Learning to ride: Sparkly Purple Banana Seat

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This is the first post of three dedicated to stories of learning to ride a bike for the first time. These are outtakes from Volume 8 of the quarterly Taking the Lane series, Childhood. (The second story is here and the third is here.) I wanted to print them all but didn’t have room; the authors graciously gave permission to post them here instead.

This charming story of true love at first sight is by Debbie West.


Sparkly Purple Banana Seat

My stomach churned every time my Dad said “We should get you on the bike again.”

At eight, I was too big for training wheels, but riding without them was a wobbly nightmare. I hated feeling out of control, the bike falling and me with it. I was relieved when we moved to Germany later that summer and I couldn’t take my bike.

I managed to avoid bikes for a few years by declaring to my family that I just did not want to learn how to ride, ever. But then I’d see one of my classmates breezing down the street and feel extra dorky and uncoordinated. Biking was one more of the many athletic things that seemed easy for other kids and totally eluded me.

One Saturday the summer I was nine, my Dad and I walked around our neighborhood to check out the yard sales.

There it was, in someone’s driveway at the other end of the block: a purple banana seat bike, with silver and white streamers hanging from the handlebars, just my size. It was tricked out with a sissy bar and sparkly purple grips, $10. Nice.

Dad said “I’ll get it for you if you’ll learn to ride.” DEAL.

I climbed on and Dad held onto the bar at the back of the seat to steady me. Before I even realized, he had let go and I was sailing up the sidewalk, the wind in my sparkly streamers. I rode the rest of the afternoon, up and down the street and around the block, completely elated.

The world had changed, thanks to that purple bike—and my Dad. Riding with the fierce joy of freedom and possibility, I felt I could do anything.

Debbie West lives in Durham, North Carolina. When she isn’t creating letterpress books, zines, and cards, she works for a walking and biking trails advocacy organization.

How did you first learn to ride a bike? Feel free to share your story here.