Slowly but surely

I enjoy riding my bike.

I have three of the contraptions: a road bike, a mountain bike and a former mountain bike that is now my “grocery getter.”

Both of my mountain bikes are Treks. I bought the first in college to get around campus and, on occasion, ride trails. A year later, I bought a Trek hybrid – a cross between a touring bike and a road bike – to ride my small daughter around eastern N.C. beach towns in a child seat mounted over the rear wheel. But I traded that bike for a decent road bike a couple of months later, as the hybrid was too slow  and reminded me of an old lady. (I had no qualms about mounting the child seat on my mountain bike.)

Eventually, though, the mountain bike became unfit for trail riding. I beat the crap out of the thing. It was not made to have the crap beat out of it. The Trek mountain bike I purchased earlier this year is made for that kind of thing. So it serves as a trail bike while the 820 with a broken shock is used for pulling my daughter’s trailer and, in general, touring.

BACK TO THE ROAD BIKE. Most of the time, it’s my favorite toy. It certainly cost the most of the three bikes, for one thing, while I’m also impressed constantly by what it does best: go 100 miles without using a drop of gas. Sure, that has a lot to do with the guy or gal riding the bike, but there’s no way I’d ride 100 paved miles on my mountain bike and expect to have more children. The design and quality of the road bike deserve at least some of the credit.

My dad bought his own Trek mountain bike and began riding less than a day after taking my 820 for a spin. I had told him how much more fun bicycling was on a quality bike as opposed to a Walmart special, but he’d kind of brushed it off. He was used to listening to me justify outrageous purchases … and I had started a three-bike spending spree that would end up totalling more than some folks pay for a car.

But one ride on my 820 – with its all-around stability, durability and ability in general – sealed the deal. The mountain bike he bought at a small dealer in Alfred, N.Y., was actually better than mine.

Once he was settled on that, I began my campaign to get him on a road bike. I think he would have done this a lot sooner had he known not all road bikes had the curly handlebars and tires the width of a thumbnail. Those were the things he did not like about mine, although I stressed again and again those are qualities one grows to appreciate.

Nonetheless, he finally bought a road bike perfect for old men: flat handlebars and tires comparable in width to a mountain bike, which made his road bike much more stable than mine, which is fit for navigating the Alps.

Now – some five years after the purchase of his first bike – we ride together whenever we can. I usually e-mail him from work, after lunch or so, explaining my “need” for some quality time on the bike. Or we’ll do an organized ride to support a local charity. Or we’ll set something for the weekend. (Or we’ll plan a cycling/camping expedition through Yellowstone National Park, which hasn’t happened yet!)

WE RARELY TALK when we go for rides. I always feel as though he’d like to chat, but pretend I can’t tell and even act a little annoyed when something unrelated to the ride is said.

My goal on a bike has always been to ride hard – hard enough to make phlegm come up from my lungs and feel my heartbeat in my throat. If there’s no wind in my face, I can usually keep pace with Mopeds and cars that wouldn’t be legal for the road in any state with an annual vehicle inspection.

It’s odd, though. For being someone who doesn’t enjoy talking while riding, something feels a bit off when I get too far ahead of my dad. So I’ll ride and ride and ride and wait and wait and wait for him once a few miles separate us.

I do most of my waiting at a stop sign, drinking water and looking around and playing on my phone and adjusting my helmet straps and glancing for my dad down the road I’d just dominated. After 15 to 20 minutes, I see him, looking like a helmeted snail atop two wheels. He never picks up the pace just because he sees me standing there like I own my own gym.

“You all right?” I ask as he passes by.

“Yep,” he says in a dopplering voice, oftentimes sounding exhausted.

He does not stop to take a break. Ever.

So I put on my helmet, take off and ride behind him for a couple of miles, admiring his patience, persistence and determination to maintain a pace.

“You can go ahead,” he always tells me after a while.

In the past, I always went ahead of him without permission. Then I began waiting for his que, occasionally replying I’d rather “take it easy” and ride with him. These days I’m doing much more of that.

IT’S A LESSON I am learning from Dad, this ability to enjoy the ride. He used to ask when we were finished if I saw “that barn” or “the dog” we passed somewhere along the way, but I never did. He’d comment on the weather, tell me what was on a road we didn’t take or wonder if something was a shortcut to somewhere … and I’d have nothing to say in response.

Sadly, I’d spent the entire ride trying to get it over with as quickly as possible, completely oblivious to the world around me.

So now I’m taking more photos when I go on bike rides. I’m checking out new roads. I’m not just seeing new things, I’m feeling them. It’s almost like taking a new bike out for the first time each time we hit the road. It isn’t a bad change of pace at all.

While I think I’ll always prefer fast, furious and life-threatening trail riding to road cycling (this could, in all honesty, change when I’m 50) and will continue to satisfy itches to test my physical abilities on the bike, Dad’s “slowly but surely” style is something I enjoy.

I hope to one day apply this in the rest of my life as well.

 

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One Response to Slowly but surely

  1. Sandy Fluent says:

    I will never hate my bike ride again – thanks for the essay on appreciating what’s around me. I really needed it today.

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