Monday, April 14, 2008

Unsafe At Any Speed!

Finally, after 2 weeks of incessant "Can We Take Our Bikes Out? Can We Take Our Bikes Out? Can We Take Our Bikes Out?" I brought out the kids bikes.

One of our regular summer activities is to hop on the bikes and tour around the neighborhood stopping at any and all playgrounds along the way. It's a great way to kill off a day and burn off some of the energy in the kids.

This weekend was a little different.

"Devil or Angel" just learned to ride without her training wheels when the bikes got put away for the winter last year. I figured she needed to get a bit of practice in before I let her loose on the roads. That way she could learn some of the "extras" like stopping and looking where you are going.

So Jules and I loaded "Devil or Angel" and "Let's Go Crazy" and their bikes into the van and headed to the local park.

We pushed the bikes to the beginning of one of the paths and let the kids go to it. "Let's Go Crazy" already has a good handle on bike riding so she was off like a herd of turtles, nothing to worry about there. "Devil or Angel", on the other hand, was much more stress inducing.

She hopped on her bike and pedaled away. Not too bad. I was thinking she would need a little time to get the hang of it again, but off she went.

Then I noticed something a little worrisome.

She didn't seem to understand the concept of coasting. She just kept pedaling and pedaling, going faster and faster while Jules and I watched in horror. Her control was inversely proportional to her speed. She had insane wobbles of the front wheel but somehow she never fell off.

We yelled for her to stop. Which she did by planting both feet on the ground. At the speed she was going it looked like a painful procedure. She didn't complain though. I hear you don't feel pain when you have a lot of adrenaline coursing through your system.

This was the time when we told her about coaster brakes. So she pedaled a little bit, applied the brakes and came to a stop. We explained how to slow down by lightly pushing backwards, which she demonstrated quite successfully.

OK, now that we got that all sorted out it was time to give it another shot.

Off she went, again at top speed but this time she was headed for a long, steep hill. We yelled to her to slow down. She looked back at us and almost fell off. It was almost as if the handle bars were somehow controlled by the direction her head was pointing. She was heading down the hill and picking up speed.

We were helpless to do anything to help. All we could do was watch and see if she could put her new found braking skills to the test. There was no way in hell I was going to yell again. This would surely result in her looking back and possibly cartwheeling the rest of the way down the hill on her bike. I was helplessly frozen in my tracks. Mercifully, partway down the hill her instinct for self preservation kicked in and she managed to get herself planting both feet on the ground.

When asked why she didn't use the brakes she said, "I forgot". I am so glad we didn't start out on the streets.

Once we were safely at the bottom of the hill we decided to stick with some flat land practice for a while. Concentrating on stopping the bike with the brakes. "Let's Go Crazy" didn't help by flying past at top speed. This only made "Devil or Angel" want to do the same.

By the end of the day she had gotten much better but still not street worthy, which she proved as we were heading to the van. Instead of stopping at the corner, dismounting and walking the bike across the street like her sister did, she flew like a bat out of hell straight for the road. Luckily Jules was able to grab her just as the front wheel was launching off the curb. There were no cars coming but I don't think "Devil or Angel" was anticipating the six inch drop off the edge of the sidewalk. At the speed she was traveling she would have been a walking road rash.

I had to go home and lie down for a bit to recover from the anxiety.

The next day we went out for some more flat land practice on a little used bike path. This time it was just "Devil or Angel", "Let's Go Crazy" and myself. I had my bike with me so I could corral her in if she started to stray. She was much better this time out and proudly admired her skid marks after each stop.

There was still the problem of keeping the bike going straight when she turned her head. This problem was multiplied by the fact that "Let's Go Crazy" was constantly racing up behind her screaming like a lunatic and generally trying to freak her out, with quite a bit of success. I'm pretty sure she wanted to see a crash. I'm happy to say she was disappointed.

I don't know how she made it through those two days unscathed. According to the laws of physics she should have had at least a half dozen bad crashes, but somehow she was always able to recover at the last second.

Good for her knees and elbows, bad for my heart.

On the bright side, this is the last time we have to go through the learning to ride a bike ordeal. The next time I have to deal with this kind of stress will be when they are careening, uncontrollably down a steep hill as they learn to drive my car (WITH ME IN IT!!). Hopefully "Devil or Angel" won't forget to use the brakes.

1 comment:

Heather said...

This is why I have never attempted to teach my own daughter to ride a bike. I just kept telling her we had no place to store one in an apartment and no place to ride one either. Think that'll work with the whole driving thing? (Only one more year - wtf? I'm old as hell!)