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How a 2nd grader gave me the courage to ride a bike

This is my daughter.

She is 7 1/2 and has just overcome her fear of riding a bike downhill. This is an important development because we live in a very hilly area of Portland. You can't not ride down (or up) a hill on a bike ride around here. Two years ago when she still had her starter bike with the pedal brakes, I cajoled her into going down the steep hill at the end of our street, which is the gateway to our neighborhood commercial center and schools. Mid-way down the hill she got scared and wanted to stop. Unfortunately I didn't realize that it's really hard for a kid to both engage the pedal brake and put a foot down when they've stopped on a hill, so she ended up in a bruised heap on the side of the road. She hadn't wanted to try again until three weeks ago.

Age, experience and a big girl bike with hand brakes and gears combined with a desire to ride to the school playground gave her the confidence to try the hill again. Slowly she started down, riding the brakes, then faster and then we were at the bottom and she was smiling and squealing, and I was bleary with tears of pride. From that day on she's asked at least twice a day if we can go for a bike ride and explore more areas around our neighborhood. The hills? They are just part of the ride now. That's an attitude breakthrough for both her and me.

Because when she rides, I ride. I bought a new bike a little over a year ago and up until now could count the number of times I'd ridden it, mostly on the Waterfront/Esplanade along the Willamette River. Never for errands or by myself, which is what I'd always envisioned doing. Riding the bike has always been a planned event; I've never gotten comfortable enough to just ride it as an alternative mode of transportation. And the hills gave me plenty of excuses. But now I've ridden it more in the last three weeks than in the last year, and I've gained more confidence right along with my daughter. Yes the hills can be tough sometimes, but so what? God knows I can use the exercise. Plus I've got my son behind me on the tag-along, and now that he's almost five he's become a champion peddler. We almost go too fast sometimes.


As we ride, I coach her on safety. We try to stick to neighborhood streets, but there are a couple of areas where we have to ride a short distance on main thoroughfares. So far so good. She's learning hand signals and how to use her gears. I'm learning safer routes and the locations of bike racks. We're both learning to keep our mouths closed in certain buggy areas.

I'm excited about the possibilities. We can ride to school now. Both the kids will finally be at the same school, so I can leave the tag-along and my daughter's bike at school and ride back in the afternoon to pick them up. The co-op grocery store is near the school, so I'm looking for grocery bag panniers. (I'd love some recommendations on these.) Yesterday my neighbor and I rode from home to the river and back (my first ride up Terwilliger, PDXers!) so spontaneous pleasure rides now are completely manageable. I'm starting to love my bike and the freedom and strength I feel on the road -- thanks to the spirit and determination of a child.


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