On Your Bike
18 November 2008
Kids. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t get them a contract to play outside linebacker with the New England Patriots until they’re twenty-two.
We used to take the bikes to school, me and the bairns. It’s a twenty-two minute bike ride. When we started it was a little hairy. There are a few big roads to cross, and in the early days Two of Two weaved around more than Muhammed Ali against Foreman in Zaire in 1974. Somehow, when he nearly crashed into me or his sister, it was never his fault.
The one time he took someone out, it was a young woman coming the other way, dressed in racing gear with a racing bike, travelling full pelt along a wide, straight section of pavement. Two of Two, looking at God knows what, neatly annexed her to the side in some sort of beautifully executed one bicycle pincer manoeuvre, and then when I shouted at him to watch where he was going, he looked over his shoulder at me and immediately swerved head-on into the speeding cyclist. Wee boy and young woman went flying. No one was hurt.
(Not that being dressed in racing gear with a racing bike necessarily means she was going fast, as there are plenty of balding, overweight middle-aged geezers dressed in bright pink lycra out there on the roads, but as it happens, she was the real thing. Hopefully we didn’t end her career.)
Eventually things settled down and we got into the groove of the morning ride to school. As the number of pupils at the school has expanded, while the parking and access facilities have stagnated, morning drop-off has more and more become a scene of total bedlam. And we would ride calmly into this scene, for all the world like the von Trapp family having just riden their bikes over the mountains into Switzerland, and I knew that all the stressed wee mums with their wee kids and their giant 4WDs with high-powered air conditioning and seventeen coffee cup holders, were all looking at us jealously, thinking things like I wish we rode our bikes to school and I wish my kids liked to get exercise first thing in the morning and what a fantastic dad, I wish I was married to him.
What they didn’t realise, however, all these jealous mums, was the turmoil going on beneath the surface. There was no secret in our family. The kids just downright hated taking their bikes, and they hated their dad forcing them out into the cold when normal kids were sitting in a giant BMW listening to High School Stupid Musical and eating pain au chocolat in the back seat.
They were fine to start with, but over the last two years the enthusiasm died, and eventually so did their cooperation. It was becoming more and more of a struggle.
For a long time I was determined not to give in, not to be ruled by the lazy spawn. But eventually I came to realise that they resented me and they resented their bikes, and that I was taking away a fundamental part of childhood. Kids love riding bikes, it’s one of the things they do. Soon enough they’ll be teenagers and there’ll be all sorts of god-awful things that they love doing, but just now one of their innocent pleasures should be bike riding. Except they hate it, because I make them put on green and beige curtains every day and pretend to be the von Trapps.
So, for the moment, I’m in a not taking the bikes period, and all the mums look forlornly at us, as if we have taken away their only hope. I don’t know whether I’m being soft or pragmatic, but I hope the kids' love of bike riding will return. I was thinking about it today, because this morning was one of those crisp, frosty, gorgeous mornings that make you glad to live in northern Europe. It looked good, at any rate, from inside the car in the middle of traffic chaos.