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January 16, 2006

Ride of the Valkyries

Filed under: — brendan @ 09:16 GMT

This weekend I watched a beautiful dance making its own music and moving in perfect harmony. All of it happened in a clean and healthy green park in Ireland with the rich blue of Dublin Bay as its backdrop. Our four year-old son P was one of the performers proudly sitting astride his bicycle.

We gave it to him for his birthday last month. He’d been using a tricycle for a long time, but really enjoyed a “grown-up” bike (with training wheels) when we were in the US. It seemed to make sense for him to have something similar in Ireland, since he’d pretty much lost interest in using his ever-shrinking tricycle. He’d ridden on it a few times, but not for very long.

About a week ago he took a turn on the corner too sharply and fell off. Despite my efforts, he refused to get back on and instead chose to push the bike for the rest of the time. I didn’t know what to expect.

On Saturday we spent a good two hours over in the park. It gave me lots of free exercise trying to keep up and let P increase his confidence as a bike-rider. Plenty of other kids around the park with bicycles made him feel driven to take part. While he insisted he only wanted to push his bike around, soon enough he was again willing to sit on the seat and pedal himself along.

P caught sight of one boy near his own age on a bike quite like his: flame red, same tires, same training wheels. Turning around, P made a point of riding by him a couple of times. Rider #2 did the same sort of exercise, driving in a wide loop along the different walking areas to reach a common point. On a third pass, P (now Rider #1) used a thumb to make his bicycle bell ring out: brrrring, brrrring. His compatriot quickly responded with his own: brrrring. Both boys got silly grins on their faces as they spread further apart.

They raced around the park for a good hour like this, but none of the movements were truly random. Instead, they took the form of an intricately coordinated exercise using a pattern of signals and movements they both understood (but, as I will only continue to learn as he grows older, I could only begin to grasp it).

At one point they rode next to each other down one of the wider paths. I immediately had a flashback to when I was about 10 years old. John Starkey and I were Ponch and Jon from the television show, CHiPs, racing our bikes up and down the “old road”, a stretch of aging tarmac through our really small Maine town. I still hold those memories with great fondness, and can’t wait to see P have the same sort of fun with friends he’s still yet to meet.

The two professional bicyclists did a wide circle together around one of the larger water fountains, followed by a perfectly executed merge of paths on the other side. Separating down other paths, each looking back with curiosity as though asking, Where are you going? As they swung around to head up a path, some sort of signal was exchanged. The agreement was to park by a small step that goes up onto a raised bit of grass. Each dismounted and began to check his gears, make sure chains were tight, and check the tires for air.

Satisfied their pit-stop was a success, they mounted their hogs and continued the journey across the park. I expected them to call out to each other over the noise of their engines in a new version of Easy Rider. Away they went, their bikes not too far away for me to hear periodic laughter and calls of vroom, vroom.

Finally, the performance had to finish. P’s new friend went back to the dad who’d also been in the background, waiting patiently on a bench and watching the exchange. With a comfortable nod and smile across the distance, the other father and I acknowledged our small role in what our children had just completed.

As he saw his playmate leaving, P looked a little disappointed that the fun was over. But it didn’t stop him—we were there for another half-hour before finally going home ourselves.

When we’d parked his bike back at our house and were inside taking off our jackets, I asked P if he enjoyed all of his biking today.

“Yup!” he shot right back, his beautiful eyes glowing brightly. “And Dad, thanks for giving me the bike for my birthday. I really like it!”

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