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By Karen Kefauver
December 13, 2013
Link to Sentinel Article

Learning how to ride a bike sticks with a child long past the training-wheel stage. (Karen Kefauver/Contributed)
Many adults remember their first bicycle ride as a rite of passage. Thanks to fond memories, they look forward to sharing that excitement with their own kids.

In the spirit of the holidays, at a time when some lucky children will begin bike riding, I asked a few folks to share their earliest bike experiences. That’s instead of writing my traditional December Spin City column, a list of bike-related gifts. I believe one of the biggest gifts you can give is volunteering your time to help a kid learn to ride and another is your funding of programs that encourage kids’ cycling (see infobox).

Learning how to ride a bike sticks with a child long past the training-wheel stage.

Learning how to ride a bike sticks with a child long past the training-wheel stage. (Karen Kefauver/Contributed)

My memories of my first bike are hazy, but I do remember that my mom took me to my elementary school playground, where I could practice riding without training wheels. I was wobbly but excited. My mother watched over me, offering praise and encouragement. I was thrilled by my new ability to balance on a two-wheeled bike — and to be able to stop by using my bike brakes.

My neighbor, Michael, who was also learning to ride, was not so fortunate. While Michael appeared confident and steady on his bike, his method of stopping was crashing full speed into a stretch of fencing. Fortunately it was a bouncy, forgiving fence and Michael was not injured or deterred. He eventually mastered a more effective way to stop his bike that didn’t involve a fence.

I asked a few cyclists in Santa Cruz about their recollections of biking as a kid.

“I got my first bicycle at Christmas, when I was probably 6 years old,” said Saskia Lucas, the director of Open Streets Santa Cruz County. “It was a family hand-me-down and Santa had left it under the tree. It was a one-speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I loved the bike, but not the colors. It was orange and black. I learned to ride that bike with my dad holding onto the bike beside me. I never had training wheels. A little while later, I was biking on my own. I rode to parks, to school, for fun and with friends. Ever since I was a kid, I cycled, and it hasn’t stopped.”

Greg McPheeters also started cycling thanks to a hand-me-down bike from his older brother.

“It was a little blue bike and I remember I rode endless circles in the courtyard,” he said. “I rode around and had a great time. As I got older, I would ride around in a park and these tiny little hills were like mountains to me.”

But for McPheeters, the former president of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, his second bike, a Diamondback BMX bike, was the one that mattered most as a kid.

“The first bike, I was a little scared of. But after I learned to ride, I was super excited about the next one. Somehow I broke the fork, a neighbor helped weld it, and I made jumps, rode the curbs and rode to school. I took that bike apart and painted it too. It was awesome to be free and not stuck in the car with my parents, to have all this energy and run around with the bike,” said McPheeters, who is a bicycle advocate, frequent commuter and solar industry worker.

“I still feel independent and free now on my bike,” McPheeters added, noting it doesn’t hurt to burn calories, too.

It’s fun to talk to friends about their bike memories. I notice I have a soft spot for watching little kids learn to ride (though I don’t have kids of my own). I have enjoyed watching the trio of neighbor girls progress from their strider bikes to training wheels and now, to just two wheels. I can always hear their squeals of delight first, then look out my window to see them pedaling fast, with confidence and glee. I hope that all kids get that chance either during the holidays or any time during the year.

Attached is a sampling of programs that encourages kids to ride their bikes and a few free events that especially encourage kids’ participation on bicycles. Feel free to contact them and volunteer, donate bikes or offer funding.

Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. See her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs.


Bike Dojo

This Santa Cruz cycling gym runs Project B.I.K.E (Believe In Kids’ Exercise), a grassroots movement to give bikes to children without.

ON THE NET: www.thebikedojo.com/project-bike.html

Bike to School
A bi-annual event held throughout the county that encourages students to bike to school by providing free breakfast, peer support and prize incentives.

ON THE NET: www.ecoact.org

Bike Smart!
Encourages youth to bicycle for fun, transportation and health through hands-on education at local schools.

ON THE NET: ww.ecoact.org/Programs/Transportation/Bike_Smart

Project Bike Trip
Offers technical training in bicycle mechanics, preparing youth for job opportunities within the industry and introducing the bike as an alternative source of mainstream transportation, a road to healthy living and a means for connecting with the outdoors.

ON THE NET: www.projectbiketrip.org

Trips for Kids
Trips for Kids, part of an international organization, is a volunteer non-profit organization that offers mountain biking to at-risk youth.

ON THE NET: www.tripsforkidssantacruz.org

Velo Girls
This San Francisco area cycling club is for women and girls. The club focuses on fun, recreational riding, with the opportunity to attend cycling skills and general fitness clinics to improve riding and overall fitness

ON THE NET: www.velogirls.com

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