turns out being on a scooter taught them more about balance than training wheels did. With the scooter and a little patience, I got my 7 year old and 10 year old out of those horrid training wheels within 2 months. If I could start all over again, I'd skip the bicycles with training wheels and get my kids push-bikes. Those little training bikes that don't have pedals but don't have training wheels either would've taught my kids to balance on 2 wheels more efficiently. I have come to the conclusion that the training wheels that turned the 2-wheel bicycles into 4 wheel contraptions actually stunted their bicycle training when they became overly dependent on the training wheels and started leaning on them instead of trying to balance themselves.

Anyway, now that my kids could bike properly, I had to get my 10 year old a proper bike because he had outgrown the trainer-wheeled-kiddie bike. The miser in me figured that since his growth spurt was coming up so I decided to skip the intermediate-sized bike and go straight for an adult sized mountain bike that we got on sale. As I lowered the seat post and watched him awkwardly bicycle around our lawn, I realized that our space wasn't big enough for him and his much bigger bike but because our family at that point had only one bike, there was no way I was going to allow him to learn to bike on the streets of our barangay.

So what happened was that I rode my son's new bike to accompany his little sister as she biked without training wheels on the streets outside our home while he stayed home and played video games. Since we didn't live in a gated village, I had to teach her the basics of using the road, such as why she should always stay on the right side of the road and how to watch out for other vehicles. I taught her how to approach corners, many times paranoia and panic forcing me to grab her shirt to make sure she was fully stopped before we looked left and looked right multiple times at intersections until I gave her the all clear to cross. I taught her how to position the pedals so wouldn't waste precious time starting her little pink bike when crossing intersections. I warned her to always brake when in doubt and to never go too fast.

After a couple of weeks we found another bike on sale and after making sure that he knew how to work the brakes, it was finally time to accompany Manong in bike rides outside the house. We bicycled slowly because his little sister had already caught the biking bug and wasn't going to be left behind every time we left and that gave me time to teach him the things I taught her. The awkward size of the bike made it a little more difficult for him and he fell a few times, once into a ditch, but he finally got the hang of it and surprised me by asking when we were going to go out again as soon as we made it back home.

Since then the three of us have been going out on a bike ride every chance we get. And because we now have 2 adult sized bikes, my wife and I have started going on bike rides as a form of exercise as well. The thing is our kids now want the bike rides to be a family affair so their parents will have to figure out how to find, borrow or steal another bike to make that request happen.

Those training bike rides with my kids showed me how important and how difficult it is to teach learners how to safely use and share the road on our chaotic streets where traffic rules are mere suggestions and nobody gives way, even for kids on bicycles. Moreover, my attempts at re-using a bicycle on our roads after what feels like decades helped me understand the clamor for bike lanes, a topic I can discuss in more detail in a succeeding article.

Biking is dangerous business these days. Gone are the days when a pre-teen could simply tell his parents that he was going out, and take his bike out gone until it gets dark without anybody getting a panic attack. Because my family does not have the luxury of living in a gated village, I reckon it will take me many hours of biking with my kids and observing how they interact with all kinds of crossings and traffic before I can confidently set them loose in this mad world. I live just a few blocks from where I grew up but I don't remember my parents ever feeling the need to buy their own bikes just to go biking with us as our streets were safer then.

That must be the price of progress. Or maybe bicycles have turned me into a helicopter parent.*

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