There’s a band that I’ve followed on and off since college called Pedro The Lion, and they released a new song awhile back called Yellow Bike. It’s about getting your first bike, and how the world opens up when you learn to ride it.
It was a blast of nostalgia for me. It made me think of MY first bike, my dad helping me learn to ride, me helping my daughter, and how important bike rides have been for my family over the years.
I got my first bike on my 6th birthday. A red Murray brand with chrome handlebars and chunky black tires. A bike for popping wheelies and doing sweet jumps. I loved it.
The other neighborhood kids rode their bikes around in a little pack all day, and I really wanted to join, but I was embarrassed of the training wheels. I begged, my dad took them off and I ran around pushing my bike beside me, trying to keep up. I couldn’t.
During practice sessions, my dad ran alongside me, gave me a nudge and let go of the seat. I’d coast, try to pedal, crash in to the neighbor’s mailbox. I even ran over my little brother one day when he wandered in to my path and I couldn’t steer around him. Sorry, Dave!
A friend had a bike that was smaller than mine, and my feet could easily touch the ground when I sat on it, which made it easier to coast. I’d ease down my driveway on his bike with my feet dangling to see how far I could go.
One afternoon, I put my feet up and started pedaling once I got to the street, and I took off! I was riding! I still feel a little sad that my dad was at work when it finally happened. Sorry, Dad.
But I didn’t look back. The neighborhood became infinite. A motocross track, a battlefield, a movie set.
I rode around with a styrofoam hockey helmet pushed forward on to my face, imagining I was a mysterious Robocop-style hero from the future. I was convinced nobody could recognize the silent stranger patrolling the streets on a red Murray bmx.
All the money I made at my first job picking sweet corn went to building better bikes for bigger jumps. And I spent every summer day riding around town with friends until I got to high school, when it became kid stuff, like overnight. My bmx gathered dust and was forgotten.
Fast forward 25 years, and I was running beside MY daughter in the church parking lot up the street as she learned to ride her first bike. I gave her a nudge, let go of the seat, and watched her pull away from me and turn the corner out of sight.
Now she’s almost 14, and my old bag of tricks doesn’t really work anymore: Legos, backyard baseball, trips to the playground. But she still rides around the neighborhood with me after dinner, or on local trails, or on family camping trips.
We talk a lot while we ride, and sometimes we keep the conversation going with some ice cream afterward. It’s the greatest.
So, when I heard that Pedro The Lion song, you know what I did? I went out and got myself a new bmx bike. A Navy Blue Redline with gold handlebars and chunky black tires. A bike for popping wheelies and doing sweet jumps.
Because sometimes dads and kids aren’t that different. And I feel like a kid again when I ride it, with my daughter beside me. It’s the greatest.
February 2021 marks “Wisconsin Life’s” 10th anniversary on Wisconsin Public Radio. As part of the celebration, “Wisconsin Life” producer Brad Kolberg chose this feature as his favorite “Wisconsin Life” story to share as part of the celebration.