Mastering two wheels in Athens

We bought my son Liam a bike for his 8th birthday recently, and it’s been a challenge finding a good place for him to learn to ride it. The rooftop is nice and flat, and safe from the crazy traffic, but it’s not big enough to get enough momentum for balance. Plus it’s pretty boring. We tried taking it to the park down the street, but he had to walk it most of the way, and getting it up and down the square curbs tested his endurance…and my patience. A friend recommended a park where she learned to ride a bike when she was a kid here in Athens. There’s a great little track set up like a road, and it has a tunnel. But it tends to get crowded, and the path leading from the parking lot is made of un-biker-friendly cobblestones. Other parks I’ve visited have way too many hills for a beginning rider, and the paths are full of gravel and cracks. (And stray dogs. Liam still hasn’t recovered from his altercation last summer.) I was really beginning to miss our old Kansas neighborhood with gleaming white sidewalks and nearby High Park with it’s black-top paved trails.

Then another friend suggested this place.

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Of course! In 2004, Athens hosted the summer Olympics, and they built this enormous complex. It really is a sight to behold. I go here every week for my Greek pilates class. And it’s a perfect place to learn to ride a bike. There’s a proper parking lot with ramps leading up to the stadiums. There’s plenty of space to explore. It’s only a 10-minute drive from our house. And Liam was particularly enamored of this feature…

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The Green Line train has a stop here. He’d been riding around in circles, then holler, “Look, I see the train!”

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This was only his third outing on the new bike, and while he’d pretty much mastered the balance bike, we had to go back to training wheels so he could get the hang of pedaling. This was the first time he really got up some speed. I may have to bring my bike next time so I can keep up! We took the training wheels off for a bit and I helped him balance in the grass. Along with his bike he received knee and elbow pads, which I think helped him feel a TINY bit less scared of falling. He’s a very cautious fellow. If wrapping him in Charmin were an option, I’m sure he’d go for it.

He did well, and if the weather holds out, we plan to make as many return trips on the weekends as we can. I suspect as we head into summer, the lack of shade will present a problem. I remember the first time I came here, I thought I was gonna die from the heat. And as I learned in Malta, my son does not handle heat well. But for now, this will do nicely.

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