Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I’m not exactly sure when I officially became a cyclist, but I think it may have actually been before I ever even took a pedal stroke. As a small child my Father used to ride me around Marin County on the back of his ten-speed, stopping occasionally when I would fall asleep in my kiddie seat. I suppose that was probably when I first experienced the joy of feeling the road rumble beneath me and the pleasant sensation of leaning into a turn at speed. The fact that I would regularly fall asleep while my Father was riding was an early indication that I would develop a certain comfort with the bike.

When I finally got my own two-wheeled machine, a root beer brown cruiser with a banana seat and orange detailing, I was officially hooked. I used to tie my Tonka trucks to the back and ride around for hours. Eventually I got an actual ten-speed of my own and was finally able to go on a real ride with my Dad.

On that first ride, less than a mile from the driveway, at the first stop sign, I tensed up, ran into my father and knocked us both to the ground. Not exactly a fairy tale introduction to the sport of road cycling, but I suppose it prepared me for the numerous bike-related spills I would take from then on.

That incident also taught me that you could hit the deck and still get back up and ride through the pain, which would become somewhat of a recurring theme for me. If Dad and I had gone home after we crashed, I may not have become the masochist I am today.

But we didn’t go home. We got back up, dusted ourselves off and kept going for what ended up being a great ride. In fact, when I still lived in California I would regularly ride that same stretch of road between Bolinas and Stinson Beach and remember that day fondly. The excitement and thrill of gliding along Bolinas Lagoon with my Father far outweighed the humiliation of crashing and the painful scrapes to my elbows and knees.

I think that the element of the unknown is one of the stronger uniting factors among cyclists. We never really know how the ride will end up but far more often than not, it is better than whatever else we would be doing. However, the reality is that whether we are training for a race, commuting to work or enjoying a leisurely cruise, every time we go out and ride our bikes, at any speed, we are taking a very real risk. In case you were wondering, cycling is a pretty dangerous sport recreationally and downright treacherous competitively.

I have been hit by cars, crashed out by numerous Freds, broken bones and have lost more layers of skin than I care to remember, all because of my desire to ride my bike. In fact, I was recently reminded of these risks as I swatted away the wasp that had just stung me on the eyelid as I descended Lefthand Canyon the other day. I never know that I am going to crash or get hit by a car or stung by a bee before I go out, although I do always recognize that it is a possibility.

But despite all of the potential hazards, the possibility of having a great ride and the life-affirming enjoyment it brings makes it worth the risk. It was difficult convincing my Mother of this after I got hit by a car and broke both of my collarbones the day before Thanksgiving in 1989, but she managed to understand. Or at least she pretended to.

Anyway, I’m still not entirely sure when I officially became a “cyclist”, I just know that I have used the term to define myself for the better part of my three decades of existence. I have gone from “passenger” to “rider” to “racer” and everything in between, but for all intents and purposes, I may have never even had a choice as to whether or not the term “cyclist” would constitute a critical element of who I am as human being.

Having been exposed to the bike and the joys of riding at such a young age, I truly believe that I have had cycling in my blood since my Dad first strapped me into that kiddie seat on the back of his old ten-speed. I probably could have resisted it and, like most of my childhood friends, forgotten the joy that riding a bicycle brings. But thankfully, my family supported my urge to risk life and limb on two wheels and allowed me to make cycling a critical part of my life.

So thank you Mom, Dad, C-Mac and everyone else that has encouraged me to follow my passion. I am forever grateful and can only hope that other young, would-be cyclists have a support system like mine. Cycling is a wonderful sport and I am certain that I am a better person for having been involved in it since those days on the back of my Father’s bike.


cyclema said...

And I bet Mom was pretty freaked out about those first rides! She obviously trusted your Dad a lot!
When one's child shows a passion - you've just got to support it all you can (without pushing) delicate balance that! How wonderful it is to know that your "child" has found a passion - any passion really - but especially nice if it involves healthful activity (baring the occasional crash for sure!)

Jeremy T. Arnold said...

If all kids raced bikes, the world would be a better place.

If my cat Cosmo knew how to ride, I would certainly be afraid of him crashing.