Islabikes CNOC 14: How I taught our three year old to ride a bike.
On rare occasions (daily), my wife takes it upon herself to "remind" me that I am not a patient person. Which I suppose could be helpful if it were true. On the contrary, I often exhibit tremendous self-restraint toward other people's selfish inability to stick to my schedule. Due to this reasonable intolerance for laggards and dalliers, my toddler may have been carried more often than he should've been.
Because otherwise I would be dead. The act of observing his tortoise-like travel of three feet per hour when my body was in dire need of fast casual Mexican food would've killed me. That is not hyperbole. It would have killed me. My wife has the nerve to label this as "impatience."
If you are a parent you well know that the Little Dictator only traveled at turtle speeds when he was looking forward to something. Otherwise, we could still be standing on a sidewalk somewhere we stopped last February to contrast and compare cement with asphalt. So, sue me. I picked him up and carried him when we needed to be somewhere.
And then he got used to it.
After he reached a commonly accepted age for traveling on his own two feet, we were still having Kodak moments like this:
I wanted him to walk. He wanted to be carried. He won.
In my defense, passersby were getting that "I'm gonna call DCFS on you look," so I had to fold and pick him up. And yes, that's Rodeo Drive which I have to admit makes me feel like laying on concrete and crying too.
Anyhow, I now had an overgrown baby sloth clinging to me with a sense of entitlement and a hair-trigger temper (which he obviously got from his mother). I needed help. I was hoping a wheeled conveyance would give him some motivation to seek autonomy. Following copious amounts of research, I picked up a Strider Balance Bike for $45 off Craigslist. He dug it. I dug it. Striders are great balance bikes. Light and indestructible. A good combo.
He was about 22 months old in the picture above when I brought it home, but it was clearly too early for his motor skills, so we put it in storage for a little while and purchased off Craigslist a $35 Micro Mini Kick Scooter. It is the gold standard for three-wheeled toddler scooters. Swiss designed and all that.
Eventually, the Little Dictator stopped looking like Bambie on ice while riding the scooter and started confidently bombing down ramps like this one:
Thankfully, the Micro Mini was also successful at helping me execute my nefarious plan of getting him to assume responsibility for moving his diapered ass down the sidewalk. Score one for dad. I am a parenting God.
Once he proved himself capable of rocking a scooter, I figured it was time for him to give the balance bike a try. My enthusiasm for the balance bike also rubbed off on his friends' parents at pre-school, so all of our children collectively became kind of a balance biker gang. A couple of months later he had reached the coup de grace of balance biking: Bombing down a ramp Eval Knieval style (don't tell mom).
If you are a child of the seventies and eighties, like myself, you learned how to ride a bike with training wheels. Apparently, this is the old way of thinking. The new way is graduating from a balance bike directly to a pedal bike and leaving out the middle man. Now that the balance bike had become an extension of him, I knew he was ready for pedals.
Following a discussion with my skeptical wife weighing the pro's and cons of teaching our three year old to ride a bike, we reached a parenting consensus. Yet, at the very end of the aforementioned conversation, she added a look that said, "You don't want a piece of my quiet, passive-aggressive wrath if my baby gets a scratch." I am deathly afraid of getting a piece of that. But seriously, by putting a little person who has the motor skills of a drunk frat boy at closing time on his own pedal bike, what's the worst that could happen?
My impulse was to buy the cheapest, pre-owned, good quality bike I could find. But, the more I read, the more I discovered that the average kid bike totally sucks. They're ridiculously heavy for a little one to pedal. If a kid is forty pounds and his or her bike is thirty pounds (as many kid bikes are) then it's the equivalent of a one hundred and eighty pound adult learning how to ride on a one hundred and thirty-five pound bike.
I wanted the bike to facilitate his independence, not shackle him to a wheeled anvil. Yet, the more research I did, the more I blanched at the prices of a good toddler sized bike. The best reviewed one was consistently the Islabikes CNOC 14. But, it was $309!?!?!? For a bike that he'll grow out of in two years!?!? Hell no.
