Life is Like Riding a Bike
Sparkling lights and the scent of pine sent me scurrying down the stairs. After months of waiting, Christmas morning had finally arrived. The hands on the smiley- face clock in the kitchen were on the twelve and the six, which I knew meant six o’clock. Time to open presents!
My brother had rushed down the stairs ahead of me. He sat crossed-legged on the floor, dressed in his blue flannel pajamas. Our little sister was still asleep. At only two years old, she was too young to understand the excitement and importance of this day.
Our Christmas tree, dressed in silver tinsel with red, blue, and green glass balls hanging from the prickly branches, stood in front of the living room picture window. Underneath the tree, covering the red tree skirt, was a pile of brightly wrapped packages. I bit my lip in anticipation. Which of these presents was mine? And more importantly, which one contained the Baby Alive Doll? I had asked for one the year before, but Mom said that Santa had run out.
“I’m sure you’ll get one next year,” she’d promised.
“Laura, look what Santa brought you!” Mom’s voice snapped me back to the present. I turned quickly to see, not a doll, but a shiny red bicycle.
The word Schwinn was scrawled in white letters across its aluminum frame. A little white basket with pink and red plastic flowers was attached to the handlebars. On the back were two little training wheels. It was a small bike, but to my six-and-a-half-year-old eyes, it was huge.
“What do you think, Kitten?” Daddy asked. He put one large hand on my head and the other on the black pear-shaped bicycle seat. “Are you ready to learn how to ride a two-wheeler?”
My mouth went dry. A two-wheeler? I thought about my tricycle, how much fun, and how easy it was to ride. I could go fast without worrying about falling over, plus the seat was much closer to the ground than the one on the two-wheeler. This new bike would be scary if I had to sit so high up.
But then I remembered how cramped my legs were the last time I’d ridden my tricycle. I remembered how red my checks became when the boy down the street asked why I was riding a “baby’s bike.”
He was right, tricycles were for babies, like my sister. I didn’t sleep in a crib anymore, either.
Life lesson #1: Trying new things can be intimidating, but at some point, even the familiar things become uncomfortable.
I took a step closer and touched the handlebars. They were so shiny I could almost see my face reflected. And red was my very favorite color. I could put my doll in the basket and take her for rides. I could use the basket to carry all kinds of things. And I could ride to school and the dime store. If only the seat weren’t so far from the ground. If only it had three wheels.
“You’ll have to wait for spring, of course,” Mom pointed out.
I nodded, the butterflies in my stomach settling down a bit. I knew that spring wouldn’t come for months and months. I’d be seven by then; older and much braver.
My bike was stored safely in the basement, alongside my brother’s bike and Daddy’s water-skis. I went down to look at it and even sat on the seat. As winter began to wane, my confidence began to grow.
Finally, the snow gave way to grass, and the ice melted from the street. On a sunny spring day, Daddy carried my bike outside. He helped me to climb on, and I rode down the gravel street. It was so easy, and the seat wasn’t as high up as I thought it was. For several weeks, I went everywhere on my bike; to the store, school, and around the neighborhood.
“I can ride a two-wheeler!” I exclaimed proudly to anyone who would listen.
“No, you can’t,” my brother pointed out one day. “You still have training wheels.”
“He’s right,” Daddy said. “You’ve gotten good at pedaling, but you need to learn to ride without the training wheels.”
“Do I have to?” I squeaked. “I’m scared.”
Daddy said, “Yes, you do.”
Mom agreed. “If you’re too scared to ride a bike, someday you’ll be too scared to drive a car,” she said, stroking my hair. “And if you can’t drive a car, you’ll spend your life depending upon other people to take places.”
Life lesson #2: You can’t rely on training wheels forever.
The butterflies returned to my stomach, flapping their tiny wings, as I watched Daddy remove the training wheels that Saturday morning. It felt like an elephant was standing my chest when he told me to get on the bike.
He held on to the back of the seat as I sat down. “Don’t let go,” I pleaded.
“I won’t until you get going,” Daddy promised. “I’m going to push. You pedal.”
We started down the street, Daddy running beside me, going faster and faster. My feet struggled to stay on the pedals.
Suddenly, Daddy let go. I screamed and toppled over.
