There’s nothing like riding a bike with a kid to keep you on your toes. I had to run to the bank one morning—just a mile away—but a 15-year-old friend was visiting—a girl in foster care whom my husband and I have been mentoring through a program called Kidsave. She told me she hadn’t learned to ride a bike until the age of 12 but felt comfortable enough to accompany me on my errand (her riding my husband’s bike). After a few shaky stops and one big hill, I asked if everything was okay and she laughed and said, “this is fun!” Then her chain fell off. She panicked about that fact that her pedals “weren’t working.” I rode up to her, asked her to get off and walk her bike to the sidewalk, where then I turned it upside down and hooked the chain back on.
We continued on, locking our bikes, running errands and stopping for snacks. We took a slightly different route home, down low-traffic streets where I used all the hand signals I sometimes slack on and insisted on helmets though she didn’t want to wear one (I know she didn’t think it was “cute” but I said that I thought being brainless would be uglier). Of course I worry about my own safety but having someone in my care puts me on hyper-alert. I’d never want to be a bad role model or ambassador for bikes, especially to a young person. It made me think a lot about how biking has given me such joy and freedom and reminded me of how important the bike was to women’s independence.
I once taught at an all-women’s college, where I rode my bike to work, just three miles each way. When my students found out, they said I was crazy. “Three whole miles?” they’d ask. One added that she’d pray for me, since traffic was kind of bad in the area. Don’t know if it ever inspired any of those young women to give biking a spin, but it’s cool when you can share something you love.
Today our mentee is on the verge of adoption by a nice family who took her biking on the beach as one of their first outings. Hopefully it’s all smooth rides from here on out for her.