By Vince Hempsall
I just bought my niece “freedom.” At least, that’s what I’ve nicknamed it. Its real name is the Run Bike 64 – bright white with red alloy rims; eighteen spokes on each tiny tire, the cutest little black seat, all pudgy and gleaming. No clunky pedals. No drivetrain. Just beautiful steel symmetry with a silver Norco coat of arms stamped on the headset.
I love this bike. I love it more than my own. It’s so cute it doesn’t even need streamers, hockey cards or a basket with a Beanie Baby. From its dimpled hand grips to the single brake lever attached to white rubber calipers, “freedom” is truly the perfect kid’s bike.
Beyond its cuteness, though, this bike is beautiful for what it represents. It is the ability to go further and faster than two 14-inch legs can possibly go. It’s adventure and exploration; super powers and speed. It is, quite literally, freedom.
My niece, Avery, just turned two years old and for her birthday I got her a push bike – a toddler toy that’s a bike without pedals. The theory is she’ll learn balance faster on it than a tricycle or with training wheels so that by the time she’s four, she’ll naturally take to normal biking.
Most of us over 20 never got our first bicycle until around the age of six. I remember mine – it was a yellow cruiser with a long, black banana seat and ape hanger handlebars. I grew up on a dirt road in the prairies and the clackity, off-kilter training wheels my bike came with were annoying. I endured wobbling on them for six months, slowly plodding along the dirt road, until finally my Dad took pity and started running behind me, holding onto the back of the seat and shouting encouragement. One day his shouts seemed to get quieter and I realized he was well behind me and I was biking on my own. I looked back to confirm this fact and promptly bailed into the gravel. But I would not be deterred! Soon my Dad didn’t need to be around at all and I was racing around tractor tracks, between the corn rows and up and down Boundary Road.
The day I learned to ride a bike on my own was the day the world changed. My best friend who lived on a farm a mile away was now in easy reach. Hunting for crawfish under the bridge nearby meant only a 2-minute bike ride along the road instead of a 10-minute slog cross-country through tick-infested woods. My bike was my Millennium Falcon, my Batmobile and my General Lee – it took me to different worlds and back again before bath time. My alter ego, Super Vinny, would have had a very hard time fighting crime would it have not been for that sweet yellow single-speed.
I wonder what Avery’s bike is going to be for her? Dora’s jeep? Grover’s bus? Whatever it is the Small Potatoes get around in? It’s amazing to think that at this pivotal stage in her development she’s going to master the subtle balance, cadence and flow that is bike riding before I was even ready to leave the basinet.
Not that there won’t be some hurdles along the way. When I delivered her bike recently I realized that a childless uncle really has no idea about toddler sizing – she’ll need to grow another inch or two before she can even sit on the seat. She didn’t want to accept that though. When all the adults were sitting around in the other room talking, she surreptitiously approached the bike and tried to get on it. My brother overheard her and immediately rushed to help – and she wanted none of it. Despite the fact the Run Bike 64 is a few inches too large for her at this stage, she was going to tame it without any adult supervision. Her resultant tantrum was epic – and it made me proud. While I had my fingers in my ears to drown out her screams I thought, if she’s that passionate about a too-large push bike, just imagine what she’ll be like when she can actually ride the thing.
Check out the footage below of a toddler dropping sick stunts on his push bike.