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My granddaughters came by Monday night to show off their new bicycles. Faith, 6, and Lyndie 5, are already accomplished double-wheel maniacs. In five minutes they ran into the dog twice.

I was impressed. I didn't learn to ride a bicycle until I was nearly 9 years old. While most kids accomplish this rite of passage well before that age, I didn't get the job done until third grade.

Some would attribute such a late start to cerebral slowness, and they would be at least partially right. Bike riding involves several cooperative mental and physical factors, not least of which is an ability to watch where the hell you're going.

But I tell myself that the delay truthfully had more to do with geography than ability. Until I was 8, my family lived in a walk-up apartment on Avenida Fernando El Catolico, Zaragoza, Spain.

There was no place to practice bike riding downtown. We didn't have a yard or even a driveway. And bus-crammed cobblestone streets were not the place my mom wanted her kids learning how.

When we came back to the America, my parents immediately bought us bicycles. It was time for us to become rural American kids with the requisite missing teeth and road rash.

One Saturday, my father decided to teach me the art of bicycling. I pedaled while he ran behind me holding the bike level.

In truth it took several Saturdays (six) and a couple of long, seething Sunday afternoons. While I groomed much of Elwood Street with my face, the old man lost 15 pounds and all of his patience.

I just couldn't get it through my head how a bike actually balanced itself on two small points of rubber. It didn't seem logical. So every time he let go of the bike, I fell over.

Things progressed to the point where the old man was holding me up by my neck while he ran alongside. Mom came out and told him to forget it. Eventually the right motivation would come along and I would learn to ride on my own.

She was right. One day, Duncan and Leon rode past our house with news of a fresh, traffic-mashed muskrat on the next street. Did I want to come along and run over it some more? I learned to ride on the way there.

I rode bicycles for years after that. With a little imagination, a battered Schwinn easily became a Pony Express horse, jet plane, space rocket, hot rod, or even a time machine. And once I could pedal faster than an adult could run, it made a handy getaway vehicle.

There was a price for such unencumbered freedom. I was hit by cars twice. Conversely, I hit cars (including parked ones) at least two dozen times. I also hit a horse, some trees, several buildings and, once, my little brother on purpose. I lost teeth, glasses, and skin along the way.

I'm not exactly sure when I stopped riding bicycles. Somewhere along the way I just lost touch with them as a form of transportation.

Maybe I should get another one. With gas prices, air pollution levels and my age rapidly growing, all I would have to lose now is some weight.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or