American in Spain

Nora's First Bicycle Ride

October 9, 2012

Nora on a bicycleToday I had to go pick up Nora after school because my wife had to work an extra hour in the afternoon. Unsure what the standard procedure was, I followed the other mothers' lead and walked over to the school playground and gave Nora her sandwich (all Spanish kids eat a sandwich between lunch and dinner). She snarfed it down and played with some of her classmates, particularly with the two girls whom she has known for a few years from daycare. On a side note, watching the older children careen around the playground and tackle one another – on asphalt! – and climb to precarious spots on the playground equipment through my parental eyes was torture. Soccer balls were whizzing around at child head height at only slightly subsonic velocities. How there weren't seven broken necks and ten concussions is a mystery to me.

Eventually the girls left and we went over to play with the boys from her class. I noticed that all three of them had brought bicycles with them, two of them with training wheels and one without, and they were riding around. Of course we've been planning on buying Nora a bicycle at some point, but 3.5 seems way too young for a bicycle.

She has a little plastic tricycle, the kind with the handle on the back for a parent to push/steer from behind, that she's never even come close to mastering. She's never grokked the pedals, and I'm not sure her steering has ever been statistically different from that of Stevie Wonder. The few times we've taken it out on the sidewalk, both of us ended up frustrated.

One of the smaller boys was surprisingly good with his little bicycle, despite the fact that his legs weren't long enough for his feet to stay on the pedals for a full rotation. He had solved this engineering problem by developing a pumping motion where he pushes one pedal from 25% down to 75% down, and then uses the other foot to pedal backwards 90° and then repeated. I was amazed by how much speed he could build with such a relatively inefficient method of propulsion.

But then came the really amazing thing. Another of Nora's classmates, who is just a week older than Nora, got up on the bicycle without training wheels and sped off. He was downright graceful on that velocipede! I was astounded.

Nora sat by herself playing with a toy car she'd nicked from one of the cyclists, seemingly uninterested in their two-wheeled locomotion. At one point, I noticed that one of the bikes without training wheels was free, and I asked Nora if she wanted to give it a shot. So with me holding the seat to keep her balanced, I pushed her around the playground, with her doing a pretty decent job of steering thanks to my incessant "Look forward! Not down! Look forward!" coaching. When my back could take no more, I told her to get down.

She asked, "Now what bicycle can I ride?" We chose the smallest one with training wheels and she clearly had some trouble getting any power to the pedals. The parents saw us struggling and determined that the third bike was best for Nora, with a higher seat and training wheels. The owner of the bicycle was not on board with the idea of someone else riding his bicycle, but Nora and I stood patiently while his mother threatened to take him home and then eventually pried it from his sobbing fingers and then presented it to Nora.

She hopped on and, with a brief lesson about how the pedals have to be pushed both forward and down, she actually got the hang of pedaling and even managed to steer around obstacles while doing it! She even got in a bell ring! I was amazed! I had no idea that riding a bicycle was within her capabilities.

Notice how warm the weather was today: short sleeves and a miniskirt in October!

Now we have to buy one for sure!