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New Again

I started riding with toe straps. In my first race I wore a hairnet. My six speed freewheel was overkill, “Who needs all those gears?”

A few decades later, I’ve seen trends come and go and come back again. 6 cogs is now 12 and I use those leather toe straps, bloated and fried by years of sun and rain, to keep the tubulars neatly folded in a parts bit in the shop.

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded but nothing really makes me say, “Wow!” anymore.

As he grew up, my son went through the usual supply of kids bikes but then he hit a void. He was too big for the largest kids bikes, and too small for adult sized bikes. Anything we did find was far too expensive for something he would outgrow in 18 months. So, for about 3 years, he didn’t have a bike. 

About 2 months ago, I looked over at the child sprawled on the sofa and realized he was taking up the entire thing. I suddenly saw how he’d grown. I realized I might actually have a frame to fit him!

I put together an alloy disc brake bike with 105. I built some fresh wheels and swapped in a shorter stem. I threw him on the trainer, made a few tweaks, rifled through a clothing bin to find some shorts and a jersey and we were good to go!

As I put the bike in the trainer, I got questions: “How does that fit in there? Show me.”

As I popped off the front wheel to put the bike on the rack: “How did you take that off so quickly? Show me.”

“Why did you lay the bike that way?”

“Which shifter is for the back, again?”

“The bigger cogs at the back are easier, right?”

And on and on.

As we began our first ride together, I found myself explaining things from the very, very beginning: “The right shifter is back gear and brakes. The left is for the front.”

“Yes, the little paddle, there, at your finger tips.”

“Loosen your grip.”

“Don’t steer with your hands. Steer with your butt.”

Then five minutes of nothing but the sound of chain through gears and wind.

Then more questions and advice: “Don’t look at your front wheel. Look at a point up the road. Scan back to just in front of you, and then back up the road.”

Chain through gears and wind.

We rode for just over an hour together for his first ride. I lost track of how many questions I fielded but it was a lot. And these weren’t the incessant questions I was peppered with just a few years ago like, “How many knees does a spider have?” or “Where does time go when we use it?” These were questions I could answer!

After racing for decades, I found myself only riding with experienced riders – people who got their own gear sorted, who knew how to ride in an echelon and didn’t need any advice from me. Now, I was being taken back to the beginning again.

We bought a new helmet and I added some toe clips for the next ride, later today (the straps found a home in the tubular bin). I started thinking about how to explain that little toe flick you need to make to get the pedal to turn over so you can put your foot in the clip. I started thinking about who had taught me and how many times it took for me to get it right. Or how many years it was before it was second nature and how I just got really good at it – just got really good and popping off the line in a crit, getting a good spot near the front and then pulling the strap tight without losing a place or causing a gap to open – before the first clipless pedals found their way to the start line and rendered one more skill obsolete.

I thought about other arcane skills, like being about to shift both down tube shifters at the same time to maximize gear combinations or to drop to the small ring at the base of a climb without losing momentum. STI took care of that. STI made useless a skill I had worked on for years and denied experienced riders that advantage over those newer to the sport.

But, time and technology moved on and so did I, happily.

As I finish my morning coffee and look at the weather out of the window, I’m wondering what questions his enthusiasm will bring today. I’m wondering what advice will come – advice given to me by friends and team mates when hairnets were optional and 6 cogs was cutting edge.

I’m also wondering how soon I’ll be able to throw both bikes on the car rack so we can go ride in the mountains. I’m wondering how long it will be before we can strap on some panniers and do a long weekend camping trip. Or when we can fly to Vietnam, or New Zealand and spend a month touring there?

I’m looking at my shoes and wondering if it isn’t time for a new pair. And lights, so we can ride at night. And a computer with cadence to help him spin – and so he can tell his friends at school how far we rode.

And I’m looking at that giant, silly, ear to ear grin on his face as chain passes through gears and the wind fills our ears.

And all I can think is, “Wow!” 

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It’s a Beautiful Thing.

From where I sit on my balcony at home, I can see a park and a pedestrian area that is covered with those paving stones that lock together. It’s really quite relaxing, in the evening, to sit there with a cold one and watch the young families gather with their small kids. I find the sound of kids laughing oddly pleasant and, very often, I can watch them as they tear around on their bikes with the training wheels still attached.

The other day I was doing just that when one of the little tykes starting screaming that shrill, ear-piercing shriek that only small children can shriek and, one would believe, that must cause any dogs for blocks around to scatter. It seems his mom was ready to leave and he wasn’t. She was pushing his bike with one hand and had a bag in the other. The little guy was just standing there, shrieking.

Watching a good mom be a mom is nothing short of amazing. And this was a good mom.

She didn’t panic, or yell at her kid or try to negotiate with him. She calmly put down the bag, picked up her kid and walked out of the park. I could hear his shrieking, like the whistle of a passing train, fade off into the distance and be replaced, once again, by the laughter of the other kids, birds and the sounds of the park.

The thing is, the bag she was carrying and the bike were just sitting there. I have no idea what was in the bag, it was most likely things she needed for their trip to the park but the bike was fairly new and of a famous brand.

And it just sat there.

No one approached it. None of the other kids ran over to play with it and none came forward to look after it for her. It was just…there.

About 15 minutes later she returned with her son, who had clearly shrieked himself out of all the shrieks he had, for the moment, and they walked over to the bike and bag. She picked up the bag, threw it over her shoulder, and without a word began pushing the bike home while her son reached up and took her hand.

Then I noticed something. Although no one said anything to her or made any overt gestures, some of the other moms gave her the slightest of nods as she left the park with her son. I didn’t get the impression that any of them knew each other but there was something else at work. It wasn’t just empathy but some kind of understanding of their shared experiences and responsibilities – something they had all come to recognize at some point as a mom – or maybe it was a display of collective momness, if that’s a thing.

They knew what it was like to be in her position, and probably would have offered help if it was needed, but they also saw the mom had it under control and so just went about their own business.

A few days later I was riding in an area of small, nasty roads that twist and turn, are chewed to bits and don’t really lead anywhere. As a result, there is virtually no traffic. It’s great.

As I crested a small hill, I saw a guy standing there leaning over his bike. I didn’t seem like he was doing anything or that anything obvious was wrong, but I slowed down anyway and asked him if everything was ok. He smiled and said everything was good and he thanked me in a way that suggested I should just keep going.

And so I did. I finished my ride and made my way home.

Later that evening, I sat on my balcony listening to the sound of the ice clinking in my glass mingle with the purest laughter. I watched the kids kick balls, run around, fall down on the grass and pedal furiously across the paving stones. And I watched the moms and the dads make it all happen.

As I sat there it suddenly dawned on me; Earlier that day, at the top of a small hill, for the briefest of moments, I too, had been a part of the collective momness. And it wasn’t the first time.

Over the years, I’ve stopped, more than once, to lend a hand. And I’ve been on the receiving end, as well. I’ve even had motorists stop to make sure I was ok and to offer assistance.

As I thought about it I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a rare thing after all. I’m sure anyone reading this has had a similar experience at some point while riding. Maybe it’s just all the shrieking in the last few years that seems to be filling our public spaces that makes it so hard to remember our shared experiences and responsibilities and that makes common things, like collective momness, seem so rare by comparison.