Outside the lines: YMCA program teaches early bike skills

In less than two weeks hundreds of cyclists will stand at the starting line near the Ministry of Defense in London, waiting for the start of the 2007 Tour de France.

But before these world-renowned cyclists ever climbed the Alps or dreamed of wearing the coveted yellow jersey in Paris, they had to start somewhere. Many began just like you and me, in a driveway or parking lot with a parent&8217;s hand to guide us as we attempted to pedal and wobble forward for the first time on two wheels.

Over the next three Fridays the Birmingham YMCA Greystone Family Branch is partnering with children&8217;s bicycle specialists No Training Wheels LLC to help children, ages two and up, learn to ride a bike a little different than we did.

The program, which began last Friday, gets back to one of the same basics that allowed Lance Armstrong to ride up the final climb of La Mongie to win the 11th stage of the 2002 Tour and his seventh yellow jersey &8212; balance.

Balance is at the center of the eight basic steps listed at www.notrainingwheels.net. The steps begin with the most important one, &8220;Make it fun!&8221;

NTW stresses the importance of finding a bike that fits and then working through exercises that have the child work on his or her balance by using his or her feet to

push the bike forward without help. After practice and pedaling exercises, the child is ready to ride, or so the program says.

While there is nothing wrong with the way we may have learned to ride with the gentle push and release of a parent, NTW suggests the best help a parent can give is encouragement &8212; without the pushing.

&8220;We have found children will only want (parents pushing) instead of learning the steps on their own,&8221; says the Web site of NTW, owned by Birmingham&8217;s Harvey Nix.

So, if you&8217;re looking for a way for your child to gain exercise or envisioning your 2-year-old in a yellow jersey in Europe in the 115th Tour de France, then visit the Greystone YMCA this Friday.

One hour session times begin at 9 a.m. for ages 2 to 4 and 10:30 a.m. for ages 5 and up. For more information, call Harvey Nix at 218-0756 or

Beth McCandless at 981-0144.