Everyday I am discovering that the parenting world is different today than 15 years ago when I had Bella. For one, kids have the COOLEST toys now.

A pedal-less balance bike

A pedal-less balance bike

I went to my attachment parenting playgroup (through today and one of the kids had this wooden bike – it has NO PEDALS and is called a “balance bike.” The lucky kid got it in Germany and his mother sells it in her webstore, (check it out – great natural toy products there). The bike is appropriate for ages two through seven – and is the perfect alternative to training wheels. The only catch is that it is seriously expensive, to a tune of $315. But I swear, it’s the only thing Christian wants for his first or second birthday – the ONLY thing.

I even checked on craigslist for one today – I did find a pedal-less kid’s bike for $20 (also originally purchased in Germany). That may have to do for the time being.

Watch how much fun Finn is having on his bike. The first video (20 seconds) shows you how he uses the balance bike and the second shows you the long downhill cruise he took – Finn is only TWO YEARS OLD!

By the way, the dirt hill that Finn is trying to climb at the end of the first video? He gets up to the top and cruises down that hill too, much to his mother’s dismay. And in the second video, Finn is going much slower than he did for his first time down after a serious chiding from his mother (he wasn’t wearing his helmet). I was too astonished to video the first run downhill.

I’m joking when I say it’s the ONLY thing Christian wants…but we do prefer one high quality wooden toy to lots of plastic toys. My friend Darlene also recommends for good gifts. Speaking of whom, Darlene posted some touching pictures today from her cousin’s technology-free daycare; like pictures of her 89-year old dad, Grandpa Bob to many of us, having his hair combed by one of the little girls.

Much to my body’s dismay, I went out on a two-hour bike ride with Chad this afternoon, after 1 1/2 hour run this morning. wait – did I mention that we are currently involved in another weight loss contest? I don’t have much chance of winning this one, however; Chad got a little tired of giving me a headstart and then me winning all the cash prizes, so this time it’s a straight “whom ever loses the most weight at the end of two weeks deal” for $150. It’s not as much fun without a fighting chance, I must say.

Anyway, that explains the renewed vigor in running (plus Chad’s considering the Death Valley Marathon in February) and the cooler weather explains the bike ride (finally, fall!)

Twenty percent chance of showers today, so the skies were overcast and air was pleasantly damp and cool. Now, I’ve had my “new” mountain bike for over a year and I think I’ve been out on it twice in all that time and never off the pavement. That’s sad – even if the bike was here in Laguna while I was in Joshua Tree.

But now the bike is officially broken in.

I was pretty nervous at first. Which is strange when I consider that I used to lead bike tours (but now all that was 20 years ago in college!) Being on a bike you go so much faster than on foot – and here in south Orange County, even though there are bike lanes everywhere, you are still on the road with lots of large, fast-moving vehicles.

We started out slow – stopping at the Chevron to put air in the tires – and following a route similar to many of our runs. We headed down dirt paths, crossed a creek or two and whizzed down dirt hills. Then we turned onto a paved road and leisurely started uphill. Chad was too far ahead of me to hear all the cursing and complaining I was doing, but the never-ending uphill was killing me. I considered calling quits. I thought about my first bike tour in New England when me and ten other kids biked 700 miles from Ashfield, Massachusetts to Quebec, Canada, and then back down into New Hampshire. I remembered all the mountains we had climbed; one memorable one had been SIX MILES of uphill. And I remembered that Mike, the assistant trip leader, had nicknamed me Speedy Gonzales. Not because I was fast, mind you. I was medium-slow and still am. But on those many mountain climbs, I had gained a reputation for never getting off my bike and steadily passing most of the other kids by the time I reached the top.

Well, once I remembered that I could hardly quit, could I?

We went nearly all the way to one Bella’s friends’ houses, and then suddenly we were at the opposite end of Aliso and Wood Canyon Park: the preserve we like to run on our long days.

But today we were  starting from the opposite end we normally start, so it was nearly all downhill on a dirt path winding through woods and meadows. Where we have seen wild coyote, heron, and deer. Then Chad said offhandedly, I’ll give you a head start because I’m going to be going FAST.

and I started to get nervous. Speed makes me nervous, especially if I’m the one in control. I passed Chad slowly with my brakes clenched. He laughed, Is that the speed you’re going to take this entire trail?

But we’re talking about three miles of mostly down hill here. I had time to go slow, time to speed up and relax. Time to stop imagining myself catapulting over the handlebars.

And it was SO MUCH FUN.

The pic is lifted from I didn’t think to bring a camera today. (Come visit – we’ll take you on the same bike ride…)

I’m going to write about mountain bikes after all. I think a suitable time has passed.

Last summer my sister and I made an extravagant bet: $500 to the person who got her thesis turned in first. The only condition was that the money had to be spent on a single thing: purse, Jimmy Choo shoes … you get the idea.

Ironically, I won. Ironic I say, because her doctoral thesis committee raved about her work and passed her dissertation without a single rewrite, while my committee sighed and shook their heads sadly. I am still rewriting that (damn) thesis, but at least I have a great bike to ride on my breaks.

In any case I decided to spend the prize money on a mountain bike and it so happened that both Chad and his brother were in the market for new bikes as well. First, we used our library skills and checked out Consumer Reports (July 2004). Bikes were listed under four categories: Full-suspension, front suspension, hybrid, and comfort bikes. The only ones we were interested in were the front-suspension (all ~$500), so I’ll list those here:

6. Gary Fisher Marlin

7. Specialized Rockhopper

8. Trek 4500

9. Raleigh M60

10. Giant Yukon

11. Schwinn Mesa GSD

12. GT Avalanche 2.0 Disc

13. Mongoose Rockdile ALD

I listed all of them to be fair, but we only considered the top three. And after multiple visits to four different bike shops, we went with the shop within biking distance of Chad’s house. Not only was the bike seller an avid rock climber who loved Joshua Tree and gave us a good multiple bike discount, but his shop, CycleWerks, also offers free lifetime tune-ups!

Chad and I both got the Gary Fisher Marlin (although I got the Marlin GT, which is woman-specific) and Chad’s brother got the upgraded version of the Trek 4500. We are very happy with our bikes! (Although my sister has not yet paid up, I am operating under the assumption she will.)

Point of interest in the article – Consumer Reports actually warns its readers against buying mass-manufactured cheaper bikes, saying that they are poorly made and heavier; basically, you get what you pay for.