Teaching Kids to Ride a Bike

Time for a more useful and practical blog post. I’m sure I’ll get back to something more self-centred and ranty soon!

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I don’t think anyone can dispute that learning to ride a bike a vital skill anyone should try and pick up in their life. While most of us will never be Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, or even a lycra-clad weekend warrior, but being able to get around on two wheels can give so many benefits and pleasures. Like with many things in life, the earlier to learn to do it, the easier it is to master. So trying to get your kids to learn how to ride as soon as they can is always a good thing to do.

The Fear

Trying to balance on a bike for the first time can be a scary experience.

How can anything perched on two skinny in-line wheels possibly stay upright?
How on earth do I stay on and not fall off, and isn’t it going to hurt a lot?

Even for the most fearless four year old, these questions will be whizzing through their mind, so they need convincing that balancing isn’t that hard and you can usually prevent yourself from falling badly quite easily. Of course the older the child is the more they’ll rationalise things, and that fear can be even greater. Also, the bigger the child, the bigger the fall when it goes wrong, so the heightened fear isn’t misplaced.

Trying to get a child to feel confident enough to get on a bike and overcome the initial fear can be a challenge and all children are different. My first child was pretty fearless, and had no trouble getting on a bike. Whereas my second child is far more wary and it was a real struggle to even to get them to sit on a stationary bike with their feet on the ground.

Getting them used sitting on a wheeled machine.

The vast majority of kids would have spent many hours in a pram and then a push-chair, so should be used to being moved around on wheels. But sitting on something far more exposed, like that first tricycle, can be a big step so needs to be encouraged as soon as possible. So as soon as they are big enough, try and get them a little tricycle that they can be pushed around on. With this they’ll pick up the basics of steering and will gradually get the hang of pedalling. However, these little tricycles can be quite hard for little legs to cycle, so don’t expect much. Just get them used to moving around on wheels, where they have some element of control.

Balance bikes

For the uninitiated, balance bikes are very simple small bikes that don’t have pedals and are powered by the child pushing it along with the feet on the ground, or by gravity. Often they are made out of wood, but some are made of metal and look more like conventional bikes. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what design they are, as long as the child likes the design and they are happy sitting on it is the main thing. When I was a child many moons ago, these things didn’t exist, but they are one of those very simple inventions (if you can even call them that, as the very earliest bikes were essentially balance bikes) that would have helped me a lot back then.

Balance bikes are a great way to start riding, and I really recommend going down this route. Get your child one as soon as they are big enough for one, and just get them to sit on it with their feet on the ground to start with. My youngest was too scared to even try that, as they saw anything with just two wheels as unstable so impossible to keep upright. No amount of persuading them that with their feet down they couldn’t fall over. So it was a bit of a waiting game with him, and they barely touched their balance bike.

However, the theory is good with balance bikes, so get your child on them as soon as you can, and they’ll be soon pushing themselves along quite happily. As they build their confidence up, they’ll gradually get longer strides in and even start free wheeling down slopes. Before they realise, they’ll be balancing quite proficiently as they roll along. They’ll have done is without any sudden step up from a stabilised bike to a two-wheeler. They’ll also gain the understanding that it’s easier to balance the faster you go.

Avoiding the stabiliser stage

While both my kids did start off on a proper bike with stabilisers, I found them more of a hindrance than a benefit to learning. The only thing they were any use with was to gain confidence in pedalling without having to worry about balancing. If your child has gone through the balance bike stage then they should be close to be balancing well anyway, so stabilisers shouldn’t be needed.

The problem with stabilisers is that they distort how a bike behaves. When you steer on a bike you need to lean into the corner, even if it is very slight at slow speeds. Whereas when you steer on a stabilised bike, you stay upright and often lean outwards, much like a car. The other problem is that the rider often just rests on one of the stabilised wheels and makes no attempts to balance, so stays a bit lopsided.

Removing the pedals

So your child is ready to move on from the balance bike, or hasn’t even started with one, and has now got a proper bike to ride. They need to get the hang of balancing on this bigger newer bike, but those pedals are quite intimidating, and pushing away isn’t easy. So to get around this, remove the pedals from the bike. Just unscrew them from the cranks, remembering they often often reverse-threaded (i.e. turn clockwise to undo). Also lower the seat so they can get both feet comfortably on the ground. This now turns the bike into a bigger balance bike. This method can also be used for adults trying to learn to ride for the first time.