Then I became the Laird Hamilton of big wave internet surfing. On Ebay I discovered that closed auction prices were in the $150 to $200 range for used CNOC 14's. Whereas, the cheap, lead-weighted box store bikes were selling for $120 new, but they were worth almost nothing, maybe $25 used. Thus, if I included resale value, the prices of the two bikes were almost a wash. Better yet, if I could find a used Islabike, then re-sell it in two years when we upgraded to the next size, the bike would be practically cost neutral. It was time to go hunting and gathering on Ebay and Craigslist. Unfortunately, while there had been recent sales of Islabikes on Ebay, there were no active auction listings for a CNOC 14. I was going to be forced to pay retail until I stumbled upon a way to get the bike for FREE:
Grandparent Guilt + Christmas = Free Bike
Yes, I preyed on my out-of-state parents' desire to connect with their grandson by implying that they could simply buy his love with a red bicycle (I never claimed to be a good person, dear reader). Yet, I must warn you not to lay on the guilt too thick because shortly thereafter my parents moved from the Pacific Northwest to Palm Desert, so they could be closer to their grandchild...
But, I digress.
When the Little Dictator's new bike arrived I did not install the pedals right away. This gave him a transition period where he could adjust to the different geometry and handling characteristics of the Islabike without having to tackle pedaling at the same time. Following a month of rolling on his Islabike with his homies in the balance biker gang, he was obviously ready for me to screw on the pedals.
Islabikes suggests holding your kid under his (or her) armpits as he starts pedaling. As your child picks up speed, run alongside ready to catch him at anytime should he start to lose his balance. I followed their advice. My wife and I took the Little Dictator to the shady, quiet paths of Caltech to give it a try. We started at the top of a small incline, so the inertia of traveling downhill would help him balance as he took off.
I tried to grip him under the armpits, but he wouldn't let me. He whined for me to remove the pedals. I resisted. He refused to budge. I used my best Daniel Tiger parent positive reinforcement voice, but it did no good. I would like to take this opportunity to point out to my wife that I did not strangle our child on the spot, which is documented proof that I am a patient father. QED.
Following a few minutes of gentle encouragement on my part (which lasted an eternity), he finally assented. I gripped him under the armpits. I started pushing him up to speed. He began pedaling. I released my grip and he...stopped. He didn't feel safe enough to continue pedaling on his own. We repeated the same sequence a few more times before throwing in the towel. On this day, it was not meant to be.
I removed the pedals, so he could continue balance biking for a few weeks before trying again. Then we repeated this process, relentless mewling and gnashing of teeth included, three or four more times over the course of a few months before heading over to Palm Desert to get free sushi. I mean visit with my parents at their new house.
And what do you know? The day the penny finally dropped was outside my parents' new place. Kind of sweet, isn't it? I Jedi mind tricked the LIttle Dictator into pedaling by challenging him to a race. None of us had our cameras ready because we were expecting the stubborn little bastard to refuse to ride again as he'd been doing for months. About fifteen seconds into him pedaling for the first time, with my wife and parents watching from the top of the hill, I finally remembered to pull my iPhone out of my pocket and start recording:
I'm sincerely thrilled that he learned how to do it. It was such an obvious self-confidence boost for him. It reminded me of how Outward Bound programs challenge people to complete rock climbs or cross rope bridges strung high in the trees. Somehow the act of overcoming physical fear creates a sense of accomplishment and a boost in self-esteem that is all out of proportion to the seemingly minor tasks people complete. I definitely saw this transformation take place with my son.
All kids do the "I can't do it" whine on occasion to manipulate us into doing things for them. Ever since he overcame his fear of riding a bike with pedals on it, we've been able to recycle that teachable moment again and again:
"I can't do it."
"Remember how you used to think you couldn't ride a pedal bike?"
(He refuses to say, "Yeah" because I am a parenting platitude stuck on repeat, so he knows what's coming next...)
"Did you give up or were you persistent?"
"I was persistent."
"Right. Let's just be persistent until we figure out:" Putting on underwear, cutting his eggs, reading a book, etc. (Yes, "Daniel Tiger" is rubbing off on me in ways that I find personally humiliating yet incredibly useful as a parent.)
I don't know whether persistence is something innate or something that is taught or some combination of the two. I can't do anything about the former, but I'm going to cover my bases just in case it's the latter two. Riding a bike is just one step in my never ceasing campaign to kindly, gently instill grit in my little boy.