Two wheels are good. We’ve recently had a slew of brand-new bikes arrive at our house. The coronavirus pandemic had seen bikes become impossible to come by over recent months. For a time, bikes became the new toilet paper, as shops ran out and the lead time to buy a bike stretched into months. To much excitement, the three older kids have finally got their long-awaited mountain bikes. Even our toddler got a little balance bike, which she scoots along skilfully.
The pandemic has caused sports clubs, holidays and playdates to become far too thin on the ground. Last summer, I managed to keep the kids going by immersing them in water, as it were. From kayaking, swimming, surfing, fishing and sailing, the kids were kept busy and happy in the brine. It was amazing to see them embrace the sea and become proficient both on and in the water.
Inevitably, as the seasons turn, and the days darken, the increasingly frigid waters seem less inviting. Boats and kayaks are now being laid up for winter all along the Irish coast. Yet there are beautiful crisp autumn days to be enjoyed ashore, and cycling provides a wonderful way to get the kids out and exercising in nature. It was inevitable that Covid-19 restrictions would increase this autumn, as coronavirus cases inevitably spiked. I knew that the kids would need something joyful to keep them going as winter encroached upon us. The arrival of the new bikes is therefore the perfect antidote to our increasingly restricted movements.
Cruising along on a bike gives an incredible feeling of freedom. For kids, there is also the challenge of developing their fitness and skills. What they learn now will stay with them for life, as embedded instinct. I used to do a lot of mountain biking in my youth and the instincts I developed then remain like some sort of indelible subconscious programming. The older kids are now learning how to tackle trails and to mountain bike downhill safely. The skills required to deal with off-road trails gives them huge control over their bike, and the ability to easily deal with gravel and potholes when they encounter them on the road.
The greatest fear for the parents of budding cyclists is cars. The proliferation of greenways around Ireland is therefore a boon for families who like to cycle. Kids can travel for miles without encountering traffic. For their first big trip on their new bikes, I took the older kids on a 20km round trip, largely along greenway route by the Owenabue river in Cork harbour. This is my home river. I grew up along its banks and, as a boy, I explored its every nook, by land and sea. It was here that I first voyaged out alone in my first boat, aged 12. This ever-changing river was the scene of many great childhood adventures.
As we set out along its banks, the scene was picture perfect, with blue skies and autumn leaves overhead. We glided serenely through the landscape with the crisp air on our faces. The water was like a mirror, reflecting the golden woodlands of the opposite bank. When we stopped to rest, I told the kids admittedly somewhat sanitised stories of my childhood scrapes along the river. To tell the unvarnished truth would mean risking becoming a bad influence on my own kids. They should do as I say, and certainly not as I once did.
The kids took turns leading the way along the path, carefully avoiding walkers and slowing down for meandering small children. We eventually met the road, where I had cycled many times with my father at exactly their age. In my mind, those long gone days seem mere moments ago. I distinctly remember being a small boy, daydreaming about being a man one day, showing my children these places that were so vast and magical to me. I suppose it must be a dream come true then, to see my children’s faces lit by bright joy, as we cycle through my childhood wonderland.