So I’ve been trying to teach my daughters to ride a bicycle.

Because (1) they are now 6 and 8, which is way old enough to ride a bike, (2) it’s kind of a life skill (maybe not as much as swimming, but close), (3) riding is cool, and it feels lovely, and is good for you, and for the planet, and mainly (4) I have these fantasies about us going out as a family on Sundays and riding on the promenade or in the country and having great times and making memories that we will remember for a long time.

I haven’t articulated this to my daughters, but I mean really, they see other, younger kids popping wheelies and shit and you’d think they’d go I wanna do that! But, not so much. At least, not with 2 wheels. But Stella’s training wheels broke a while ago, so it seemed opportune. I took them to the area next to the Cape Town Stadium where it’s flat and open. Lily rode on the bike that she got when she was 2 and which makes her look like Gulliver on a bike made in Lilliput, while I held onto Stella’s saddle and ran behind her at a weird angle that probably wasn’t very good for my back until I could see she was balancing fine, at which point let I let go and yelled YOU’RE DOING IT!, at which point she panicked and fell over and hurt herself and refused to get back on the horse bike ever again.

I can understand. For her it must be how I imagine it would be for those guys I see riding on the mountain when I’m up there running. Don’t ask me what possesses them to ride up that hill. But riding down is probably even more hectic. If it were me riding, I imagine a loose stone or a jutting out rock would cause me to lose balance and fall over and break a few bones or maybe die, and then still go tumbling over the side of the mountain and lie there for a few days before some snake finds me and alerts the police but not before taking a few bites out of my tasty legs. So I suppose that is a bit of what Stella is feeling.

When I brought the subject of riding up again some time later they both said not without a helmet, which is both reasonable and sensible, so I got them a helmet, but they were still reluctant. I tried to incentivise them with new bikes once they got the hang of it, but they weren’t biting.

Then I remembered this thing called google – have you heard of it? – and I googled how to teach kids to ride a bike, and what I found was that what you should NOT do is take them to a flat, hard area, because they are likely to fall and hurt themselves and not want to ride a bike ever again. Hello? Ring a bell? It said that what you SHOULD do is find a soft, grassy area with a gentle slope so they can learn to balance, then to brake, then to steer, then to pedal. Not all at once, like Stella did – perfectly – until she actually realised she was doing it.

Anyway, I suggested this method to my daughters and to my surprise and delight they were actually very keen. I got all amped and went onto gumtree to look for new bikes for the girls but my wife suggested I was maybe getting ahead of myself and putting the cart before the bike or something like that, and wasn’t it more financially prudent to wait until they were actually riding, which I reluctantly conceded.

So off we went to De Waal park. The girls each had turns on the 16 inch bike, and in between riding we snacked and looked at the trees and the dogs and the mountain and then we rode some more and snacked some more, and it was all peachy. In the car on the way home, they even said dad, can we do this every weekend? And in that moment my heart sparkled and I loved my girls so damn much and everything in the world was good.

So, skeeming I was onto a good thing, the next weekend we went again. Lily had one turn and lost interest and went off to snack. Stella had about 5 turns and lost interest when I suggested she pedal, which was clearly a step too far, even though she had mastered the steps of balancing, braking and steering. My heart didn’t sparkle on the way home that day.

I am not the sort of dad to push my daughters to be a doctor or musician or Nobel prize winner or anything else they don't want to be. Except maybe capable bicycle riders. But even that, I guess, is like any other parental push – more for me than for her. So I haven’t mentioned the bikes again. Maybe my reverse psychology will work. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe one day my daughters will wish they were better cyclists.

Meanwhile it seems my fantasy of family rides is just that. And I may need to get used to the idea of going solo on Sundays.