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Mama Said: Will Boy get back on his bike?

Learning to ride a bike never goes smoothly, but Emily Martin’s Boy has hit a major speed bump

Will Boy get back on his bike? (59532984)
Will Boy get back on his bike? (59532984)

The circumstances surrounding the moment you first come to ride a bike usually gets saved in your brain as a core memory. That first exhilarating time when you push the pedals round and let the force overcome your fear of falling for the first time, glancing behind at your mum who has stopped holding on and you just…somehow keep on going. Magic.

Girl learned to ride her bike in one afternoon. She persevered and eventually, she did it. It was a special moment for us both. Watching her ride away, and her little face when she realised she was doing it by herself, may very well be the thing that flashes before my eyes when I eventually die. It was pure joy. A core memory stored in the best bit of my brain forever, and probably in hers too.

I learnt to ride my bike on the pavement outside the front of my childhood house. It was a Kingfisher blue affair, with a cream-coloured bell and a red basket. It may well have had “Kingfisher” written on the frame. And I collected some neon-coloured Spokey Dokeys (my 1980s friends will know) from boxes of cereal and snapped them all over the spokes so that my bike plink plonked pleasingly when I pushed it along.

My Dad would jog along beside me, holding the back of my bike as I wobbled and banged my shins against the pedals. Sometimes he’d give me a big push and let go and I would simply scream and crash into a heap - one wheel tick, tick, ticking next to me. Spokey Dokeys strewn everywhere. Tears. And when that happened (which was often) I would crossly march back to Dad, who’d only be a few feet away, and kick him very hard in the leg, which used to make him laugh and make me even crosser.

I also remember hearing my parents laughing in the kitchen discussing how my school teacher had had a quiet word with Dad one day about “the bruises on Emily’s legs”. And he’d explained innocently that I was just learning to ride my bike, quite painfully and unsuccessfully for us both.

I cycled everywhere until I was 25. And then, when my beautiful Dawes Duchess Deluxe Women’s Bike was stolen from outside work 15 years ago (if Dawes didn’t have this model back then, then it looked like this one) I realised I would never love another bike and swapped my cycle clips for… well, a car.

I’m sorry to say, for a Cambridge born and bred family we’re not very bike-y. You won’t catch me with a wagon full of kids strung to the back of a bike on a rainy school run, although I do admire you and I will try not to run you over.

My cycling memories are mixed. And vivid. And so with trepidation, at aged almost 2, I got Boy his first balance bike because before that he wouldn’t go anywhere without his little Fisher Price push-along trolley which made a massive racket as it clattered along the pavement and whenever he tried to walk without it (rarely) he’d just fall forwards having developed a permanent stoop. Like a constant Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal lean.

He took to his balance bike straight away and he wouldn’t go anywhere without his wheels from then on. He also wanted one each year for his 3rd and 4th birthday. The same one. So he has it in yellow, blue and red. And this year, his 5 th birthday, he’s hoping for green. He’s like one of those mad millionaires who show the MTV film crew around their huge garage full of

immaculate cars that never get driven. But I’m reluctant to get green. Shouldn’t he be thinking about pedals now he’s five?

This summer a lady on Facebook was getting rid of a bike for free in our village so I collected it happily. It’s painted like a fire engine with a box on the back, a bell and pedals. Boy’s eyes lit up and we went for a bike ride immediately. But when he found that he wasn’t instantly an expert, he climbed off and pushed the bike to the ground saying he would never ride a bike again.

At the weekend I said tentatively: “Would you like to go for another bike ride today? Try again?” His face darkened: “No” he said. “Do you like your new bike?” I asked. “I don’t” he said. I wish I could end this by telling you we persevered towards a happy ending with a special core memory locked away nicely in both our heads. But the bike is still chucked out in the garden and he doesn’t want to talk about it.


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