I started riding with toe straps. In my first race, I wore a hairnet. My six-speed freewheel was considered overkill, “Who needs all those gears?”
A few decades later, I’d seen trends come and go and come back again. 6 cogs is now 12. 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. Suddenly, I saw how he’d grown. Maybe, I might now actually have a frame to fit him!
I put together an alloy disc brake bike with 105, some fresh wheels, and swapped in a shorter stem. He got on the trainer and we made a few tweaks. I 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.”
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.
We began our first ride together and 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 fingertips.”
“Loosen your grip.”
“Don’t steer with your hands. Steer with your butt.”
Five minutes of nothing but the sound of chain through gears and the 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 who didn’t need any advice from me. I was being taken back to the beginning again.
We bought a new helmet and I added some toe clips for the next ride. I started thinking about how to explain that little toe flick. The one you need to make to get the pedal to turn over so you can put your foot in the clip. Who had taught me that and how many times had it taken for me to get it right? How many years was it before it had become second nature?
I had just gotten really good and popping off the line in a crit to get a good spot near the front. Then pulling the strap tight without losing a place or causing a gap to open. That was before the first clipless pedals found their way to the start line and rendered one more skill obsolete.
And then other skills became arcane. Like being about to shift both down tube shifters at the same time to maximize gear combinations. Or to double shift down to drop to the small ring at the base of a climb without losing momentum. STI took care of that. It 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 finished my morning coffee and looked at the weather out of the window, I wondered what questions his enthusiasm would bring. What advice would come – advice given to me by friends and teammates when hairnets were optional and 6 cogs was cutting edge?
How soon would we be able to throw both our bikes on the car rack so we could go ride in the mountains? I wondered how long it would be before we could strap on some panniers and do a long weekend camping trip. Or when we could fly to Vietnam, or New Zealand and spend a month touring there?
I looked at my shoes and wondered if it wasn’t time for a new pair. Did I have enough lights so we could ride at night? A computer with cadence would help him spin and he could tell his friends at school how far we had ridden.
And I looked at that giant, silly, ear to ear grin on his face as chain passed through gears and the wind filled our ears.
And, I thought, “Wow.”