Do you remember your first bicycle? What about where in Canberra you went to learn to ride it without falling over?
When I was about seven and my sister was five or so, our parents bought a yellow Malvern Star with trainer wheels and an orange safety flag for each of us. My dad bought himself a green Apollo bike with a seat on the back for our toddler brother. We put the bikes and our Albion bike helmets in the back of the station wagon and headed down to the lake, initially to learn to ride, and later to enjoy a cycle through leafy scenery such as that at Westbourne Woods together.
My memories of those early rides are hazy, partly because it is nearly 40 years ago and partly, I suspect, because the lake’s foreshore looks so different now. Back then, Old Parliament House was the only parliament house we had. The High Court, National Gallery, Questacon and Portrait Gallery were yet to be built. The building that houses Waters Edge restaurant didn’t exist yet, either.
One thing I do remember, though, is a school excursion (or was it a school holiday session?) to a learn to ride centre at Deakin West at around that same time. The centre was set up like a miniature suburb, with footpaths, roads featuring various line markings, street signs, roundabouts and zebra crossings designed to be just the right size for children who are learning the rules of the road, very much like the new Learn to Ride centre at Tuggeranong that opened last Friday (pictured below).
Mind you, we’d already been indoctrinated in safe crossing of roads by Hector the Cat, with his “Stop at the kerb” song. I still to this day “look to the right, look to the left and look to the right again” before crossing at a walk (” … don’t run … walk straight across the road”).
There was something empowering about Hector’s song, because we knew that if we could follow its rules, we could finally cross roads on our own. I remember feeling the same way about the cycling centre at Deakin. What a thrill, cycling around on paths that looked just like grown-ups’ roads. We were on our way to freedom and independence.
Perhaps it was part of that desire to be “big” and free that made me feel embarrassed about my orange safety flag even at that age. It seemed to flutter about in the wind telegraphing my age and inexperience. Today, even the most image-conscious of cyclists happily don hi viz gear, because we all know how vulnerable we are in the traffic.
In the early 1980s, we were made aware of just how dangerous the roads can be when the son of family friends was hit by a car while wheeling his bike across a road a few blocks from our house. The boy, who was only a year older than me and attended the local primary school, had been wearing a helmet, but the driver hadn’t seen him and the head injuries he sustained as a result of the collision were severe. He died a few days later, and I will never forget how devastating this was for the family and for everyone who knew them.
Those memories haunt me when I walk or drive near where the accident happened still, and will be uppermost in my mind as my children learn to cycle in coming months. They’re now around the same age as my sister and I were when we first started. Both boys have experimented a little on their bikes, but at this stage prefer to scoot than contemplate cycling without trainer wheels.
I took them to the Tuggeranong Learn to Ride centre on Sunday to inspire them to get on their bikes. Just two days after ACT Minister for Road Safety Shane Rattenbury had officially opened the centre, which, by the way, makes me feel very nostalgic about the one I’d attended as a child in Deakin, there were hordes of children on site getting the hang of sharing the road. Only one had trainer wheels, and he was moving much more slowly than the others, which prompted my oldest child to express embarrassment at the thought riding there while still using bike stabilisers.
See our live video of the opening of the Learn to Ride Centre here:
See Shane Rattenbury cycling around the new centre with participants in the Cyclabilities program here:
Minister for Road Safety Shane Rattenbury takes a spin around Canberra’s brand new Learn to Ride Centre at Greenway Park in Tuggeranong. Joining him are participants in Cyclabilities, a therapy-based program for children with additional needs to develop cycling skills and improve road safety awareness. A second Learn to Ride Centre will open in Belconnen later this year.
It’s going to take some heavy duty encouragement, but it’s time to get my son off the trainer wheels so we can spend weekend mornings riding around the lake together and work towards beating the drop-off traffic by cycling to school.
Do you have any tips on great places in Canberra to take the kids while they’re learning to ride their bikes?
I’d also love to hear your memories of cycling in Canberra as a child. Did you also attend the centre at Deakin? Or another centre like it? What brand was your first bike? Did you start with trainer wheels or just get straight on and go?
The Tuggeranong Learn to Ride centre is on Lewis Mortimer Drive at Greenway. It is designed to suit children from preschool to year four and features signs with a range of road safety tips for children and their parents to follow when riding and walking. A second centre will open later this year near Lake Ginninderra in Belconnen.
Among the regular users of both centres will be the operators of and participants in Cyclabilities, a program to help children with additional needs develop cycling skills and road safety awareness.
Groups can make a booking to use the Tuggeranong centre at www.act.gov.au/learntoride. Families and individuals can use the centre without prior booking.
Pictured above are a yellow Malvern Star bike from around 1979, though I’m sure I had a black seat, not a glittery one; and ACT Minister for Road Safety Shane Rattenbury with participants in the Cyclabilities program at the opening of the Tuggeranong Learn to Ride centre.