Friday, December 26, 2008

Planting Seeds

In some of my earliest posts, I wrote a bit about cycling and what it means for me. Physically, it keeps me relatively fit. Mentally, it gives me a hobby and blocks of time to process the junk that builds up in my brain during the rest of my waking hours. Creatively, it gives me the ability to fabricate things, solve problems, and it gives me material to write about. It mobilizes me, and lets me get out and explore the region in a way that a car or motorcycle just can't replicate (they're both too fast, and cars are too insular). And it lets me just play with these simple, elegant and efficient machines.

My introduction to cycling was deliberate but casual. Both of my parents rode a lot when they were kids, but neither has ridden much as an adult, from what I can tell. Still, they provided me with no less than four bikes during my childhood. And because I was so into riding, the fourth was something of an upgrade compared to the bikes anyone else in my family rode.

My first bike was a little red bike that was leftover from probably the 1960's. I think it was a Ross, and I recall it having a faux tank and/or fenders. I've described the metalflake green banana-seat Ross that followed it already, up here. Later that bike would serve as sort of a pseudo-BMX bike for jumping over boulders and the like, in homage to the Evel Kneivel set.

My first multi-speed bike was a Sears Free Spirit juvenile (24" wheels) 10-speed in red, white and blue. I was probably 11 when I got it, and it was on that bike that I first took long rides with my family. We had a loop that Google Maps tells me tonight was four miles exactly. Just as an aside, it's interesting to note that at the time (1978 or so), I'd have had to hop into a car with my dad and drive the loop to figure the distance out, where today, I don't have to leave my desk or even stop what I'm doing to figure it out (and in less time than it'd have taken to find the keys back then)!

The Free Spirit wasn't a great bike, to say the least. It looked good, but it was an absolute tank with no more than the barest scrap of non-ferrous metal on it. It was a classic junior 10-speed department store bike, and I'm sure not anywhere near as nice as the bikes you can find at department stores these days. I don't remember much about riding it, other than a few snapshot memories of those longer rides. Actually, I mostly remember washing and waxing it for sale just after the Raleigh showed up.

The Raleigh was your typical entry level bike shop bike from the tail end of the bike boom. It also wasn't a great bike (I'd never choose one like it today), but it was a good bike for a kid who'd be beating it senseless for the next 5 years. And again, it was a noticeable upgrade from the Free Spirit, and I recognized and appreciated it as such at the time. That said, my friend's Rampar was yet another step up in the component department (until his mother closed the garage door on it and bent the top tube, that is), as was another friend's Peugeot (though that one was sized for a rider of a height neither of us ever approached). In any case, the Raleigh represented a higher level of encouragement/facilitation, but it didn't come with an active role from my parents -- cycling just became how I got around.

But given my own enthusiasm, I've taken a much more active approach. As my own girls move up the ladder of their own bikes, I don't want to simply facilitate their riding, I'd like to foster it -- even participate, if they'll let me. And apart from continuing to ask them to ride with me, I figure the best way to do this is to make sure the bikes they're riding stay interesting, along the way. And I know how to do that; keep the bikes technically interesting and functioning well, and involve them in the process of making the bikes what they are and keeping them that way. That means no department store bikes, and just enough hands-on time that they can't become detached, but also can't get bored or tired of working on them.

Juliana has a junior mountain bike that will almost certainly pass to Ava. It's not a life-changing ride, but it's a healthy step up from my green Ross. And she and I spent time last spring and summer working on a racing bike for her -- the Fuji I mentioned here. Juli's role in the refit was multi-faceted, ranging from color selector to bearing repacker to tool fetcher. She got her hands dirty with old and fresh grease, dropped a bunch of ball bearings into and outside of bearing races, wrenched a few things, threaded cable, and helped select components like the saddle and cable housings.

The specifics of the bike I'll talk more about in my next post. Actually, Juli and I have drafted the post's outline. And I'm going to invite her to participate in the editorial process, and to post a reply. But much more important than the details of the bike is the meaning the project itself took on for both of us. You see, over the course of the summer, Goodale's Bicycles up in Nashua had on sale a Specialized Allez Junior racing bike. It was just adorable, I have to say -- a little red marischino cherry of a bike. I took a picture of the bike with my iPhone, and that night offered it to Juliana in place of her Fuji. And she refused it, saying that she wanted the bike she and I built up together. Which is about as much as a father can ask for.

Because of that experience, Ava won't be getting the Fuji as a hand-me-down like she has with her other bikes (and that includes the tricycle she's with in this picture from 2005, as well as the puppydog Hotrock Juli is cleaning up). Her first road bike will be her own, and we'll spend as much time together as she is willing to give me on a rebuild. It will be her bike, not her sister's.

It may be folly to think that I can steer my daughters' interests, but I'd like dearly for them to pass into adulthood with a healthy respect and enthusiasm for bicycles and bicycling. The seed has been planted, I've done what I know how to do to try to nourish it, and will continue doing so. Ultimately, whether that seed thrives in one or both of my daughters will be their choice. But I'm hoping.

All for now,


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