Life lesson #3: It’s good to have a mentor to guide and hold you up. However, the time will come when you have to ride alone.
“You stopped pedaling,” Daddy exclaimed, bending over me. “Why did you stop pedaling?”
I sniffed and showed him my scraped knees and the tiny pebbles embedded in my palms.
“Oh, you’re not hurt,” he said, pulling me to my feet. Reluctantly, I sat back on the bike. “Now remember, keep pedaling.”
Life lesson #4: It may seem easier to quit, but you’ll never get anywhere. Instead of going forward, you’ll fall and end up with scraped knees.
Over and over, I pedaled until Daddy let go. Each time, he helped my back up, brushed me off, and told me to try again despite my protests.
Down the street, some kids I knew were riding their bikes. Daddy pointed them out. “Look at them. They can do it, so can you.”
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Daddy let me go into the house.
He stood in the bathroom doorway, shaking his head as mom cleaned up my scraps. He crossed his arms. Deep lines crossed his brow, and he frowned.
I sniffed. “Sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry I can’t ride a two-wheeler.”
Mom wiped my tears. “Oh, come on now. You’ll learn. You just have to keep working at it.
Life lesson #5: Skill takes time, practice, patience, and perseverance. No one becomes an expert on their first try.
The following Monday morning, I plodded along the sidewalk toward my school, my legs feeling heavy and tired. Other kids, including my brother, whipped by me on their bikes. If only I could ride alongside them, laughing with my hair flying behind me.
I had already gotten teased for sucking my thumb. Now, I was going to be the first-grader who couldn’t ride a two-wheeler. I clenched my fist. No, I wasn’t going to let them tease me about this, too.
Later, after school, I got my bike from the back porch. If it had a face, I’m sure it would have looked at me with a sad, forlorn expression. I wondered if bikes really did feel sad when they weren’t ridden.
Butterflies fluttered into my stomach as I wheeled my bike to the street. I took a deep breath, swung my leg over, and settled on the seat. I wrapped my hands tightly around the white handlebar grips. Sweat beaded on my forehead.
With one foot on the ground and the other on the raised pedal, I pushed down. The bike lurched forward. I pushed that foot down and up rose the other. I continued down the street like that, slowly pedaling one foot while the other rested safely on the ground.
Life lesson #6: Find balance. If you spend all your time working, you could make a fortune, but you might not have time to enjoy it.
Suddenly without realizing it, I’d begun to pedal with both feet off the ground. I had done it! I laughed out loud and pedaled as fast as I could. From then on, I never went anywhere without my bike.
Life lesson #7: Success will require many small, labored steps.
As every bike rider knows, spills happen. You hit loose gravel or fail to see a curb. A dog or a person runs out in front of you, and you don’t have time to brake. Before you know it, you’re on the ground. I’ve had my share of spills, but I’ve always been able to pick myself back up.
Life lesson #8: Everyone fails sometimes; don’t let it stop you. Pick yourself up, bandage your scraped knees, and keep going.
I was 21 when I first obtained my driver’s license. Until then, I rode my bike everywhere: the McDonalds where I worked, the store, library, appointments, and social gatherings. One of my co-workers chided me about plodding along on a bike. “Gonna leave you in the dust!” he’d say as he sped off in his car.
Meanwhile, I’ve ridden down winding paths through forests of pine trees and along the Great Lakes’ shores. I’ve seen some marvelous works of nature, up close. Cars may be faster, but a view from behind a window isn’t the same.
Life lesson #9: As you venture down the path of life, remember to enjoy the ride.
Since then, I’ve owned many bikes, and I’ve ridden hundreds of miles since that first unaided journey down my street. I’ve learned that bike paths aren’t always straight, smooth, or flat. The same can be said for the metaphorical paths we take in life.
We all face challenges, rough patches to endure, and hills to climb: divorce, illness, death, job loss, car accidents, bad weather, and plain bad days. But sometimes, we must experience those events to enjoy good times. Darkness must come before dawn. Rain comes before a rainbow. Labor pains come before the birth of a child.
I’ve struggled up many hills to feel the wind on my face as I rode down the other side.
Life lesson #10: Keep pedaling!