“I Can Do This…” Luna learns to ride a bike

By Steve White, BikeWalkKC Education Instructor

“How long have you been riding a bike, Mr. Steve?”

“Do I get to keep this bike, Mr. Steve?”

“YAYYY! It’s almost dinner time! What’s your FAVORITE dinner, Mr. Steve?”

Luna had me smiling from the get-go with her constant questions and chatter. More than once I said to her, “Okay, Luna, what we need here is less talking, and more pedaling…”

“Okay, you’re right, Mr. Steve!” She could hardly talk without at least smiling.

Nearly 1000 students learned to ride with BikeWalkKC in 2023!

Kiddos like Luna make my job interesting and fun almost every day. Each school tends to produce one or two kids who grow on me. And it may sound crazy to anyone over 30, but many of the kids we teach in both urban and suburban schools don’t know how to ride. Usually, they’re kiddos who might start off pretty scared to even sit on a bike, but over the weeks give you their trust. And in turn learn to trust in themselves. 

Our typical program runs for four sessions averaging about 45 minutes each, so it makes it more challenging when teaching a child to ride safely becomes a bona fide race against the clock.

Clocks notwithstanding, I often find myself on what we internally call the “non-rider” side of the playground. I met Luna at an after-school program at Wendell Phillips Elementary near 24th and Prospect. This program had no shortage of fun kids. (Are there any other kind, really?) 

As you’ve guessed, Luna was nothing but smiles from the first session. She had never been on a bike before, but she had this energy about her that just lit up the entire city block. I’ve never seen this much verve in a nine-year-old. As you’ve likely guessed by now, she loved, LOVED chatting as I was teaching her and about four other kids to ride.

Kids riding in the grass

By the time session three rolled ‘round, I thought to myself, “This is it. Today, she’ll GET it.” 

Unfortunately, Luna was absent that day…which meant I had one last chance to get her riding on her own. I began our final session with a question before she could start in with hers:

"Luna, are you ready to REALLY LEARN to ride? This is our last time together, you know.”

“YES, Mr. Steve! I’M REALLY READY!” was her joyful reply. 

We consider a kiddo to be a “rider” if they can safely pedal in a straight line and stop, all by themselves. Luna was heading in that general direction, but I wasn’t reaching her on the concept of using the hand brakes. I’d give her a careful push, and she’d often go about 10 feet and then veer off the blacktop, into the grass and out of control. She even fell down a few times. But unlike most kids, she just laughed it off. 

After about the fourth time of patiently showing her how to use her hand brakes in between being peppered with her questions, she finally declared, “Ohhhhhh! Those are for STOP-PING! I get it!” 

Once again, Luna had me laughing. 

That very last November session, in those waning few minutes as the chill night air crept in under a spectacular blue-orange sunset, Luna was almost riding. Almost.

I kept encouraging her by asking her to repeat a phrase I often use with kids like her: “I can do this...” Hearing herself say it out loud gave her a bit more confidence and focus as my teammates corralled the remaining kids to pick up the cones and tennis balls that we use for course instruction. 

“Luna, look at that fire hydrant — the whole time!” I implored. Having them look at a fixed point several yards ahead is also great for focus. 

“I can do this. I can do this,” she said to herself as she set her power pedal, lasered in on the hydrant, and took off. She was now clearly in the zone! A moment later, Luna pedaled in a straight line with perfect control. And used her brakes to stop like a pro.

“I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT, MR. STEVE!” she yelled with pure exhilaration.

Her homeroom teacher and I ran over to greet her with high fives. But Luna ignored those. Instead, she gave us both hugs of joy as she happy-danced around her bike.

Luna made that day one of my favorites as an educator. THAT is why I do this job. Teaching kids a skill they can use for life is a reward that’s extremely hard to put into words. I hope I’ve succeeded in that here. Thanks for reading. And for your support of our vital programming.

Steve White, BikeWalkKC Instructor

Steve White is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Bike Safety Instructor (LCI) and is approaching his eighth year as an Educator with BikeWalkKC.

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