This evening if the weather holds up, I’ll be taking a former neighbor kid out to try my road bike. I’ll let him ride the Specialized Venge. I’ll pedal the Waterford. We’ll ride perhaps an hour.
He’s been interested in getting on a fast bike since I first pulled up in his driveway to talk with him and his dad probably ten years ago. He was five years old at the time, and rode a BMX around his driveway.
But when he saw the shine and shape of the Felt 4C I was riding back then (the bike was almost new) he asked, “Can I ride with you some day?”
His dad raised his eyebrows. When your kid is little, it’s hard to imagine how things might be ten years down the road.
Now the boy has turned fifteen or sixteen and knows how to drive a car. In fact, he owns his own silver truck, a vehicle for which he paid with some of his own money. From the age of nine years old, he’s been mowing lawns for money. One summer I hired him to mow my father’s lawn and pre-paid the $20 per week to cover April through September. That gave him $600 up front, a downpayment on his new riding lawnmower.
I was glad to help. His old mower was a Montgomery Ward machine that smoked and coughed. But it was his first real piece of equipment, and he learned a bunch about machine maintenance by problem-solving in real time with that old tractor mower. Those mechanical skills come in handy now that he owns several mowers and has opened a side business from his lawn mowing operation. He actually fixes lawn mowers now too.
Last summer when I still lived back door from his family, I inherited a chunky old Scott riding lawnmower from my father’s caregiver Leo after my dad passed away and we sold his house. I didn’t know the mower was on its last gasp, because it still looked good from the outside. Sure, the blade deck leaned a bit to one side and gouged my lawn now and then. But it was tons of fun tooling around my property on that riding mower. I’d never owned one before.
It would never have run for me if the back door neighbor kid had not worked like mad for a couple days fixing the belts and tightening some bolts. Then one day I heard it revvvv up in my garage where he worked every day trying to get the mower going.
Which is why I have a strong inkling he’ll like cycling. People who like mechanical things tend to like cycling.
The mower her fixed for me worked for six or seven lawn mowing sessions. Enough to get me through the summer. Then something happened deep inside the mower that needed repair and my young friend the mower-fixer was out of town. So I drove the mower four blocks down the street to the repair shop where he liked to hang out learning things. The mechanics there took a look inside the mower after I dropped it off and called me to ask, “How did you get this mower here?”
“Drove it,” I laughed. “Why? Is it dead?”
“Yup,” they told me. “This isn’t going anywhere.” So I paid them $25 to take it off my hands.
Yet that mower was a blast while it works and made life easier while it lasted. My young friend had worked his brain to shreds getting it to run, but he learned a bunch in the process. I offered him money for the work he put in, but he didn’t want it.
It’s been like that with him for years. He used to wander over when I was working in the garden and offer to help. One day I dug up some thick clay from deep down in my yard. He was fascinated by its texture. “Can I make things out of it?” he wanted to know.
I gave him a bowl of water and suggested he work the clay smooth. Which he did, and the glop that ran down his arms in the summer sun made him happy. This is a kid who likes doing things that are real.
For that and a thousand other moments in life, I want to give something back to my former neighbor kid. I know he can be a good bike rider because he’s been running cross country the last three or four years. He can cover a mile in under 5:00 if he pushes himself, so there’s some aerobic talent in his gangly body. Which is why I have a strong inkling he’ll like cycling.
Perhaps he’ll want to wear baggy shorts over the lycra I’ll lend him. Most teens don’t hang out in lycra, but are willing to wear it as compression gear, like Under Armor.
Whatever. I just can’t wait until he feels the power of that bike once we get out onto the country roads. I live right on the edge of civilization and the fields west of my house extend for 120 miles to the Illinois border. A perfect place to ride.
So we’ll give it a go. I’ve known this kid since the day he was born. Babysat him when his tonsils were taken out. That night he tricked me into letting him eat an extra cookie or two. But his mom wasn’t mad. He needed the nutrition after a long surgery and time in the hospital. He sat munching his cookies while ee watched kid movies together. Then he pulled out some cars that looked too nice to be toys. I said, “You sure we’re supposed to play with these?”
He said “Yeahhhhssss!” and then crashed his car straight into mine. I pulled my car back and took another look. Such fine detail. It was a model of a Porsche, as I recall. “Are you sure these aren’t your dad’s cars? Let’s play with something else.”
He still needed to work off some of the stress and energy from his tonsil surgery earlier that day. Which also tells me he’ll probably like cycling. From a young age, I’ve known this young man to be a thoughtful, often sensitive person. Cycling is a great way to go out and ride off your worries.
Giving that gift to someone else is both a thrill and an honor. Plus he’ll probably get so good at fixing bikes he can be my mechanic in a pinch. I have an inkling about that too.