Why Do Bicycle’s Need the Evil Cross Bar?

Friday’s “What the frak…?” moment (WTFM) is brought to you by……….

The design flaw of bicycles: Whose brilliant idea was it to place a bar on boy’s bikes? You practice, you learn the magical balance to not tip over while riding. Then you hit the brakes… and the pavement. And forget trying to get started again without help…

Learning to ride a bike is a milestone I drooled over as a child. Only two obstacles stood in my way.

My mom and my dad.

“Kelly, we will get you a bike, but you have to learn to ride one first.”

Perhaps you are scratching your head along with my childhood self. It wasn’t like there was a Learn to Ride a Bike Simulation Machine I could pop into and log hours until I passed. I needed a bike to learn….. only I couldn’t get one until I learned.

The proverbial “chicken versus the egg” question… only uh, for bikes.

I am convinced this is why I am so stubborn.

It was the summer before I turned eight and the humidity swallowed us. Each afternoon and evening the street kids gathered to yell, play hide-and-seek, and run through the yards catching fireflies. I watched as much younger children sped by on their bikes until one afternoon I had enough.

I borrowed a little boy’s bike. He was only five and much smaller. My feet easily touched the ground and formed training wheels as I teetered up and down the street for two hours, determined that I would have my bike soon.

I succeeded before night fall.

The next day, true to their word, my parents took me to the bike store to pick out a lovely, powder blue banana seat bike.

It was Father’s Day.

We won’t get into the whole Fairness Between Siblings Act where (five years later) my brother had a bike at 18 months old, way before he learned to ride one….

Fast forward twenty plus years and I’m a parent of two very active children.

I want them to learn to ride a bike and pedal the trails as a family.

My son had zero interest in pedaling. He received a tricycle at age three but used either the Flintstones method or the Parental Powered method to get from Point A to Point B.

He never wanted a bike. Every time we wandered by the bike section, he couldn’t escape it fast enough for the real toys.

Then he spent months watching his slightly older buddy careen down the sidewalks on his bike.

The interest grew, until the fateful Christmas Eve trip to Walmart.

He got his first bike for Christmas.

Aided by beautiful weather for most of January (insert obligatory “I love Texas in winter” comment), he learned to pedal, brake, and crash with the same stubbornness I had so many years ago.

He earned Street Privileges, thanks to the driveway design that creates evil slants in the sidewalk at every driveway – a bad thing when training wheels on a slant tilt an already unstable bike for a child who has never been on one before.

My heart broke a little each time he crashed (and thankfully we did invest in a helmet).

He got frustrated. He “never wanted to ride a bike again.”

But he did. Again. And again.

I loaded the bike in the van whenever we went to a park with a paved sidewalk – knowing the even trails would diminish the crashing and aid in learning balance.

Last Friday, as he circled a playground where his sister and I played, something clicked. The insanely loud training wheels were silent more often than not.

I knew the time was near.

Last night as my husband drove home from work, I snuck into his toolbox, grabbed a wrench, and took off the training wheels.

After demonstrating the whole The Bike Will Tip Over When at a Standstill Without Training Wheels principle, I held the bike as he climbed on. I gave the tiniest of pushes.

And he was off. Sailing. Soaring.

Taking off the training wheels.

Not pictured: The lesson he learned about trying to go up curbs without jumping them first. Evidently he thought ditching the training wheels would make it possible and hit the curb full speed. I'm pretty sure that is why the front wheel looks bent here - CG had to bend the rim back into place.

Smiling the biggest, most infectious grin. My pride mirrored his as I inhaled his joy.

“I’m riding my bike without training wheels! Wheeee!”

Then he tried to stop. And crashed.

He tried to get on. And crashed.

Because for some reason in this amazing age of technology, no one has designed “landing gear” for bicycles. You either have training wheels – which are shortlived – or a feeble kickstand. Or in my son’s case now: neither.

Pair it with the evil slam-you-in-the-crotch bar every boy’s bike has and legs that can barely touch the ground while straddling it, and you have a recipe for a lot more high impact splats with the pavement.

Seriously. What the frak were they thinking with that bar design? If a girl’s bike doesn’t need it to be structurally sound, why do boy’s bikes?

It’s enough to make me wish I’d bought a girl’s bike and just repainted it.

Luckily, my son is stubborn. And tough.

I’d better buy more band-aids.

My mother was lucky and had a quick live preview thanks to a faint wi-fi signal and Facetime, but here is the gratuitous “Look Mom! No Training Wheels!” video for the rest of the family and any other interested parties.

Can you tell I’m still beaming?

I wonder if I took a hacksaw to the bar….

What engineering design has made you go “What the frak?!” lately?

About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
This entry was posted in Dances with Chaos, flash to the past, Milestones, The Tackler and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Why Do Bicycle’s Need the Evil Cross Bar?

  1. CG says:

    The crossbar adds rigidity. Little girls’ bikes are weaker as a result. For a four year old, that might not matter as much. But when he starts off-roading…

    But my son is awesome. Good job, Mom.

    • I don’t think he’ll be using it to BMX – it isn’t built for that. Therefore the bar really doesn’t need to be there.

      And girl’s don’t off-road??

      Talk about sexism in biking. :p

      • Katie says:

        Girls do off-road, but when they do, they get mountain bikes that have the crossbar, like a boy’s bike (and shocks, if they’re smart). But yes, the traditional “girls bike” is sexist 🙂 Though I think the girl’s bike design has more to do with the fact that way back in the day when bikes first came around, girls wore skirts and dresses so the crossbar couldn’t be there or else they’d be showing off their legs and tempting the boys (God forbid!).

