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!”