Learning advanced bike skills. Or look Mom, no hands!

Maybe some of you parents can relate. One day your kid is on training wheels or a balance bike, the next they decide they can ride no hands.

It starts out simple enough–one hand up for a split second (see “the beginner in the video). Then two (for a split, split second). They start stretching it out. Longer and longer. The wobbles get bigger, and more dangerous because they aren’t going too fast to start out with and usually stop pedaling as soon as the hands come off. But still they wait even longer before returning to the safety of hands on. Eventually, they’ll realize speed is a good thing. It stabilizes the bike. But until they do … yikes.

The boy right now is in the early stretching-out stage. And it scares the crap out of me.


You see, an incident on the playground last year cost him most of his two front teeth. Keeping the remaining tooth structure is already getting pretty expensive, but sort of necessary. So every time those hands go up, I cringe.

That this is even a worry of mine is more than ironic. I crashed a LOT as a kid. Call me the poster child for the accident-prone life I’m not exaggerating when I say my mom spent days of her life waiting for X-rays in the emergency room. Thirteen casts. Countless stitches. You name it, I broke, cut, spindled or mutilated it.

Mad Paperboy Skillz

Still this didn’t stop me from riding no-handed like any other self-respecting kid.  In fact, as a proud, bicycle-paperboy, one of my go-to skills was the no-handed paper-fold and toss. To add difficulty, this was done astride my royal-blue Schwinn Varsity (purchased with hard-earn paper route money), toting 40lbs of Seattle Times in my newsprint-stained, canvas, double-shoulder bags.

Maybe it was more dangerous steer around my suburban route no-handed, but the route was faster when I didn’t stop to fold. And speed was the name of the game when you were trying to beat the rain and get home before the Banana Splits started and my cereal got soggy.

Of course, that life is gone. Kids aren’t allowed to be out on bikes without their parents.  And certainly not in the rain. And don’t even think about eating sugar cereals and watching junky TV after school. Even if you could get past all the bad for you stuff (freedom, TV, and junkfood), the classic paperboy no longer exists: the Seattle Times only wants adults with cars.

I actually feel pretty terrible about the loss of the paperboy. No doubt about it – the job sucked and those greedy newspaper circulation departments took advantage of child labor (I probably made $40/month. The Times advertises up to 40x more for adults today). But really, what’s wrong with little suburban child labor?

Freedom and Failure as Learning Tools

Earning the money for my Varsity was a very big deal. Having the freedom and the responsibility of the bike route helped me gain essential life experiences, some of them even useful. (if it looks like it’s going to rain, go deliver your papers instead of hanging out at the paper shack talking about girls.  If you don’t, you’ll get wet. And… when collecting for monthly paper bill, if a creepy guy answers the door in a bathrobe holding a cantelope, come back later. That kind of thing).

With so few opportunities to try, fail and learn on their own, the least I can do is let my kid ride his bike no-handed. Let him learn and let him fall. They’re making advances in dental technology all the time, right?

Heck, maybe one day, he’ll be rocking all 50 of these no-handed moves.

(hat tip to the always awesome adventure journal)

Or maybe that’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

So how ’bout you.  Any riding fears (real or imagined) you want to get over? Feel free to share in the comments and maybe we can do some cheap group therapy.


9 responses to “Learning advanced bike skills. Or look Mom, no hands!

  1. Yeh! No hands… My eldest isn’t riding much at the moment, but is definitely headed down that inevitable path, for pretty much the same reasons as you mention. ‘Freedom and failure’ are great learning tools.
    Once she’d become confident on her bike the next step, logically, was to tempt fate by riding no hands. So far no crashes but they must come, just like the have for the rest of us. I’ve had some classic crashes in my youth!
    I really like what you’ve written about the paper rout. It’s the same here in Australia! My disbelief when I first saw newspapers delivered by car was palpable! Once I actually thought it was an isolated event, worthy of a news headline ‘PAMPERED KIDS MUMS DELIVER’ It took a while to realize that there weren’t any kids delivering papers any more and people were actually doing it from their car! I still find it outrageous!
    I have some great memories of being a paperboy. My rout was in one of the hillier area of Melbourne Australia.
    Up at 4:30am and out on the street before dawn, hanging out with my paper rout mates, earning my own money! I loved it! Exploitation! Blaghh What a crock! I got about $20 per fortnight that was a lot of dough for a kid back in the early 80s!
    Using cars to deliver newspapers door to door is outrageous, imagine the ecological footprint of each newsprint!

    • Hi David — yep, I got help on Saturday mornings on occasion (and felt pretty pampered), but current state of newspaper delivery is full-time petroleum dependent. At this point, I’m thinking it might be better if all the readers just switched to the iPad version!

  2. Pingback: Look Ma! No Hands! » Cyclelicious

  3. Tim, when my son was young I actually had a signed waiver at Evergreen Hospital E.R. We spent a lot of time there. As far as the paper, when The Times switched from pm to am, there went the paperboy/girl. I’m still old school and get the print edition of the Times. It’s delivered at 4:00am and the policy is to have it at your doorstep before 6:00am. Don’t know how you’d feel about your daughter or son delivering papers at 4:00am on a
    bicycle. It’s what happens, times chamge (no pun intended)

  4. HI Marge –
    A waiver! I wonder if my Mom thought of that?

    As for the Times, moving to morning was part of the problem. I imagine it’s kind of hard to find a bunch of new carriers on reasonably short notice. But people did do morning routes when I was a kid. I had friends who had morning routes and occasionally subbed for them (and they for me — another benefit of the paper route. Networking!).

  5. And before you know it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8G7egB1-gk
    Makes me want to learn to juggle.

  6. I would be so proud of my kids if the were that interested in cycling… and juggling… maybe not the fire though…;)
    I’m sure that guy won’t die wishing he’d spent more time with his Xbox or Playstation.

  7. A job with a newspaper is an oxymoron these days. And as a cyclist I can relate to wanting to expose my daughter to bikes at an early age, which I have, but I definitely worry about her falling off. I just have to remind myself that she’s low to the ground and crashing can be good for everyone. I still crash, and learn from it every time.

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s