Friday Group Ride #202

Friday Group Ride #202

When you tell a story over and over, fine details tend to fall out of the telling. It becomes shortened, efficient, boiled to its main points.

Here is an example of just such a story: I learned to ride a bike when I was a kid. The learning was one of the transcendent moments of my childhood and begat a lifelong love affair with the bike. The end.

Here is the (only slightly) more detailed version of that story: I learned to ride a bike when I was seven-years-old. Immediately I loved it and became one of the BMX terrors of the neighborhood. Approaching adolescence, I let the bike go a bit, too cool for a dirt bike, not yet even really aware of the exotic pursuit of road cycling.

As time wore on and hormones churned through my system like a chili dog on an empty stomach, I discovered my older brother’s abandoned road bike and used it to visit girls when their parents were away. The success of this strategy propagated a nearly Pavlovian response in my mind at the sight of a bicycle.

Then, when I was in college, the vogue for mountain biking reached fever pitch, and again cycling presented the perfect solution to a persistent problem, that of transporting myself around the city on a schedule not ruled by the capricious whim of bus drivers. Given previous history, I was already very open to the idea that the bike could be an integral part of my life, and the resulting adventures cemented a love for cycling that very nearly kept me rolling through my twenties.

See, the neat and tidy version of this tale has me wedded to a bike for the rest of my bike, til death (but preferably not) do us part. But this is the detailed edition, and after college I again gave in to external pressure to abandon cycling. In other words, I got a job, and not just a job, but a succession of increasingly good jobs, jobs that required ties, jobs that put me in meetings with important clients, jobs that were decidedly unsympathetic to the cycling lifestyle, or so I thought. For a brief time I confined my pedaling to occasional weekends. It was a sad and dark time. No more detail necessary.

But you know how this thing goes, this love of cycling. If it’s in you, it comes bubbling up again and again. It pushes other things, like the conventions of office life, aside. In the end, I reverted to form. I even left the world of ties and conference rooms for a bike job.

This week’s Group Ride asks: How did you become an adult cyclist? Did you tread an uninterrupted path from first childhood ride to this morning’s commute, or has the bike come and gone from your life? If the latter, what was the catalyst for your grown up self taking to the wheel again?

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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32 comments

  1. Ted Culotta

    1977. Greatest birthday gift ever: Fuji Sports 10, medium blue, 23″ frame with Suntour gears, and rack on the bike for my school books. Rode it to and from school religiously. Rode it a little in high school, but not much. Stopped riding once I started driving. After college I started running religiously and ran a few marathons. By my mid-30s my knees were toast and I had kids. Became overweight. About 5-1/2 years ago I began going to the gym six days a week, starting cold turkey. I started seeing the same faces there (the 5:00 AM crew.) I was getting badgered by this nice woman about coming to her spinning class. Fast forward several months and I finally went. I really enjoyed it. Several people in the class started telling me I should get a bike. I finally did in March, 2010. How had I gone so long without doing this? Went from about 240 lbs. when I started at the gym to about 172-175 during last summer. Have been racing, charity riding and just plain riding a lot and LOVE it. It’s been an epiphany.

  2. Paul I.

    Cycling comes and goes in my life. Grew up cycling as a kid. Got a road like at a fairly young age, as that’s what was cool then. Didn’t stop me from using it offroad, though. Did not have a bike through college, but then bought a cheap 2nd hand road bike when I lived in London, as it was easier to get around places that were not well served by the tube.

    When I moved to NYC I didn’t have a bike for many years. Even after moving to the ‘burbs, my main sport was tennis. It was only when I had injuries that I started riding to stay fit while recovering from things like tendinitis. Eventually, I had to quit tennis due to ongoing knee and elbow issues, by which time I’d kind of fallen in love with the bike again, and it’s been my only sport for the last five years or so.

  3. Chris Jennings

    Come and gone a few times. Time riding is more than time not riding so I’ve got that going for me. I still mostly tell people I’ve been riding for 35 years though. It dawned on me recently that when I saw things like BMX bikes in ET or the movie Rad I was excited not because of the special effects or stunts but because someone was riding a bike.

  4. Geoffrey

    I actually started riding again when I was 20. My dad decided to pick up mountain biking when he was 53, and wanted someone to ride with. So, he bought me a bike and took me riding. We both still ride.