So we’ve now got a pedal-less bike which can be propelled by pushing along by feet on the ground. It’s worth getting rider familiar with the brakes before they really try moving much on it. If they know they can stop and put their feet down to save themselves from toppling over, then it helps build confidence. The next thing to do is find somewhere with a slight decline. This will allow them to get a rolling start, and makes it much easier to get some speed up to gain enough to balance with. It’ll be worth holding the child to start with, to help push them away. They’ll soon start rolling with their feet off the ground and balancing. They’ll know they can always put their feet down if they feel like they are toppling over, so can feel more confident. Keep doing this until they seem to be in control, and even steering a bit if they’ve got the space. You can also raise the seat back up a little bit, so their feet are more at semi-tiptoe level rather than flat on the ground.

Putting the pedals back on

One the child has got the hang of whizzing along the on the bike without pedals, you can put the pedals back on. But don’t expect them to be able to push off from a standstill from the off, as this is the trickiest part to learn. Again, find the space where there’s a decline, and get them to do a rolling start down the slope (again, holding as they build up speed if required), but this time with their feet on the pedals. Try and get them to pedal to propel themselves along once they’re moving. It helps if the road levels off, so they get the hang of really pedalling themselves, rather than relying on gravity.

Eventually, they’ll be happily riding along and getting the hang of steering. Once they feel confident with that, then they’ll be finally ready to practice pushing away from a standstill with the pedals. You may have to show them the technique on your bike, as young children often don’t realise you need the pedal at the top on the stroke to push down on. It might be also worth gently holding them as they try at the beginning as the push-away can get quite wobbly and off-putting for them.

Before long your child will be riding, and hopefully would have done so without taking any confidence knocking falls. Otherwise, you could always take this approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaqxIXs_mn4

Building my Profile

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When I decided to write this blog I was hoping to have some handy how-to style pages giving words of wisdom on many diverse topics. However, when it comes to building my on-line dating profile, this is really a I-haven’t-got-a-clue-how-to guide.

As you’ve probably realised I’m not blessed with natural beauty and an Adonis-esque physique. I never get admiring glances from women in public places, and seem invisible to the rest of the world most of the time. So I can’t just put up a picture of myself and expect the responses to come streaming in. So when it comes to a photo I really need to make the best of what I’ve got.

The other problem I’ve got, is that I don’t have photos of myself. I refuse to take selfies when I visit somewhere interesting. If I take photos of anyone, it’ll be my children or maybe friends if they are doing something worth taking a photo of (such as getting a starring role on Crimewatch or You’ve Been Framed). Any photos that others take of me, I’ll never ask for as I know what I look like, so why have them? The other main problem is that I seem to sprout a double chin whenever I appear in a photo. I really don’t photograph well. Bucks Fizz said the camera never lies. Bollocks to that Cheryl, the camera pulls more fibs than Donald Trump.

So I fiddle around with a camera on a timer trying to make myself look recognisable as me and hope for the best. At least I’m in focus, not pixelated and the right way up. Shame about the double chin.
The really hard part is writing a profile. This is where I like Tinder, you can get away with writing nothing, and even if you do want to write something you’re limited to a few sentences. So I just write some vague stuff about me being a nice person and that I don’t like nasty people. So the same as what pretty much everyone else writes.

Other sites like POF and Match.com require lengthy profiles with all sorts of sections to fill in and pull-down menus to choose options from. It’s liking filling out a job application, but without the need for references. Some parts are easy fill in, I know my height, eye colour and pet status. There’s one question that asks “How ambitious are you?”. Ambitious at what? I’m very ambitious when it comes to playing Monopoly with my kids. I’m also very ambitious when it comes to crossing the road; I’ve got a 100% success rate at that in my life, and really want to keep it that way. On the other hand, I’m not that ambitious when it comes to ironing. As long as the kids’ school uniform doesn’t look like scrunched up paper I’m fine. I’ve no ambition to iron the perfect shirt, or press every item of clothing in my house in record time.

