Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy, or I Wanna Ride My Bike

I am a parent. I have two kids who are of the age where a bicycle simply can't compare to a car.  They both learned to ride on the street in front of our house. My daughter was almost swallowed up by a storm drain (her helmet kept her from going in), but teaching them was otherwise uneventful. I do remember the look on my wife's face when I told her that I let my son ride around the block by himself.  Ten long minutes later he arrived unharmed in front of our house with the biggest smile in the world.

Kids learning to ride a bike are trying to master several complex tasks simultaneously.  They are learning to balance, steer, pedal, and brake.  This requires lots of motor skills and the use of muscles that they've probably never used before.

I grew up on a dead end street.  There were no curbs. I learned to ride in the street with training wheels, because that's how it was done back in the day. I was terrified as I teetered back and forth and tried to pedal and steer and brake.  My first solo ride without training wheels ended up with me t-boning a 58 Chevy, but I digress.

There is a new train of thought that says training wheels are a waste of money and make learning much more difficult. I agree with it.

My sister Margaret is 2 1/2 years younger than me.While I was busy with second grade, my five year old sister taught herself to ride on my bike without training wheels. She pushed my bike down the driveway, jumped on it and glided onto the lawn across the street. She rode up the neighbor's grassy front lawn and when she lost momentum she crashed. Then she got up and did it again. She was having a blast.

She was mastering balance and steering. She did nothing with the brakes or the pedals. Once she had the first two skills figured out, she practiced the second two. 

Do a web search on "without training wheels". I got over 1 million hits.

Since I was known among the parents of my kids' friends as the dad who rides a bike, I was often asked where to take a kid to learn to ride.  The first words out of my mouth were always met with incredulity.


Or the Capital Crescent or Washington and Old Dominion or any other trail with significant trail traffic.

Taking a kid to a busy multiuse trail around DC is like teaching a kid to drive by taking him on the Beltway.  It's not going to end well.

Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy
I have discovered the perfect place to take your kid to practice bike riding (with or without training wheels).  It's the newly paved section of Jones Point Park under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.  There's all kinds of new, smooth pavement.  It's deserted.  Your kid can ride in circles or up and down the big wide lanes under the bridge. If it rains, no problem. There's a huge bridge overhead remember?.  And it's a cool looking structure too.  The Mount Vernon Trail does cross the paved area near the bathrooms but there's so much room it shouldn't be a concern. (Don't even think about putting your kid on it.)

There is also a water fountain and bathrooms. When junior gets tired, take her/him over to the river to look at the boats or over to one of the play grounds.

Play ground and parking beyond the bridge

You gotta have a potty and a water fountain
Then take them to Old Town and get them an ice cream cone. 

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