  5. Alan

    I loved cycling so much as a kid I refused to stop the first day I learned to ride. Eventually started racing as a junior. Gave up that when my asthma was too much and back in 80s, the asthma drugs sucked. But did keep riding into college as a commute and way to have fun in Boulder.

    Eventually grad school did me in though, in cold Wisconsin winters and long long hours in the lab. Then bike-unfriendly NYC.

    But I came back to Colorado, and had little kids learning to ride. And I re-learned that love.

  6. jorgensen

    A Christmas present, The Complete Book of Bicycling by Eugene A. Sloane, First Edition 1970. I owned a Schwinn Sting-Ray. After that read I was saving for a full bore road bike. Already hooked on the bicycle, the book opened the door on adult cycling, bikes and racing. While not perfect by any means it set the course. I saved for that next bike purchase until the Summer of 1972. That is when adult bike riding began. Still kept the Sting-Ray for a bit but sold it off in 1973 for funds to buy a used pair of Campagnolo pedals and a Phil Wood bottom bracket. It was almost all about the bike.

  7. Brcire

    Ah Robot, you bring tears to my eyes. The nostalgia for those days… just coming home from school and leaving for 2-3 hours to just ride and explore another set of roads. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Those early days… I remember waking up one morning at the ripe age of 13 and telling my parents, I want a bike, a good bike, not a second hand one. I bought Bicycle Guide, Bicycling, and Winning! back in the day. I could tell my parents where every road went and where it connected. What brought me back was my former brother in law who was getting into MTBing, and then my subsequent divorce. I’ll say it here… a blessing in disguise.

    Since day 1, the bike became freedom, became identity, became my counselor, the bike never betrayed. Like you and many who will post up, it never left me, always there ready for the next ride, a faithful companion that never judged.

  8. Michael Schlitzer

    I remember riding through the Veteran’s Administration on the way to UCLA every day and seeing the UCLA cycling team. I thought “That looks like fun”. Then I got married and my wife and I were riding when a roadie went past us on the Mt. Vernon Trail in Alexandria, VA and I thought “That looks like fun”. I talked her in to letting me spend $400 for a used Giant Cadex 7 speed with down tube shifters and I literally rode that bike into the ground (OK I ran a stop sign and got hit by a car, but there wasn’t much left of the bike afterwards). That was 20 years ago and apart from the year off recovering from said crash, I have been addicted to riding. I was right, it IS fun.

  9. Patrick O'Brien

    My start as an adult cyclist was when I taught my wife to ride on her 37th birthday. Since I bought her a new bike for the occasion, I had to get one too. She grew up on a farm in a very rural area. She never learned to ride a bike and commented once when we once passed kids riding that “I wish I could do that.” Who could resist. Could you?

  10. MickR

    I remember my first bike at 7. It was a gold banana seat number, with tassles in the hand grips. I rolled it over to the curb to get a little more balance upon maiden takeoff, and my brother laughed. My mom quieted him with “just two years ago you too were starting at the curb”. Thanks Mom. I remember just pedaling away … and thus starting what is now a 33 year continuous love affair. I stopped riding a bike to school when I got my moped, but brought a bike to the city for college and kept the flame going. We rode regular 10-speed road bikes and cruisers in the trails when we discovered MTB, until we could afford the proper rig, that is. My budget has still not caught up to my desires although last season I finally got a carbon road bike. I actually regret not riding more over the years, at 44 years age, even though I ride as much as my schedule will allow.

  11. Champs

    I’ve never had a driver’s license, so biking has always been transportation at the very least. For reasons I have yet to understand, only even numbered years get me out of the city and into the forest to log big miles.

  12. Bart

    I rode as a kid, a lot. I rode the MS 150 in Minnesota when I was 10 with my 13 year older brother. I was the youngest kid in that ride and no parents with us. Kind of crazy to think about that. In the high school years on warm summer nights I loved going for night rides through the city (Minneapolis) by myself or with my brother. We’d ride the parkway trails which are very extensive in the city and through the deserted streets of downtown. After an hour or three of riding we’d be back home and feast on cereal and watch late night tv.

