At the start of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, near the McLaren Lodge at Fell and Stanyan, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition holds a monthly “Freedom from Training Wheels” event to help kids learn to ride their bikes without training wheels. On Sundays the drive is closed to car traffic, except for the occasional police car or fire engine, so kids have the added bonus of being able to ride in the middle of the street. On Sunday we met Jean, a volunteer trainer and SF Bike board member. Jean is a great trainer, with lots of experience helping kids learn to ride and with a simple, straightforward approach and an easygoing confidence that quickly won Clara’s trust. The fact that she’s not the parent helps a lot too.
So, I removed the training wheels from Clara’s bike and lowered the seat as far down as it would go so her feet could rest comfortably on the ground and support her. Then Jean helped Clara get started, holding on to the back of her seat to push and stabilize her as she got going.
Inside of a minute Clara was yelling to Jean “let go! let go!,” and after a couple of minutes Jean finally complied. (“I’ve never had a kid tell me that before,” she confided later.) Clara’s bike wobbled, then straightened, as she took off on her own for the first time. “Pedal, Clara, pedal!” We shouted. “You’re doing it!” We all started whooping and shouting as Clara, grinning broadly, cruised right down the yellow line in the middle of the road.
Clara went on to make many more successful rides that morning, up and down the low, shallow rise in the road, and one time she rode up the hill, turned around at the top, and rode back down. She fell down a couple times, but recovered well each time and got right back on the back, even when she scraped herself once. By the end of the hour we were yelling at Clara to open her eyes and put her feet on the pedals, because she’d been closing her eyes and lifting her feet up to make the ride more exciting.
As a bonus, in between successful training wheel-free rides, Clara got to take a few rides on the bake of Jean’s bike, which has been extended so it has extra carrying capacity — she might be able to fit six bags of groceries on the supersized rack, and tells us she’s carried as many as four kids on it at one time. “It’s my sport utility bicycle,” Jean said, though it was surprisingly light and stable.
When the hour was up, Clara asked to have her training wheels put back on — to make it easier to ride to lunch. There’s riding for fun, and then there’s practical transportation.