The worst section is the ‘about me’ part, which of course is freely written. This is where I really struggle to think of anything to write. Look, I’m a dad with young children and a full-time job, I don’t have time to do amazingly interesting things any more. Watching my kids playing on slide in the local park isn’t a pastime that’s going to get anyone weak at the knees. So I basically add some vague stuff like I’ve done on Tinder, but also mention I can cook.

So I’m out there with a photo of me looking uncomfortable, and a profile than is duller than Gary Barlow reading out the telephone directory. I could make stuff up to make myself sound more interesting, and photoshop myself into someone unrecognisable; but I struggle to lie convincingly, so there’s no point trying it, and it’ll only end up in embarrassing failure when you get found out.

But you never know, I might get a few hits, as there’s got to be a lot worse profiles out there; or I might pick up the occasional one from an accidental slip of the finger.

The Trouble With Me

Dating can be hard and there’s many things that can count against you appealing to others. Here’s a list of my own potential flaws:

I’ve got kids

Yes, I’m a dad (there’s a clue in the blog name), which means I’ve got responsibilities and need to spend time with the children. So any potential partner will have to realise they aren’t going to be the focus of attention 100% of the time. It also means I’ve got less disposable income, as kids are expensive to run. So I can’t just shoot off on a two-week luxury holiday to the Maldives at the drop of a hat. My kids also live with me, and I still haven’t made my mind up whether I’d want someone else in the house living with me. There’s also the mother problem, unlike childless break-ups you can’t detach completely from the mother of your children. You still need to communicate with them for parenting purposes. So any new partner has to realise I will need to speak to the ex on a regular basis, no matter how much I dislike doing so. Oh, and exes are expensive. They bleed you dry of any spare money you may have, so any hope of saving a few quid for a couple of drinks on a potential date tend to vanish pretty quickly.

On the upside, being a dad should mean I’m more mature, more caring, and probably more domesticated (makes me sound like a cat). It also means I’m probably more attractive to single mums rather than childless women, which I still can’t decide is a good thing or not.

I’m old

OK, age is a relative thing when it comes to relationships, but there are some absolutes in there too. The obvious ones are the age of consent and the human lifespan limit, but I don’t think we need to be concerned about these extremities. Without wanting to generalise, most straight men want to meet someone who is no older than them. I’m in my early 40s, so getting to the age where I appear to be considered really old in the dating world. Women have it even harder when they hit the big four-oh, were they are considered only good for the nursing home. On many women’s profiles (POF seems to have a desired age-range category) they seem to have an upper limit of 42 years old for their desired man. Not 43, but 42. I’m not sure what happens on your 43rd birthday, but it must be pretty drastic for you to become utterly unappealing. So I’ve decided to stay 42 for a while longer, a white lie never hurt anyone.

I don’t have a six-pack

Not many men in their 40s have six-packs, particularly dads who don’t have time spend hours in the gym when not working and looking after a family. Yes, dad-bods might be the new trendy thing, but that’s just typical gossip column bollocks. I’m not fat, but have a little bit of a belly which I can hide for a few seconds if I breathe in. If a woman wants a man with a body like Christiano Ronaldo, they’ll have to find a man who will spend most of his day in the gym, and not spending it with you. His cooking will be rubbish too, you don’t end up with a body like that by eating tasty food.

I’m a engineer

Ok, my profession shouldn’t really matter, but engineering isn’t the sexiest occupation in the world. In the UK, the view is particularly bad as many people don’t even know what an engineer is (no, the man who comes round to fix your faulty mains socket is not an engineer). We are considered geeky, which to be honest is pretty true. I do work with some very geeky people, but they are intelligent, kind and caring too; they just don’t have the effortless charm of a George Clooney.

Engineering, in the UK at least, is also a very male dominated industry. We’re desperate for more women to become engineers, but there’s simply not enough girls taking an interest when at school (that’s a whole different conversation I might blog about in the future).

So there’s simply very little chance of meeting a female partner in the workplace, and so we have to go online to meet someone. So this means we’re not very used to speaking to women, not that we would treat them any differently to men. But if you want to meet someone in the workplace you need to go beyond the professional colleague type of relationship and be able to push the conversation to more personal levels. Most of us engineers don’t have any experience at doing this, so struggle when talking to women on a more personal and flirtatious level.

I don’t live in London

London is expensive, overcrowded, smelly, congested and noisy. However, it is where all the single women appear to be. Whereas my small home town is full on families and retired people. There aren’t any singles, and the population isn’t very diverse, so the chance of finding anyone suitable within a couple of miles is zero.

