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  • Writer's pictureHoosier Doc

Ride Like a Kid

a coffee cup on a bike on a desolate paved trail

Remember when you were a kid and just rode endlessly? You had nowhere to be, there was no limit on time other than the streetlights coming on, and you felt invincible. For me, it started with going out with my parents and just trolling around the neighborhood or trails. Eventually, cycling became more about where I wanted to range - either with my sister or on my own. Bikes were the way that kids interacted in my grandma's subdivision where we spent our entire summer with local kids and cousins. And, as a teen, my bike became my way to reach friends' houses and to hit up the ice cream shop. But the aimless wandering and testing boundaries is the way kids develop. Bikes are great for that. If you teach your kids basic safe-cycling skills and how to find safer routes, they will be prepared to go out on their own and find cool places. The best part about being a kid on a bike is you get to ride wherever you want and you don't need to be anywhere - not really. I grew up in a fairly bike-friendly place. The streets were safe, there were lots of bike routes, and kids roamed free. Living in the city proper provided me with endless opportunities to ride around all day. R is probably going to have the same growing up which was a main reason we bought a house in this neighborhood.

toddler on a balance bike
R leaving me in the dust climbing a hill.

R gets brave these days, riding up curbs and doing serpentines in the nearby school parking lot. She has taken to riding far ahead of me, doing her own thing, me walking behind her at a quick pace keeping watch but mostly just giving her space. She is brave and sometimes scares me with her riding down hills or up a curb just to fly off of it. Of course, I have to let it go. She falls down and gets right back on so I rarely intervene. I know I did worse and I don't want to strike down her confidence or take away the joy of learning a new skill. Heaven help us when she gets pedals because she's going to be a beast!

As I became an adult and used my bike not to bomb around all day but, instead, for transportation, this changed my view of my bike substantially. And, as I took up cycling again as an adult for fitness reasons, I focused more on metrics than the joy of riding. So, for almost all of my twenties, I was obsessed with increasing speed, mileage, and getting places better and faster. My exploring was limited to various excursions when I lived in Ottawa or was discovering Columbia, MO, where I lived for all of graduate school and a couple years beyond. Once I had mastered my domain, I never needed to explore much. I took my bike to and from school and work and stopped exploring. When I moved back to Bloomington, this changed slightly. We lived on the west side of town (which is pretty miserable to commute from) when we first moved here. I had to discover new ways to get to campus. It led to more exploration from before - even if I was just commuting. As a new parent, I had to accept that my riding needed to change greatly in its purpose. At first, I viewed this with sadness. The carefree existence of my twenties - tacking on countless miles like it was nothing - was gone. Of course, my riding and mindset just needed to change. Eventually, we moved to another part of town better connected to cycling infrastructure and I really began to enjoy my commute again.

As adults, I think we lose the excitement of riding and become too focused on what we need to get done. Training rides have a purpose and lord knows I have them. Sometimes, though, I have learned it is great to get out on a bike and think like a kid. No set preference on place. I go where the trail or road take me. I try to find a new path and appreciate what I've learned about my neighborhood. Looking at it with new eyes brings a sense of fun and wonder I haven't felt since childhood and it makes me a happier person. My e-bike has made this a little easier. Its geometry feels more suited for fun rides. On it, I have no fear of hills and feel more confident on roads I haven't taken - feeling safe to get out of a tight spot if need be. I ride endlessly and don't care so much about mileage apart from estimating how much a new spur gives me. If I find a child friendly loop, I make note of it for a future ride with my kid. Bringing R with me gives me another mindset, too. We can look at birds and other wildlife. I point out wildflowers and ask her what she sees. We can share a snack or, when there is no pandemic, get coffee and snacks. Just enjoying her company is enough on these rides. It's not competitive. I'm not racing myself on Strava or anyone else. There is something to be said about riding like a kid. If you haven't tried it in awhile, I encourage you to do it. Sometimes an unplanned route allows you to find a new place you've never been or discover a nicer way to get somewhere you go all the time. And, at the very least, you will have some much-needed fun.

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