    After that, I drifted away from cycling that until I tore up my knee playing soccer. For nearly two years after that injury the only exercise I could do that didn’t cause my knee to swell up was cycling and swimming. Eventually I was able to run again and got really into triathlons. I don’t race any more but still swim, ride and run and look for ways to go on “endurance adventures” all on my own. Ever since the knee injury I’ve been hooked.

  13. Tony

    The “off” times are associated with, mostly inner, turmoil. Disconnected. Unsure. Narrowed thought and vision.

    The “on” times are most decidedly the opposite. And despite some momentary setbacks, it’s been a pretty good “on” run.

    Off – to be without the means, physical or mental, of riding of any kind, from late night cruise through the city or the early morn club sojourn.

    On – Having the wheeled freedom.

  14. Walt S

    Riding as a kid, it was a way to get around. I got my first 10 speed, a way too big 26 inch yellow 42 pound Schwinn Varsity, my last year in college. No one told me I couldn’t stop in the rain with steel rims and no one told me I couldn’t ride 50 miles. I tried both and succeeded at one. It was the bike reviews in the old Bicycling Magazine that permanently infused me with bike lust. I have raced. I have toured across the country. And I still get that sense of wonder when I get up early and go for a bike ride in the cool of the morning. I have been riding for forty-five years and love it as much today as I did back when.

  15. Drago

    Used to plan trips on my 20″ with banana seat, in, I don’t know, 3rd grade maybe. Basically haven’t “grown up” since. I’ve always had a bike.epic trip for me in college: rode to pick up a pressure plate and other clutch parts for my FIAT in snow and single-digest temps.

  16. christopheru

    It started when I was 10. I could already ride, of course, but 10 was when my father bought me my first 10 speed and a wool cycling jersey and wool cycling shorts.
    From then, a couple of years of hacking around on a bmx which got stolen.
    Followed by years of road riding with my father. The best memories of my teen years center around road riding with my father.
    Sadly, the car bug bit and I got out of cycling for a few years until a friend of mine got me hopelessly hooked on mountain biking. Did that for years until I was sidelined (mentally) by a bad crash.
    Enter a spell of running followed by a spell of lazy.
    Cycling kept rearing its head off and on for about eight or so years.
    And then, a rebirth of sorts. All it took was a cyclocross bicycle and a persistent friend.
    Now? The obsession is back in force and seems unlikely to ever die.
    Spring cannot get here soon enough…

  17. gianni

    I quit medical school to race the damn thing, in the days before I knew the game was rigged. I never went back. I would like to blame the bike, but it would have been something else, I’m sure, if the bike were out of the equation. Stupidest thing I ever did.

  18. brucew

    My early years with cycling were not good ones. My dad is a big, powerful guy. I’m built like my mom, reedy thin, slight. (Like a climber, actually.) My dad bought me bikes he would have liked as a kid during the depression and the war—big, fat-tired, gaspipe cruisers. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned bikes were supposed to weigh less than the rider.

    There was always too much bike and not enough boy. Having to push the darned thing everywhere gets old fast. Even the jet-black Schwinn “English racer” with a 24” wheels and a Sturmey-Archer three-speed was too much bike for not enough boy. And when all the rest of the neighborhood was whizzing around of Stingrays, my big bike was definitely uncool.

    It’s no surprise that when at age 14 when I could afford to buy the first bike for myself, I bought a 100cc Kawasaki. It was still too much bike for not enough boy—I fell off a lot, an awful lot—but at least I didn’t have to push the damned thing everywhere.

    By the time I could get a driver’s license, I’d quite had my fill of two wheels, thanks so much.

    My forties found me after a series of setbacks—mainly self-inflicted—using the bus and shoe leather for transport. At age 49, three things happened. A close friend only 54 dropped dead of a heart attack. Second, with two part-time jobs I was spending too much time on the bus. Third, the bus company did away with transfers, effectively doubling my daily costs.

    I budgeted a year’s worth of bus fare (at the old rate) and walked to the nearest LBS. I rode out on a hybrid that—flashback—weighed about the same as an anvil. That bike ignited a fire within, even if within a couple of weeks I realized it wasn’t the right bike for me. I put 4,000 miles on it in a year before I got my first roadie.

    These days there are three bikes in the stable—a CX/touring-based commuter with disc brakes and studded snow tires, an audax/rando-based commuter, and a classic parallel 73s Ti roadie with full D-A.

