This blog post comes out of the result of some useless "slanted-head" day-dreaming mixed with nostalgia.
Today's generation has it all easy when it comes to bicycles. The cycles come in all sizes and shapes and there is no dearth of options and learning is more or less straightforward. Pick the cycle of the right size, get on it and pedal away with someone running behind you to assist in balance.
When I learnt bicycling, the options were just one. Learn it on my father's bicycle, a big one (Raleigh) at that and usually the hard way. And there were stages in the learning. This assumes that you wanted to learn cycling when your height was just taller than that of the bicycle.
The monkey pedal phase (maybe the most difficult one) was the one you started with since it was apt for your height. The start position was by putting your right leg through the mid triangle section of the cycle to the right side's pedal, the right hand crutching over the seat and the wrist clamping the middle horizontal bar and the left hand holding the handle-bar. All these body-gymnastics may have helped this position earn the moniker of monkey pedal. The cycle was moved forward by standing on the right hand side pedal through the middle bars and pushing the cycle with the left leg and then lift the left leg while coasting and then try to put it on the left pedal to move forward. The pedaling never was mastered easily and there would be the usual falls from the cycle and its bruises, both to the rider and to the cycle and in a few cases to others' property. The balancing was acquired by trial and error. Of course, you could say, the learning might have been easier with a ladies' bicycle where there was no horizontal bar in the middle, but for boys, it was not an option to be an object of ridicule. :-) What a sight it was, of seeing a youngster pedal the big bicycle like a gymnast, steering with one hand and body moving up and down in sync with the pedal. After quite a practice, and once the cycle was in motion, you could come out of the crouch posture and use the right hand to grab the right side of the handle bar, while continuing to monkey pedal. Boy!, you needed more concentration than what sage Narada had to, when he had to carry a bowl full to the brim with oil, on his head as ordered by Lord Vishnu as a story goes.
And then it was time to graduate to the next level, the 'bar'. Though not as difficult as the monkey pedal, this one had its own issues. You had to be either tall enough to put your legs over the middle horizontal bar to reach the pedal at the other side or you have to know how to balance the cycle in motion and do the maneuver. The start was usually by keeping the left leg on the left pedal and by holding the handle bar with both the hands and pushing the cycle forward with the right leg and when sufficient speed has been reached, lift the right leg off and do another gymnastic routine of lifting it over the middle horizontal bar to the other side from the front of the cycle and sit on the bar with legs dangling on both sides to co-ordinate with the pedals. There was more risk of falling down here and in most cases the fall happened inevitably. Once mastered, you are almost an adult in cycling.
The next phase was the 'seat' in which once the 'bar' maneuver is complete, you hoist yourself slightly up to the seat. This is like top of the world to announce that you have arrived on the cycling world. More often than not, the legs wouldn't be tall enough to maintain contact with the pedals all time as they go up and down. You would do the push of the pedal and wait for it on the other side to come up and then push it again to propel. Not too difficult and once in a while the pedal may refuse to rotate up and you'll go to the bar position to set it right.
The last position is an extension of the previous one, the 'carrier'. This demonstrated that you have mastered the art of cycling 60%. Here you drop down to the carrier at the back of the cycle from the seat and continue to pedal. Or you could start with the freewheeling position before the bar and put your right leg over the carrier from the back and then sit into it. Though the handle-bars may be slightly away, you bend over the seat to reach, hold and continue to pedal.
Once you have mastered 'singles' riding, come the 'doubles' and 'triples' and even quadruples (which we used to call '4-bles'). Doubles could be with a co-passenger at the horizontal bar (useful as a romancing prop for the leads in today's movies) or could be one sitting behind you. Triples is obvious. Sometimes you would do the double shunt where both the main 'driver' and the 'co-driver' on the carrier, who will seat himself with legs on either side and assist the cycling with both of them having their legs on the pedals. Typically useful for pedaling on inclined roads.
Of course there have been mishaps by just braking on the front wheel only or skids for harsh braking on the rear wheel on muddy roads. Of course there were a few other stunts which are mastered later, like cycling with no hands on the handle bars (cycling with one hand on the handle bar had already been mastered with the monkey pedal). I never managed to learn wheeling, not that it mattered much, but could have been useful, maybe to impress some lass at that time. :-)
And the joy at mastering each stage, priceless!