My Inner William Safire and Riding a Bike

The words we use change over time, across generations, through cultural turmoil, resulting from an invention, or the shouts of a proud four year old.

My four year old just changed how I refer to a “bike.”

When I was a kid, I rode my training wheels until I was 6 or 7. One weekend, my parents decided it was time to learn how to ride without training wheels. We rode up and down the street, my Mom or Dad holding on to the back of my seat until I was ready for them to let go… or their backs gave out, whichever came first. I went from the three-wheel tricycle, to the four-wheel training wheels to…. the esteemed two-wheeler.

“I can ride a two-wheeler!” chanted the suddenly successful first or second grader of my generation.

However, between the time my eight year old and my four year old started riding a bike, there was a life and word-changing invention − a bike with no wheels, known as the “balance bike”.

Three year old boys and girls took to neighborhood streets on “balance bikes” that enabled them to learn the balance required of a two-wheeler without concerning themselves with pedaling. My youngest spent the last two years zipping up and down our street on his “balance bike”, feet up, gliding around our neighbors’ circular driveways at top speeds.

And then last weekend, his parents decided it was time. We put him on a two-wheeler. After a year and half on the “balance bike”, riding a two-wheeler took mere minutes to conquer.

But the number of wheels was not significant to him. It did not define his victory or success. He’d been on two wheels for what seemed to him to be a lifetime. That wasn’t the challenge. What were new were…pedals. They were the real challenge to overcome.

So when my four year old learned to ride a bike, he shouted to anyone who would listen, “I can ride a PEDAL BIKE! I can ride a PEDAL BIKE!”

Not a two-wheeler.

Word evolution. Cheers, Mr. Safire.


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