We are pleased that our house overlooks what is unfortunately known as the Suds Basin but which has a circular cinder path around the so-called basin. As the playpark for the kids has been shut due to lockdown, this has become a popular area for the children to ride their bikes round.
And round and round they go; some are super confident and have races with each other, the smaller siblings trying desperately to keep up with the older ones. But it’s the toddlers on their balance bikes that I love watching, from their first tentative attempts at pushing them along to eventually whizzing down the slope just as fast as the older brothers and sisters. These bikes apparently teach them how to balance quicker than ones with stabilisers so that they can graduate to pedal bikes at a younger age.
The first bikes at the start of the nineteenth century were like that, and known as hobbyhorses, with the young gentlemen scooting along the highways just like today’s toddlers. But as they were heavy on the shoe leather, Doc Martins being unknown then, they did not prove popular. Then in the 1830’s the pedal bike was invented; some claim that Kirkpartick Macmillan from Dumfries was the one who should be credited, and cycling really took off with women also learning to ride.
My own experiences of learning to ride a bike were rather fraught. My parents rode a tandem so in order that I did not curtail their outings, my father acquired an old sidecar from a motor bike and affixed it to the tandem. I did not enjoy the view, six inches from the ground, of two pairs of muscly legs, one decorated with immense varicose veins, going like the clappers. Looking back, it’s a wonder the sidecar did not separate from the tandem as they rounded bends or rode across Glasgow’s tram lines.
I graduated eventually to a red tricycle, second-hand of course, which I had for many years until I eventually mastered the art of riding a two-wheeler. My method was to prop the bike against a wall and try to climb on putting both feet on the pedals before actually moving. If I had been able to do that, I’d have joined the circus!
Today’s children are so much more confident and it’s a great way to use their hour of exercise this way. Their parents are also joining in so maybe after lockdown eases, we’ll have many more bikes on the road and a lot less cars.
If you’re interested in what it was like growing up after World War Two, then read A Scottish Childhood, a compilation of the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories.