A ‘wheelie’ good time

His son now at bike-riding age, our columnist considers the pros and cons of outsourcing this rite of passage

Columnist Jon Willing guides his son during Miles’ first weeks with a big boy bike. Photo Credit Nicole Willing

I was walking with my wife and our son through the Glebe one morning when a small kid zipped past us on his bike. Behind us, we heard the father tell friends about a local course that had his boy off training wheels in a week. The kid looked to be about three years old, a bit younger than our son, Miles.


That a business had been created to teach kids how to ride bikes stopped me cold. I treated my family to a classic, and probably cringey, “back-in-my-day” speech.


Yet, as the snow melts and fair-weather biking households dust off their bells, we are weighing the idea of outsourcing bike-riding lessons for a kid turning five years old later this year.


Forty years ago, there was only one choice for learning to ride a bike. You got on, you fell, and you did it again about two dozen times until you could reach the next driveway. Soon, you would be circling the block as a parent sprinted to keep up.


There were bike rodeos at schools and churches with small obstacle courses. The local police department offered free bike engraving.


But where I’m from, I can’t recall any parents signing their kids up for full-blown bike-riding lessons.


My first bike was a yellow and red BMX with foam protectors on the handlebar and the top tube of the metal frame. 


As a kid, it took me longer than others to kick the training wheels, but once I was two-wheeling, there was a whole new freedom that would become essential to my childhood.

Bike riding became an activity, not just a means of transportation. It was often a daylong adventure for my friend group as we pedalled across the city, finding new pathways through forests and discovering new parts of our communities. At night, we would play bike tag in the neighbourhood. We probably spent more time on two wheels than on two feet.


We tried easing Miles into biking two summers ago by introducing a balance bike, which he quickly shunned. A “big boy” bike with training wheels arrived last summer and he reluctantly climbed on, mostly at the behest of my wife Nicole, who wisely insisted that he practise biking each day after preschool.


Our 2022 biking season ended with definite progress, but we still had a long road to build Miles’ confidence on four wheels.


So, as we enter this spring, we face this question about biking lessons.


On one hand, it would be incredible to add a family activity by the start of summer and fold up the bike chariot for good. We’re lucky to live near a network of bike paths and bikeable amenities. 


Why not outsource the actual learn-to-bike work and avoid the stress that comes with introducing a tough new skill to a kindergartner, right?


On the other hand, shipping my son off to a learn-to-ride bike camp for a week means I miss out on watching a rite of passage. For hardcore biking families, watching their children pedal that first five metres without training wheels might rival their kids’ first five steps.


I’m not sure if I feel the same emotional connection with biking, but how cool would it be to be That Dad who runs with his hand on the back of the bike seat as his son makes the first pedal rotations toward cycling independence?


Because, you know, that’s what happened back in my day.