He would not have attracted my attention were it not for his bike. It was so shiny it glistened in the falling sun. A screaming red stripe on a dazzling white background made the bike look as if it could shoot off into the distance under its own power.
The wheels stood out, almost too big for the frame in that half-grown calf sort of way. And the flat handlebars seemed too wide for the arm spread of its diminutive rider. Even so, the bike held its rider comfortably.
As I watched, I saw a boy of no more than eight or nine years of age doing something so few kids do today. He was out by himself, near a park, practicing with his new bike.
His face bore a determination unique to the very young who have a seemingly infinite lifetime ahead of them. It was an expression of hope and inevitability, full of a future not yet dreamt of.
He seemed oblivious to the people milling around the park. A public event was underway that day, and I wondered whether this factored into his decision to bring his bike to the park. There, many people would see his new prized possession. And, he could show the world how he could ride an adult style bike, even if it was a smaller version designed to fit someone his size.
Up and down the sidewalk he rode, not too fast, but with a steady pace. From time to time he stopped to rest one foot on a low wooden fence to catch his breath. He was most balanced in this position. Several minutes would go by until he was ready to try again.
An unmistakable concentration filled his eyes as he pulled his face taut with preparation. Pushing off with his left foot, he wobbled to the right and his too wide handlebars turned of their own accord. He struggled to pull the front wheel straight, not quite certain how to steer the wide handlebars.
Due to his steering difficulties, he lacked sufficient speed to roll smoothly ahead. His wobbling became severe as he pulled mightily from one side to the other to keep the bike upright. For a moment, I was sure he would fall.
The bike was so heavy in comparison to his slender, lithe frame. He didn’t have enough weight to steady it, and although he made a brief attempt to stand on the pedals, he settled back onto the saddle where there seemed to be more safety.
To my dismay, his resolution won out. The bike stayed upright and he was gaining momentum. A look of victory arose in his eyes, accompanied by a proud smile spreading across his face. He was learning and he knew it.
Less than a block away, he stopped, placing one foot, and then the other, on the ground. Lifting the handlebars as high as he could, he turned the bike around to head back to where he had started. With the same look of preparation, he stared down the road until he was ready to begin.
This time, he pressed hard on the pedal, feeling enough control to risk adding some speed. The front wheel sprung forward as he unleashed his energy. Not to lose this good start, he pressed his other foot down hard, his thin leg tensing as much as it could. He wanted speed such as the aesthetics of his bike foretold.
Using his arms to increase his power hadn’t dawned on him yet. He still focused on balance and pedaling, with speed and endurance reserved for the future. After all, he was just now transitioning from a little boy’s bike to a real bike. And he was caught in-between, riding like a child, while striving to bike like a man.
Many passes later, he stopped for a rest. Perched on his bike with his foot resting squarely on the low fence, he turned his head in the most nonchalant way to take in the events in front of him. His gaze was fixed in the distance; I could not tell whether he saw the foreground. He was looking for something beyond the present, as if testing the range of one’s eyes could enlighten one about the hereafter.
While he was still, I saw myself in my mind’s eye, frozen in that precise posture. But it wasn’t today, it was years ago, when I had just turned that age. I, too, had had a slightly too big bike, one which I rode in circles on a quiet street, gaining my first riding legs by trial and error.
With the short attention span of a restless child, he turned back towards his bike, certain that mastery of this new skill was on the horizon. I tried to guess whether he would decide to go home or to continue practicing; indecision was spelled out all over his face.
He decided on a little of both. One more pass was necessary to complete the challenge. He rode confidently, without the slightest waver, before starting the journey homeward as an initiated grownup bike rider.