One of Countless Lessons – Keep Pedaling

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The 1965 Schwinn Stingray.  And it was mine.  I couldn’t ride it yet, but it was only a matter of time.  I did have some training wheels, but they seemed to send me off in all the wrong directions.

One Saturday morning, my dad decided it was time for me to learn how to ride it for reals. This was probably the result of my incessant begging, but I have somehow chosen to forget that part of the story. I do, however, remember the big day

But before I tell you the story, let me tell you a little about the bike.  Stingray bicycles were only a few years old, and they were very, very cool. However, that cool factor was decimated by the existence of training wheels.  Mine was blue, and had a “banana seat.”  Why banana? Look at it.  Now you may scoff at the banana seat, but it did have some advantages.  Lots of room for you, and lots of room if you needed to give someone else a ride. But those concerns, like the heightened “Sissy Bar” accessory, or the fluorescent orange flag, would only come into play after learning how to ride it.

That’s where the banana seat came in handy.  The metal loop at the back of the seat was the perfect handhold for the instructor to steady the bike, as the student wobbled down the road.

(Side note:  I taught most of the FOMLs to ride BMX type bikes that had no such convenient handhold.  However, I was able to teach them without needing one, since I would usually take them to the top of a nice grassy slope, wish them luck, and give them a gentle push. Worked like a charm.)

My training ground was a flat sidewalk, with lawns and bushes on one side, and grass parkways on the other.  There were about five front yards to pass before the street turned downhill. This is where I would master the Stingray.

After removing the shameful training wheels, it was time to learn.  Dad held onto the loop on the seat and jogged behind me as I tried to balance and pedal at the same time. It was slow going. We went the distance of the course, and then turned around and went back.

A couple of times I realized that my dad let go of the bike and was merely watching me pedal.  This awareness, of course, caused me to instantly crash.  We made a few runs, and he would try and trick me, but he couldn’t fool me. I could tell when he let go, and would immediately panic and fall over.

Then something different happened.  My dad was running behind me, and for some unknown reason, I veered to the left, and, amazingly, recovered.  This quick adjustment caused my dad to stumble and fall into an evergreen shrubbery next to the sidewalk.  I could tell he let go, and I glanced back.

I caught a brief glimpse of him lying there in the bushes, and I prepared to crash – but… I didn’t. And to this day, I clearly remember Dad yelling encouragement from the bushes:

“Keep pedaling! Just keep pedaling!”

And I did.

And I still do.

— I miss you Dad.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. We lived on a cul-de-sac. I had one of the taller Schwinn bikes. With me it was not so much the going as the stopping. When I would reverse-pedal to brake, I would list to one side, drop that foot, and hop until I stopped, pedal whacking the back of that ankle, me yelping. One day I had managed to get up a pretty good head of steam. Couldn’t remember how to brake. He told me to aim at him, and he would catch me. I did. He did. (Pretty sure I caught him, too.) After that, I was on my own, and as close to fearless as I ever got, as a kid.

    My dad was a Colorado farm boy, the youngest of five kids, and the first to go to college (one year at Roswell). Served in WWII. Rose to the rank of colonel. Was beloved of his men for his goodness, decency, and fairness. Considered for the position of adjutant general of one of the western states and relieved that one of his friends was chosen instead.

    Shortly before he died, I asked him what he was proudest of having accomplished. Five things. And as I listened I realized that my dad was a moral giant. He’s been gone 23 years this month. I hope that he and Beloved have found one another, up there, and that they are working side by side and swapping fish stories as they serve.

  2. That was beautiful! I am too old to have had a Schwinn, but that’s how I learned to ride. I was four – my dad believed in physical accomplishments ;). I can’t remember not knowing how to swim.

  3. I learned on a red Stingray just like the one in your photo. I loved that bike!!! It had belonged to my older brother, then me and then my younger brother before it was passed to my eldest niece. That was a tough bike.

    I honestly can not rememer learning to ride my bike but I remember learning to roller skate around our cul de sac. My dad and I’s memories where of gardening and art projects and long car rides in the summer to go to sales calls with him all dressed up like an adult with lots of time to talk in between.

  4. In the busy years of parenting young children and teenagers we rely on holidays and vacations for much of our family memories. Then, all of a sudden, we’re old and memories are a very big part of our JOY. The funny thing is that most of them center around the heartstrings of everyday life and not the trip to Disneyland. Thank you for a piece of your heart. Happy Father’s Day!

  5. I remember how cool those bikes were. I asked my parents for a bike for my birthday, and spent each night before I fell asleep, dreaming about my cool stingray bike I would get. But instead, they took my sisters’ old granny bike and fixed it up with a hideous floweredy basket on the front. I was embarassed to ride it, but I did, and it got me around. I loved riding it, but was glad when none of my friends were around. lol

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