The Parable of the Black and Blue Bike
When I was six years old, my dad bought me my first bicycle. It was an old second hand model (or perhaps third or fourth hand). Someone had carefully painted it black with sky blue trim using a paint brush. My dad told me that before I learned to ride it, I too would be black and blue. He was right.
At that time we lived in a rented basement house on a small acreage next to a large irrigation canal outside of Sunnyside, Washington. You reached our house by turning off the gravel county road and driving a couple of hundred yards to our driveway down a single-lane dirt track on the edge of the canal bank.
My dad told me that the best way to learn to ride my bike would be to push it to the top of our short driveway and coast down. To be fair, Dad was only in his mid 20’s and had probably never taught anyone to ride a bike before. What he was suggesting was what he thought would work best. It might have worked for any number of other kids, but not for me. Every time I made the attempt to ride down our driveway, I crashed and burned. I was an absolute disaster as a wannabe bike rider. Eventually my dad’s limited patience was exhausted and he went into the house leaving me on my own.
Riding a bike was important to me. A bicycle was a kid’s passport to the world. The neighbor kids rode their bikes all over the country and had grand adventures. My short little legs couldn’t keep up, so adventures were denied me… unless I learned to ride that bike.
Time after time I pushed that bike up our driveway. Time after time I coasted down to disaster. I crashed into the fence, the parked car, the house, the pasture fence, and, of course, the ground—over and over. I had dirt and gravel embedded in my knees, elbows, palms of my hands, and other more delicate parts of my anatomy. I just couldn’t seem to get the knack of riding a bike.
At one point as I stood at the top of the driveway taking a well deserved breather before plummeting once again to certain disaster, I began thinking of why I was having difficulty. I determined that it was because I was unable to control my speed. The driveway was too steep and I was too inexperienced. I felt certain that if I could just find a level spot, I would be able to ride the bike.
There was only one level spot near my house. It was the narrow dirt road on the edge of the canal. I knew it was dangerous to ride there. I knew my parents would not approve. But I really wanted to ride that bike, so I decided to give it a try.
Now testing my new bike riding hypothesis on the dirt road had three possible outcomes. The first, and most desirable, was that I would be able to ride the bike. The second, and far less desirable, was that I would fall into the canal and drown. I was only six and couldn’t swim. The canal was deep and swift. Drowning was almost a certainty if I lost control of the bike and plunged into that murky ditch water. The third outcome, somewhere in the middle of the other two, was losing control and running off the road on the side opposite the canal. The downside there was a barbed wire fence and a thicket of wild roses.
So those were my options. Run to the house crying, scratched and bleeding from the roses; disappear inexplicably and have someone find my bloated little body stuck in a sluice gate next week; or ride that black and blue passport to adventure. Some might call it stupid, but back then I called it MOTIVATION.
I am writing this today because, fortunately, I experienced outcome #1. I rode the bike on my very first try. I started off a little shaky, but within a few minutes my confidence grew and I was a master. Even our driveway was no longer a challenge.
I had my dreamed of adventures. I rode my bike all over the country from that day on… although it was several years before I told my parents exactly where I learned to ride it.