« on: November 03, 2007, 12:19:54 am »
Our youngest was there seven years ago. (He's 16 now, and has about 35,000 miles behind him.) It wasn't easy finding real road bikes so small, but we were blessed to be in the right place at the right time-- twice-- to get small road bikes, first one with 24" wheels, and then tiny 19-pound 1996 Quintana Roo triathlon bike with 650c wheels, for our two boys to grow into and out of before they could ride adult bikes with 700c wheels.
It was a bit nerve-wracking to train them to ride safely in traffic, but now they're expert. I brought them into it little by little. As I tried them out in different situations, gradually increasing the skill requirement, there were times I could see it wasn't safe yet, and I'd back off and give them a little more time to develop before trying the same thing again. Actually, I started them even before the road bikes, when they were on kids' bikes with wide, 16- and 20-inch tires. I didn't just put them on the street and coach them though. My right hand was on them frequently, not just to give the exhilarating push, but to steer or even to hold them back when appropriate. It was quite a process.
Many of the base miles were laid on the nearby class-1 paved bike trail on which you hardly have to slow down for anything at all almost the whole 40 miles of it. They learned to handle the bike there before being introduced to traffic. We also have some routes in the hills with almost no traffic.
In their development, each child hit a time around age 11, give or take, when it seemed like something suddenly clicked, and they made a fast, dramatic improvement in their ability to make good decisions quickly in traffic. That doesn't mean it's ok to quit coaching yet though. There will still be situations where, in their inexperience, they need you to alert them to the potential problems that could develop from any given situation they see, and how to either prevent or evade them. Blaming the motorist doesn't help, no matter how foolish their action was. The cyclist must be ready for whatever is dished out.
The needed coaching will take years to taper off, even after the new cyclist is full-on in traffic. I recently had to talk to our 16-year-old about the danger possibilities he was leaving open regarding cars turning right, whether across our path, into our path, in front of us, etc.. Increasingly over the last year or two, I've let him ride alone, and this pattern seemed to develop which I identified on a fast century we rode together. The situations did not allow much coaching on the spot, so I went into greater detail after we were home and the pressures of traffic were gone. The relationship will of course be most conducive to respect and learning if you talk to him privately, instead of bringing it up with a third person present, as that would make him more embarrassed or defensive.
When the kids still fit on the tandem, they got to ride it with me many times. That teaches the child a few things about handling traffic as well, because they can get into the thick of it-- more than they can be allowed on their own single bike-- and see how you handle it. Now both boys are too big for the tandem, which is unfortunate because they were great stokers, and we could really fly.
I will not pretend that I was the perfect teacher and always kept them safe. There were situations I would not repeat if I had it to do over, but fortunately we got through them unharmed, and I probably learned more from them than the kids who may not have perceived what the danger was. I'm sure one time the younger son was very much aware of the danger was when we followed someone's suggestion for a loop in a city we were not familar with, and he, at age 9 and on the little 10-speed with 24" wheels, was going downhill at 40mph in traffic. Definitely not good! Go about it cautiously and methodically, and don't rush them beyond their level of judgment, decision ability, skill, etc..
Make it fun. Our kids were undoubtedly hooked by the speed. I pushed the two of them thousands of miles, giving one a shove which would send him flying past the other, regaining my speed and giving the next a shove in like manner, and so on, for miles on end. One time we went to the cafe at the end of the trail about 19 miles from home. Mom didn't come-- this was just us boys. We ordered some food, and it was terrible, but I didn't want to say anything and ruin the experience for them. They were on cloud 9. They were out to lunch with Dad, a long way from home, and it was special. We had a decent tail wind coming home, and averaged 15mph, which was great considering one boy was on 16" wheels and the other on 20"!
You will reap a great reward, both in a riding partner as well as in a great father-son relationship. Oh-- and don't forget to train your son to make use of a glasses mirror.