Of course London is full of great things to see and do, and I usually enjoy my visits there, and often work there, but I couldn’t live there (I simply couldn’t afford it anyway). So my on-line searching has to focus on London, but of course when I mention to a potential date I live outside London I’m treated like I’m living on the moon. To many Londoners, the world is split into two regions: London and Outside-London. Outside-London contains places like St Albans, Slough, Manchester, New York and Timbuktu. These places are all in Outside-London so are considered equally remote and inaccessible where they have no shops, electricity or running water (OK, that might be true for Slough). When you try and explain it takes less time for me to get from my home counties house to reach central London than it does for someone to get from Bromley to Harrow, they splutter in disbelief. They treat the idea of visiting Outside-London as some epic journey the equivalent of David Livingstone’s trek across Africa.

So when I discuss my location to potential dates I really need to emphasize the time I spend in London, to stand any chance of not being treated like some remote relationship.

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These are all things I’ll struggle to hide or embellish on a dating profile, and short of abandoning my kids for hours in the gym, jacking my job in and moving house, I’m going to struggle to get hits. But at least I’m not going in there with delusions of grandeur, and my expectations are very well managed.

Having read the Thought Catalog blog, which is from a woman’s point-of-view, at least I don’t seem to be hitting too many of those black marks. She does appear to be American too, so a frat boy is a completely alien concept to us Brits. But you can see from her list, some women (and men for that matter) can have some pretty stringent and, quite frankly, contradictory requirements. For a more British viewpoint from a woman on the dating scene Anna Dates seems to coming from a more realistic viewpoint.

 

Apps & Sites

On-line dating isn’t new to me, I’ve done it before with varying amounts of success (largely failure, but it’s had its moments); but a few things have changed since I last took it on. As smartphones are now ubiquitous, apps seem to be dominating over conventional websites; though many of the websites do have apps of their own. The big daddy of the apps is of course Tinder – the favourite of the media, where everyone is swiping right to jump directly in to bed with a new hottie every night. Of course, the truth is rather more staid with most people just wanting to meet someone who they might bond with for some sort of meaningful relationship. Tinder’s appeal is its ease-of-use and that it’s effectively free. Yes, you can pay for extras, but there’s enough there to contact someone for nothing. For those who having been living on the moon for the last couple of years, Tinder feeds you a series of mugshots you swipe right (hmm, she’s nice) or left (is it even human?) on. If someone else swipes right on you, and there’s a mutual match, you’ll be informed and you can contact them.
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There are other well established sites and apps out there. Plenty of Fish (POF for short) is a relatively conventional dating website, with the added bonus that it is mostly free. Everyone writes a profile with some pictures, and you can search through the various attributes you desire (age, body type, race, kids, etc.). Like Tinder it also allows you to contact people you like without payment. There’s a few extras you can pay for, but they aren’t essential. POF has Tinderised (my new word for the day!) somewhat with its ‘Meet Me’ section which provide a yes-maybe-no series of mugshots which can be quite fun to rifle through. Like Tinder, if you get a mutual match on this, it lets you know, so you stand some chance of starting a conversation without being ignored. POF also has an app, so you can carry on your hunting while on the move. So when you’re on a crowded train your fellow passengers can look over your shoulder at your selections.

Another app that’s recently come across my attention is happn (yes, it hasn’t got a capital letter), which is sort of Tinder-like in that it show’s you whose around your area. However, the location aspect is far more revealing than Tinder, in that it tells you where and when the person shown was last near you. So it almost seems like a stalkers paradise. I’ve had it on my phone for a couple of weeks now and there’s a couple of single women who seem to live only a couple of streets away. Sadly they’re not my type, so I won’t be stalking … I mean contacting … them. If I go for a day out in London, the app fills up with lots of new women, often around the route I travelled in and out of the city. I can see its appeal, but it seems like it hasn’t quite yet got the user base to give a enough diversity of potential singles for my liking.

Match.com and OKCupid are a couple of other big hitters, both of which require quite detailed profiles, and as far as I know need payment if you ever want to contact anyone you like of there. I’ve never really bothered with these as I’m vary wary of paying a subscription for something like this only to find it’s impossible to cancel and you end up with a debt that would make Robert Maxwell blush. Plus, I’m don’t like paying for things when there’s no guarantee of success, and the world of on-line dating is a series of constant failures with the occasional success when the planets all align.

