Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 06.16.08
Stanstead, Quebec


Cyclist in training

STANSTEAD, QC | The bicycle is life's first major leap of faith. Walking doesn't count because you're too young to think "Holy smokes! I'm going to fall on my adorable face!" But to believe that you can actually balance and move forward on two wheels, that's something. Even though you see others doing it, a tiny logical part of your five-year-old self says, "Come on, it's gotta be some kind of trick."

There is a trick, of course. It's, well, like riding a bicycle. You just have to know how to do it. And those who don't or aren't ready to take the leap stick with training wheels.

I never had training wheels. My memory is vague but there are three possibilities why:

(1) The first is that growing up we weren't allowed to have a bicycle until we were 7 years old. Or maybe it was 9. Or quite possibly 5. All I know is that it felt like forever, especially when I saw my older siblings peddling around and being cool, or at least as cool as Murrays could manage.

So by the time I was eligible for a bike, I just jumped on and went. I distinctly remember practicing on the back lawn, which wasn't the best surface for cycling but at least it was soft.

(2) The second possibility is that, being the youngest, my parents had given up on precautions. I think about the time I was bike-ready, my parents were handing me scissors and asking me to "run them next door." Remember, this was thirty-five years ago when kids were expected to damage themselves, back when a reasonable question was, "Mommy, what are seatbelts for?"

(3) Third, my dad is the likely source of my poor mechanical skills, which means he was probably unable to put on training wheels without swearing, something he was disinclined to do.

Which brings me to our youngest daughter Abby. We've been working on the bicycle now for a few years, most of the time with training wheels -- which I have installed. Contrary to what you might think, this doesn't make them "unsafe at any speed." But it has, on occasion, made them tippy.

My argument went as follows: unbalanced training wheels give the child a sense of what a bike is supposed to feel like, forcing her to correct her balance without the danger of severely wiping out.

Abby's argument went as follows: "I don't like it."

She gave it a shot last summer. To picture this, you should know that the inside of her bicycle helmet is missing a piece of padding, causing it to slide partly off her head. So you have this girl on a tippy bike with a tippy helmet. It makes you cock your head just thinking about it.

The wobbly training wheels made for a lot of "Whoa!" moments when Abby felt like the bike was going to tip over and her arms shot out, her legs reflexively froze, and she teetered slowly onto the sidewalk. By summer's end, the bike was against the house, home to spiders and weeds.

This spring, the resident cheerleaders had Abby out on the street in front of the house. "Yay! Six years old, almost seven! No training wheels! Let's do it! Whadya say?" She tried and actually got some distance. But I don't think she ever made that leap of faith. Once again, the bike was abandoned.

Her reason wasn't lack of faith or confidence. Her reason was because it was a boy bike.

Well, we could fix that.

This past weekend, Deb came home with the most un-boy bike possible. Pink with white wheels. And Disney princesses on it. AND tassles on the handlebars. AND a clear plastic princess bag.

And training wheels, quite possibly the noisiest cheap training wheels I've ever seen. But I didn't install them so at least they're not tippy.

At any rate, it's got her riding again. This week, she and I have been biking to school, me following behind, trying not to ram her when she stops short for no reason at all, encouraging her to go a little faster if she eventually wants to be able to stay up on two wheels, reminding her ever-so-gently that she should avoid getting hit by cars.

The question is, will I be able to get those training wheels off? Not because she's used to them or because they have diamond stickers on them. But, seriously, will I be able to get them off?