Last night I led my daughter’s boyfriend Kyle on his first road bike venture. He’d grown up as a proficient and daring BMX racer, so the whole road bike thing wasn’t as threatening to him as it might be to others.
Still, he admitted to some anxiousness about clipping in and out of the pedals. We practiced a few times in the cul de sac in front of our home. Within minutes he had it down. I counseled him to remember to unclip before coming to a stop. That’s how new road cyclists wind up on the ground. That happened to me a few times in the early days.
Kyle loves speed and making things go fast, so the road bike is an enticing concept to him. Recently he drove a massively powerful and expensive car at a racetrack. It was his birthday gift to get behind the wheel of that machine in conditions that truly let him explore what it means to have horsepower and the wheels to try it out.
He’s also mechanical, so the workings of engines and gears and such are no mystery to him. As I taught him the order of shifting gears, he rode with his head down watching the chain jump around on the cassette. I could see his mind internalizing those functions.
One of my best friends and a fellow cyclist is a bike mechanic. He can take a bike apart and put it all back together again. He’s worked in bike shops and done repair work for people in his own well-equipped garage. I admire his capacity for wrenching because I have none of that ability myself. Even after taking a bike maintenance course I realized that I’d absorbed almost none of what I’d been taught. I was just as unsure about messing with the derailleur as I’d been before.
But Kyle, I’m betting he could take a road bike apart and remember how to put it together no problem. He’s been doing things like that since he was a little kid. Of course, there were some experiments that didn’t work out that well. He recently related that as a young kid he’d disassembled an unused appliance to get the motor out. He wanted to stick it on a go-kart or something like that. His dad came home to find the garage floor covered with parts. “Can you put that back together?” he asked. “I think so,” Kyle said.
Well, over the years he’s taught himself to fix all kinds of things.
My point here is that Kyle will likely approach this road cycling thing in a different way than I have. What appealed to me about cycling was the liberty and freedom of rolling along at high speeds without having to run. Of course, I learned to change flat tires and how to adjust a thing or two on the bike so that I wouldn’t be stranded out in the cornfields. Beyond that, I remain a pathetic (apathetic?) novice at bike maintenance.
Gladly do I pay my friend the bike mechanic or a local bike shop to put things back in order. But Kyle is a practical young man who loves to know how things work and how to fix them.
So he also paid attention when we were pedaling up a hill and I suggested he drop his heels a bit and use the full rotation of the crank to help him climb. He got that instantly. “I can feel it,” he told me.
But here’s the funny part in all this. When we first pedaled out from the cul de sac to a long stretch of road to practice shifting, Kyle was struggling behind me. The riding was difficult. And it turned out there was a reason for that. The Waterford bike that he was riding had been hanging on a hook in the garage. That pulled the rear tire out of alignment and the rubber of the tire was rubbing so hard against the frame it was impossible to make the bike go more than 10 mph. It was killing him.
He stopped at one point and said, “My thighs are burning up! What’s wrong!”
I looked at the rear wheel and realized the problem. On one hand, I had to laugh because I’d ridden that bike while my son was in town and wanted to try out road cycling too. The same thing with the rubbing tire had happened to me. I could not figure out why my wife and my son were so easily pulling away.
So I said, “Kyle, I am so sorry! Look at this!” He saw right away how the tire was misaligned.
“Oh my God!” he laughed.
And I added, “No wonder. Dude, this is going to feel so easy after we fix this.”
Then we got him back on the bike and he was rolling down the street unencumbered by a tire that was basically braking the bike every inch that it traveled.
So we tooled up a stretch of unincorporated road to practice some faster riding. Kyle was clipping in and out pretty smoothly at the stop signs, so we rolled on out to some country roads.
The weather was fine and light. A storm had passed through an hour before so the clouds to the north towered 40,000 feet in the air. It served as an interesting backdrop to the rolling country road we traveled. On the downhills we soared past 20 mph and on the uphill Kyle experimented with the gearing. “It’s hard to get used to this,” he’d said earlier. “I’m so used to pressing down to make the pedals go. Being clipped in and being able to pull up is strange.”
The boy definitely has the makings of a road cyclist. He’s attuned to the things that make the entire enterprise work. Most of all, he has that appetite for speed. That should serve him well someday.
After his butt and legs recover, of course. There’s a cost to every new venture, and he was feeling it by the time we got home. Those sit bones take time to break in. Those legs need to build some strength and muscle memory.
Then the horizon waits.