    Turns out, that despite being a lifelong flatlander, not having cycled until AARP age, and 35 years worth of Marlboro damage, I’m actually a pretty damned good climber. Thanks, Mom.

  19. Aar

    Bicycling has come and gone from my life. The last time I let my bike collect dust, I was tired of idiot motor vehicle operators. I’m back on the bike now because I would rather die dong something I love to do (if it comes to that) than as a couch potato. Nobody’s interested in the long version, especially myself.

  20. John in Miami

    Like most in my weekend riding group. I took up road cycling again in my 40s when I had the disposable income and no need to watch my kids every second of every day. I got into running with buddies at work. 5k/10k’s, occasionally a half-marathon, one full marathon and then my coworker got me to try sprint triathlons. I pulled out my Toys-R-Us mountain bike and suffered thru 10 miles of torture. I decided then to get a road bike to attempt a few more trio’s because running alone got to be boring. I pretty much sucked at running and tri’s however, I always met my goal (never end up last in your age group). My group nickname was “Next to Last”. The running and swimming part alone sucked and I just found the Sunday ride group from the shop I bought the bike from and the rest is history. I got into going to annual bike fest in Central Florida so the group made it a road trip weekend and even that wasn’t enough for me. Now I’m into the week-long camping bike tours. Hey, I got back into camping again. Cycling leads to more than just road fun.

  21. Joe B

    It was Lance. In 2009 the Tour was somehow on my radar where it hadn’t been before. The comeback, and happening upon a cable channel that broadcast the Tour. So I watched it, enjoyed it. Afterward I thought “that looks fun”, and “I’d like to ride like that”. So I bought a used MTB off craigslist to test the waters, and I started riding. Hadn’t ridden for 30 years, when my purple Takara 10 speed was stolen the summer before college. Back then, I rode to get somewhere. This time, I rode just to ride. This time, I found the joy. I also found the need for N+1 :-)

  22. Jay Fromkin

    I really became an adult cyclist in 1990 when I moved to Laramie, Wyoming. I was 38 and public relations director at the University of Wyoming. While working there, I met a young reporter who covered the university for the Casper Star-Tribune – RKP’s very own Charles Pelkey. We became good friends. He helped me buy my first good bike, showed me by example how to be a better rider, and this autumn gave me some good advice on adapting my Davidson to electronic shifting after a crash badly damaged my right thumb. In a sense, cycling and Charles helped me get to the age of 63. Three-and-a-half years ago, I had an eight-hour operation that resulted in removal of my pancreas, spleen, and two-thirds of my stomach. According to my surgeon, my strong heart and lungs, a result of some 20 years of cycling, kept me alive on the operating table. Thanks, Charles. Thanks, bike.

  23. Michael

    I guess I have been riding pretty steadily since I got my hand-me-down paper-boy bike from my sister when I was four years old. it was a small blue-grey bike. At 7, I got a green Schwinn stingray and gave the tother bike to my younger sister. At 12, I had saved enough money for a ten-speed, and that became freedom for me, riding the roads for up to 30 miles away from home. At 16, I bought a car for $100. My cycling then became long rides for recreation only. At nearly 18, I sold it and went to college. That year and a half was the only time I did not use a bike as my main form of transportation. Thirty-five years later, I still see driving my car as a small failure. I ride for transportation and recreation, mountain, cross, road, touring, anything. It just feels right. I have never been bored on a bike, and have never been excited in a car.

  24. TominAlbany

    As a kid, I always used the bike for adventure. Loved it so much that, even after my first bike was stolen, I then rode my dad’s 26″ three speed – until that was stolen too! Still, I loved it so much that I rode my MOM’S 26″ three speed until, finally, at 14, they bought me a Columbia 10 speed. I rode that through until I got my license. Then, one summer, after returning from college, I started riding this LONG 12 mile ride after dinner. (Oh. Greg LeMond was finishing second in the TdF to a rodent.) In grad school, I bought a bike for fun and exercise and rode it until it got wrecked in an accident. I took it as a sign to get my act together and finish grad school. With my first pay check, I bought a microwave and a CD player – they were new tech then! With my second paycheck I bought a 12 speed Schwinn, which still lives with me though, it doesn’t see the light of day any more. I was alone in a new city and my bike was my best friend for a while. I’ve never quit since then – 1989. I’ve been road biking in Napa Valley. Mountain biking in Moab, Tahoe, Western Oregon, Vermont, NY, Colorado, and even France. Lately, thanks to family life, mileage soared and dived and is finally climbing again.

