Bike Boot Camp was a success.
The goal of Bike Boot Camp was to get my two 6-year-old nephews, Nick and Sam, off of their training wheels and into the wide-open world of two-wheeled freedom. The idea of the intense, no-fail-allowed sessions was the brainstorm of my dad, who would serve as the Drill Sergeant for this exercise. We were at a family trip down at the beach, so we opted for low tide, which could give us the maximum amount of easy riding beach before someone plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.
There were several helpers at BBC. Noticeably absent, however, were two of my sisters, the mothers of Nick and Sam. That decision was twofold. First, there would be no motherly overreaction to seeing their sons plunge face-first into the Kiawah Island beach, as we knew was going to happen. Second, there would be no “Mommmmmmmmy!!!!” cried out following said face plant. Back on the bike. Grandpa, uncles, aunts and cousins will take it from here…
We started at the top of the dune. I was helping with Sam. He was having a hard time grasping the concept of pedaling constantly, as every time we would start to let go of him, he would either slam back on the pedals, sending the bike into a screeching halt, or just dive off the bike completely. The latter was the bigger danger, as at one point, he bailed from the bike and went rolling down the sand. My dad, trailing behind him, had two choices: crush his grandson, or do a most majestic dive over his grandson, tucking at the last moment and adding a couple of full rolls in the sand. His choice: Grandpa took one for the team.
We got close a few times with Sam, but he was just not feeling it that day.
Nick, however, took to it quickly. He, too, had a few face plants while leaping from the bike, but seemed to have his bike legs under him quickly.
It was only a few short runs down the beach until he was pedaling away on his his own, as evidenced by the photo I took in which his facial expression clearly says, “Holy cow, I’m actually riding a bike. What now?!?!?!”
We left the beach with a 50 percent success rate. Sam was being hard on himself, but we promised him we were going to get him up and running. “No,” he said. “Put my training wheels back on.”
Not at BBC, Private.
The next day, we opted for a skeleton crew of trainers. My wife and brother-in-law took Sam to the beach my himself. Aunt Jenn and Uncle Keith could make headway, we decided. We all stayed back at the house, so we had to take their word on it when they returned, Sam triumphant in his bike riding abilities. My wife thrust the camera at me. It’s all documented here, she said. Indeed, The Junior Dudes can ride.
I was fortunate with my kids. Allie took the gradual approach and just kept at it and finally started riding on her own. Parker, always the stubborn goat of a child in matter such as this, said to us one day, “I don’t want training wheels anymore. Will you take them off?” I did, and he proceeded to hop on his bike and take off riding down the road.
I guess everybody has to learn a different way. My first failed attempt at learning to ride a bike was when my sisters put me on mine and sent my careening down a path in the woods behind out yard. I rode until I hit a tree. The lesson ended there. With tears. And my sisters’ denials to my mother. I credit my childhood friend Tim, who lived on a very flat road and was quite patient with me as I kept getting up on the bike and trying to ride, most likely afraid of any trees in the vicinity.
But the important thing is that my nephews are all riding now. It doesn’t matter how you get there, but rather that you got there. And didn’t get crushed by Grandpa.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., where he lives with his wife and two kids. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.