        • You have a point.

          Still, I don’t see why tiny bikes (sized for ages under 7) need the cross bar. They are not likely to off-road.


          The Tackler has endured some high impact crashing – one of his rims is bent already. I wonder how well a girl’s bike would’ve held up. After all, the rims are no stronger….

      • CG says:

        You are reading into that something I did not say. Girls can off-road. Little girls’ bikes are not designed for that. I didn’t do it – go bug Huffy.

  2. Dianne says:

    As my boys got older, the cross bar was used for standing on and doing stunts that made my heart stop. It was also used to balance things that they frequently “needed” such as boxes, swords, tools, random pieces of large crap, etc. I honestly have not noticed the neighborhood girls toting the large amount of things around on their bikes like the boys do. Then again, the girls have handy baskets and the sense to use backpacks..

    • I’m sorry, but your comment made me laugh.

      They really do need “manly” baskets for boy’s bikes, and thanks for the warning about the dangers stunts. I’m sure once my son learns how to mount and dismount without hitting pavement, those will be next. Especially if he sees any other kid doing it.

      When I sold books door-to-door in college, a family loaned me their bike which had the old school baby seat in the back (I really want one of those, but evidently like most things associated with our childhood, they are now “unsafe”). It was perfect for carrying the heavy bag holding all of the books and in downpours I could lay the extra part of my poncho over it.

  3. John says:

    As an avid cyclist, I read this with my legs crossed.

    I’ve never been told the reasons for the difference in bike design. I had to stop very short during #RAGBRAI last summer and couldn’t unclip one of my shoes in time . . . I sped, crotch first, into my handlebars, only to be tugged back down by a still-attached clip, so then there was the 250 pounds of me landing on that crossbar.

    There is never enough padding in bicycle shorts.

    Still, though, hooray for the Tackler & the learning to ride . . . I envy your family rides, even before they’re regular occurrences (though I think we’ll, likely be doing the full family rides at about the same time — this summer, I’m pulling out the bike trailer, a lot)

    • Owowowow. I’m not male but your description made me cross my legs.

      Ditto on the padding in bike shorts.

      Lil Diva still has a way to go and we only have one bike between my husband and I, but I see that changing soon. For all of it’s outdoor and eco-friendlyness, Austin does not have a good bike trail system, the popular “trails” the shoulders of highways with cars speeding by at 65 mph – not something I plan to do with the kids.

      Now Iowa… Iowa was littered with trails that could take you everywhere. They interconnect neighborhoods… I lived on my bike as a kid and could actually go places.

      I had no idea you’d ridden RAGBRAI! I am a bit familiar with it, as you might imagine. On years when the path was closer to where we lived (not super north or south) we would go join for day. In fact… notice the shirts? My sister and I showing off our RAGBRAI shirts - we rode for a day. We earned those shirts. 🙂

  4. Katie says:

    Way to go Tackler (and mom)! My Little Man rides how Tackler used to ride. He has a tricycle (which he calls his bike) but his legs aren’t quite long enough to pedal it yet and even when he is on something he could pedal, he still prefers the Flintstones method. At least to go down the hills — he wants me to push him up!

    • Let this be a lesson – do not despair over a child using the Flintstones method. When they’re ready to pedal – they will.

      I think starting so late actually helped him learn to ride faster – he didn’t have months worth of bad habits to undo.

      And as of today, he is able to start by himself! The stopping stills needs work…

      But on Friday, he wanted his training wheels back on, because he was frustrated on getting started.

      Then boom, he got it.

      And the pride in his eyes, is amazing.

  5. visitingmissouri says:

    From the country that has more bikes than people (don’t ask why, neither how I know): good job getting on with it. Also, I think the girls’ bike has a lower bar because of the skirts (I mean, girls rode bicycles when they didn’t wear pants. That’s history’s sexism, not mine), the bar is the default design. I know why my bike has a bar, though. As I don’t have a driver’s license, I ride my bike everywhere and my girlfriend has to sit somewhere. She prefers the bar (sideways) to the back (sideways). It’s practical romance 🙂

  6. Omigosh! I wish I had known you were trying to train Tackler to ride. I have trained tons of kids.

    The trick?

    You start them on a very small hill with grass.

    On a bike that is a little too small.

    The hill makes them move and the grass keeps them slow. That way they can just work on balance. They don’t even have to put their feet on the pedals. The too small bike lets them put their feet down without the whole *ahem* crossbar issue.

    Once they go down about 10 times, they get the balance thing. Then you move them to flat grass. Then if they fall, they fall on grass. Which hurts a lot less than pavement. Plus, they are learning to pump and balance.

    Once they can bike on grass, they can totally bike anywhere.

    Maybe I should ride a book about this.

    Or maybe I just did.

    Either way, hooray for Tackler. And yeah, more Band-Aids.

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  9. Lind says:


    I taught my son to ride on grass with a slight slope and he learned very quickly. He had the trainer wheels for all of about 5 minutes !( when he was 8 ) However, this did lead to shooting down very hilly roads with feet out, freaking out all the other traffic (whw 12 ) ! He then decided he could make an even better bike by dismantling the gears and the brakes with no clue as to how to fix them. ( whw 13) He then had no bike and it was not replaced. He is now old enough to buy his own but the thought of him riding a bike makes him laugh with scorn -he is now a speed freak and did have a lovely new Golf ( whw late 20s early 30s ) he now has no car no bike and he walks everywhere quite happily ! (whw 37 i.e. now.)

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