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Training Wheels: Teaching My Daughter to Ride

Taking my daughter cycling may be the best thing I've done as a parent

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It was so unexpected. After 20 century rides and a lifetime on a bike, my 9-year-old son was supposed to be the one to get the cycling bug and continue the time-honored family tradition. We rode together a few times, but after a while of riding the same tired trails with dad, he deemed it boring, and retreated to the relative excitement of video games (only to be lured way by the occasional fishing trip). My heart sank.

Fast forward eight years. I was older, and riding 20 miles or so at a time, mostly just to keep in shape. The century rides were a distant memory, just some embroidered patches in a frame on the wall. One day, my 14-year-old daughter expressed a desire to ride with me. She was small at the time, and not all that athletic. First, like many parents, we bought her a heavy-as-hell big-box store mountain bike. After a while, I found her a $10 Trek Jetta at a yard sale that fit her like a glove.

That first ride I kicked her ass. It might sound bad now, but I didn’t let up on her for the entire ride. I told her that if she wanted to get good, she’d have to work at it. For the first time in her life, she was physically challenged. It turns out it was the worst mistake of my life. She loved the challenge, and eventually rose to it. By the second year, she was kicking my ass on every ride. No old man’s cycling tricks (and I had quite a few) could overcome her youth and vigor.

She developed a riding style of her own. Not one to fiddle with gears too much, she’d just put it into the lowest rear gear and ride that way the entire time, both up the hills and down. She had her mom’s strong, athletic legs. I realized, then, that I’d never be good enough to keep up with her again unless I really worked for it (that was a bitter pill). I did, and today I can still keep up with her when she inevitably tries to sprint away from me toward the end of the ride. Our late-ride sprints have become legendary.

Over the last six years, my daughter and I have ridden every paved or hard-packed trail within a 40-mile radius of our home in Easton, PA. We’ve ridden as far away as Canada, and pedaled down the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore—at sunrise, when the air is cold and crisp, the sky a landscape painting-perfect blue, the ocean pristine and one knows there is a God in heaven. 

We ride fast and hard, and seldom does anyone pass us. She rides a beautiful vintage 1986 Raleigh Olympia mixte, and I'm on a 1986 Raleigh Competition. We’ve seen deer, turkey, rabbits and groundhogs on our travels. We talk about music and all of the small stuff that makes up our daily lives. I share the stories of my life with her.

I got to know my daughter for the fine person she is on those rides. I shared my passion for riding, and she took up the mantle wholeheartedly. I found she was like me in so many ways: She shares my love of a fast downhill and appreciates the lines of a good road bike; like me, she considers a good local bike shop a holy place to be revered on par with a cathedral; she agrees with me that the best way to deal with life's minor irritations is on a trainer for 30 minutes a day (no drug beats endorphins earned through a long, hard spin).

Every Sunday, when it was above 40ºF and not raining, we’d ride. We’d throw the bikes in the car, and head out to share an hour that was so precious and special to me that I cried when my daughter went off to college. Biking without her is not the same, and her absence left a huge hole in my heart. 

Like any other parent, I’ve had some joys and sorrow. There have been a few fights fought and some tears shed. I’ve watched my son graduate from college, and I couldn’t be prouder of his achievement. But if the simple act of biking with my daughter—and raising her with that love and passion for the ride—turns out to be my crowning achievement as a parent, I think I'm OK with that. 

Anyway, someday there will be grandchildren to take riding.
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