    I learned on my sister’s Schwinn when I was about 6 and got my own Schwinn when I was 7. I had the bike for about 6 months. Maybe 7. I still see that bike when I close my eyes. Brown paint. Shifter right there on the top tube. Bright yellow banana seat. I thought I’d lost something when it was stolen. But, that bike started something that was unstoppable.

    thanks for the stroll down memory’s lane, Robot!

  25. Andy

    Got a bike for my sixth birthday, German (don’t remember the brand), narrow 20″ tires, lighter and faster than my friends’ bikes. That and a Raleigh three-speed got me to my first car, then came the job & college, kids, more work, start a business, more work. In 1995 one of my daughter’s boyfriends took me mountain biking. He waited for me a lot – good guy, not the right guy , but good none the less. We’re still friends. I stay on the road (or in the basement) now, more due to convenience than anything. I’m really glad to be back.

  26. Full Monte

    Short story: I lost the two most important people in my life by the time I was 24, my father, who was my spiritual guidepost, and my new wife, my lover and best friend. I sank into debilitating depression. Went into a hospital. Was put on medications. Lost sight of who I was, sunk deeper into darkness. A new friend re-introduced me to cycling. I threw away the pills, stopped my visits to the shrink. Turned emotional pain into ever longer and more excruciating physical sufferfests on the bike. My body morphed into a lean machine, all the negativity, anger and despair was smashed upon ever-turning pedals. Mile after mile. Day after day. Week after week. The bike brought me back to the living. It saved my life.

  27. Souleur

    being a poor college student, and having blown my ACL, it reacquainted me with my first love of childhood. The ortho doc called it rehab for the non-operative option, and 25 years later, its still working.

  28. Jeff T

    I rode a lot as a kid. Alone and with buddies. One time I found out about a comic book store that had some old Sgt. Fury comic books that I had been looking for to complete a collection. Rode 54 miles round trip through South LA on my 3-speed Stingray clone. Never told my parents about that one. Fast forward to college and 1973, and I began riding to keep up my cardio fitness during my frequent track-related injuries. First few rides were with 2 guys that had qualified for the Olympic trials in 1972. I recall puking almost every ride. But a love of riding fast and long was born and I’ve been riding ever since.

  29. Adam

    I don’t really remember learning to ride a bike as a kid, except that it involved a long gravel driveway & falling off a lot.
    That was it.

    Bikes were my means of escaping from the world & escaping into the world.
    Pedalling makes me happy.

  30. MCFE9829

    My older sisters taught me how to ride a bike at age 6. Still remember going fast downhill on a street from our house. The rush of speed and being free was what did it for me. Once I had a taste of that I never really left riding bikes. Went from BMX bike to skateboard at 14 then to a road bike at age 15. My older sisters got into road cycling in college in the early ’70′s. At age 9 I was tall enough to ride my sister’s Bob Jackson. The sisters took us younger brothers to local bike races. We developed a distant interest in road cycling though I didn’t really get into riding a road bike until I was 15. My mom took me to get a road bike and had the sales guy size me on a bike that was one inch too big because my mom told him I was still growing. I rode that Univega Sportour all over the place after school. I would even wake up at 5 in the morning and ride in the dark with my friend on his moped before school. I’ve been riding ever since.

  31. Marc

    TDF. Two years ago when I was 56, my wife and two daughters, then 10 and 9, all wanted cruisers. We went to a local bike shop for the Fourth of July sale they were having. I was planning on getting a new hybrid to ride along with them. The shop was showing the Tour de France. I watched it in the shop that day and we all watched it each night for the next two weeks. I didn’t know what a peloton was or who Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck were. My kids liked the people roadside in the funny outfits. But something about the beauty of the countryside and the beauty of the competition drew me in. I said “I want a road bike.” I did some research, rode a few bikes and bought a Cannondale CAAD 8. I was hooked and still am. Thanks TDF

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