So I’ve decided to try both Tinder and POF, with a odd sprinkling of happn, as they are all effectively free and seem to have plenty of people on them. Let’s get swiping!

Being an Engineer

As I’m trying to keep myself anonymous it’s going to be difficult to talk about what sort of engineer I am, and who I work for without revealing myself. But to at least give a little away, I do spend most of my time in front of a computer, and a lot of that isn’t really doing any engineering; and I work for a large company. So think of me as a sort of real-life Dilbert, stuck in a large organisation, doing some sort of generic engineering job, but unlike Scott Adams’ long suffering character I do have a mouth and pupils.

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I am a Dad

There’s nothing particularly unusual or remarkable about my situation, I’m a single dad with two children. They live with me most of the time, and spend the rest of their time with their mother. So there’s probably many thousands of men in a similar situation to me. Well, I hope there is, otherwise my anonymous blogging won’t be very anonymous if I’m the only one in the country.

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It’s not a bad situation though, I don’t want to give the impression everything is terrible and be a self-pitying moaner. There are plenty of good things with my life, and bringing up kids can provide much joy and satisfaction. Being single, even with the kids, can offer advantages over being in a relationship. To be honest, some adults take more effort to look after than children do.

My two children, I’ll call the TheGirl and TheBoy, to not only anonymise them, but give a hint to their respective genders. Apologies to anyone who has actually called their children TheGirl and TheBoy, but you’ve only got yourself to blame for using camel-case on a birth certificate. I avoided calling them just Girl and Boy to prevent you thinking I’m bringing up a flamboyant gender-bending 1980s national treasure.

They are both of primary school age, TheGirl being older then TheBoy. So they’re still of the age where teenage cynicism hasn’t yet developed, and they still have the joy of innocent curiosity. There’s nothing particular unusual or special about them either, they don’t have any behavioural or health issues, nor do they have any outstanding talents or abilities. They aren’t going to end up as Nobel prize winning scientists, World Cup winning footballers (not if they stick with their British nationality anyway!) or Grammy award winning musicians. But on the other hand they don’t look like they’ll end up on Crimewatch, Jeremy Kyle or leading UKIP.

So you may have guessed, I’m not a competitive parent. Yes, I want my kids to do as well as they can, but I also want them to lead a happy balanced life. I’m not too bothered what their contemporaries are doing, as long as they aren’t dragging themselves way behind everyone else. It’s always easy to get distracted by the outliers in a group of children. There’s always the one who can play a violin to virtuoso level at the age of 5, or the little lad who has already been given his personalised AMG Mercedes by a top Premier league football team who have just signed him up, even those he can’t drive for another 10 years. At the other end of the scale, there’s always the child in the class with challenging behaviour (or as they used to be called: a little shit) whose name always gets mentioned when some incident happens at school. My kids sit somewhere in the middle with the vast majority of other kids who are quite good at some things, less good at others and generally behave pretty well.

I won’t claim to be the perfect dad, as a combination of needing spend time working and having a lazy streak means I have to muddle and blag my way along somewhat. But I hope I’ve picked up a few useful things along with way which I’ll share and might be of use to you. While I’ll aim to be positive, I’m sure there are days when I just need a good old grump-filled rant.

Yes, I’m single, so I’m trying to date

I’ve now been single for a few years, with my last serious relationship being with the mother of my kids. I’ve had a couple of minor dalliances since then, but haven’t really found Miss Right, or even Miss Just-About-Tolerable (who must be very posh having a triple-barrelled name). So I’ve decided to get out there and track her down, whoever she may be. When I say ‘get out there’, you know I really mean go on-line and start surfing the dating sites and apps. No scouring around bars and hassling strangers in the street in this day and age.

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I’ll try and share my experiences at my attempts at dating as time goes on. I may even dish out some helpful advice, as how-to guides seem to be popular in blogs. Even I can’t help improve your dating dating chances with my words of wisdom, you can at least revel in my failures, bewilderment with the whole dating scene and be amazed at any successes I may have (come on, Leicester won the Premier league last season, so these things can happen!).