I begged Santa Claus for a trail-a-bike, imagining my son and I doing road races together, and me riding him to school in the mornings.
I noticed that they refer to the contraption as a “TRAIL-a-bike” instead of “tandem,” because they have tested the thing out on their own unwilling children. If they were honest they would write on the side of the box, “We do not promise that this will provide more efficient riding on the behalf of the front rider…a.k.a. the misled adult”
The first time Elijah and I took it out was at the Outer Banks on New Year’s. We wobbled out of the garage and I nearly lost him in the gravel. Once he realized that he was not actually a sack of potatoes with opposable thumbs, he pedaled a few strokes. We were grateful for the long driveway, so by the time we pulled into traffic, we were going strong.
We whooped and hollered, which nearly cast us into a ditch since 6-year-olds don’t whoop and holler without also jumping and flailing their arms. Once we recovered we were going strong. It was a good ride, but looking back on it, I realize now that it wasn’t a good indicator as to what future rides would be like. We didn’t go far, the road was flat, we rode with people who don’t ever ride bikes, we stopped for a beer/sno-cones and then rode back.
The next ride was more ambitious. Daddy pulled the baby in the trailer, so I thought, oh, surely Elijah and I can kick his butt. Perhaps. But in my fantasy Elijah was pedaling. I think he just didn’t want to pedal at all. Occasionally his feet went around with the pedals, but mainly Ben was having to tell him to pedal. That would make him mad, so he would then stand up mashing the pedals while swinging his body from side to side. This might be difficult on a flat road, but on a steep, Asheville hill it is quite maddening, let alone treacherous.
Elijah generally dismounts when he sees a hill in his near future. So when he was being—ahem—gently reminded to pedal harder, he decided that he was in desperate need of a drink of water—even though just moments ago I couldn’t force two sips into him. Additionally, it did not seem possible to get started on a hill in this situation.
“I know that this is a nasty hill, but we will get a drink once we are at the top,” I told him. In the bottom of my heart I, too, wanted to avoid that hill, but now daddy was a full block ahead of us, and pulling away. That’s when I realized that pulling a 23-pound baby strapped down into a 25-pound trailer seemed like cake. I was hauling a wiggling, 55-pound child on a 23-pound unicycle.
We climbed Patton Mountain before going home. Had I had enough breath to shout into the distance, I would have insisted we go through the tunnel, rather than climb over Beaucatcher Mountain. But, no. We charged at College Street as it loomed above us like the back loop of a roller coaster. “There’s a MONSTER chasing you!!!!! PEDALLLL!!!” I screamed into the wind.
The bike lurched from side to side as he stood in the pedals, and I pushed at my own pedals with absolutely every pound of my body, but the poor little crank arms would not turn. The bike tipped to the side in such slow motion we easily stepped onto the ground.
“Oh, dang, we’re gonna have to push,” I gasped.
My heart thumped furiously against my bike jersey as I struggled to keep my Jell-o legs from buckling beneath me while pushing the giant mass of aluminum and steel. That’s when I saw the most incredible sight: Elijah was BOUNDING past me up the hill. He wasn’t even out of breath. His legs were fresh. After a two-hour ride!
I was incredulous. Then I was mad.
“You better run until you see your daddy!” I told him. “And then you’re gonna run right back here!” You will run up and down this hill until your tiny little heart starts to thump inside your tiny little chest!”
He found this funny.
It was when I finally got his dad to pull the trail-a-bike that I was able to witness the atrocities occurring behind the rider’s back. At one point Elijah’s feet were not even on the pedals. When having to pedal through a muddy and snowy section of grass, he stopped pedaling and leaned out as far as he could to see what was coming next. The fastest I saw him pedal was downhill, when Ben needed him to be as still as possible. Then, his legs ripped around like lightning as he wagged his portion of bike like the tail of a delighted dog.
Kids really do make you stronger.
Ten Tips for riding the Trail-a-bike:
Do not allow the child to stand in the pedals unless s/he is being asked to do so.
Strap the child’s feet to the pedals and make it a fixed gear.
Practice first by riding your bike through sand with a small goat tied to your seat post.
When approaching a steep climb, tell the child there is a monster chasing him.
Feed him twinkies and burgers so that he will soon exceed the 85-pound trail-a-bike limit.
Put blinders on him so that he will not be fascinated with bypassing scenery.
Strap jelly beans to your backside
Buy him a pre-ride cappuccino.
Have him wear bike shorts with a chamois. His butt will hurt from sitting there so long without pedaling.