Friday Group Ride #472

Friday Group Ride #472

I could tell something was wrong, just from the way he was walking. I’d just come home. He’d greeted me out front, riding small tight circles on his bike. I walked up the stairs and into the house to put my stuff down and let the wife know I was back. After a minute’s chat, I turned to the window and saw him walking back up the street toward the house, walking his bike with his left hand.

His shoulders were hunched and his steps were clipped. The simple fact he was walking instead of riding rang alarm bells. I went back out to see what happened.

He’d just been riding around the block, practicing taking corners while riding no-handed, and he clipped a pedal and went over the bars. He was bleeding from a few spots on the back of his right hand, which he was cradling in close to his body.

How many times has this been me? How many times did I lose my rear wheel on the red clay of my Alabama youth and go tumbling into a rain culvert or thorn bush? How many times did a jump go wrong? How many corners, as an adult on a mountain bike, did I take too hot? How many seemingly innocuous obstacles didn’t I clear?

We went in and iced his wrist, dug him out a brace from the cornucopia of various compression and immobilization devices we’ve collected over the years. Two days later we sat in the walk-in urgent care clinic for an x-ray whose results were inconclusive, but at least it took an extra long time not to tell us much.

I had that part coming I guess. My son said, “I was trying to ride the corner no-hands, because you said that’s how I’d know if I could really do it or not.”

A ripple of remorse passed over me, and then it was gone. At root, I’m ok with falling off the bike. I think falling off is just part of the process of becoming a better rider. I don’t know anyone who is good on the bike who hasn’t paid into the pain bank along the way. And I want my kids to be good riders.

This week’s Group Ride asks, am I a bad dad? More broadly, how important is safety? I persist stubbornly with the idea that we’ve fetishized safety, denying ourselves the joys available out there on the jagged edge of prudence. The crashes hurt more now. I’m older than I was. But I’m good with that. Are you?

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  1. Lyford

    You’re not a bad dad.

    Personally, I think a life without pushing yourself a bit, without taking a few chances, would be dull. I’ve done some so-called “extreme” sports, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize the known risks with good training, gear, and decisions.

    Now, pushing 60 and carrying a joint replacement, I’m more cautious. Crashing has more serious consequences. I don’t bounce back up like I used to. But I still enjoy what Peter Egan called the “zoom factor” — the pure joy of going fast just because it feels good. If we were purely rational animals we’d be a dull lot.

    But there are limits. “Crashing is just part of racing” is a big reason that racing holds no interest for me.
    “If I have learned one thing in my 54 years, it is that it is very good for the character to engage in sports which put your life in danger from time to time. It breeds a saneness in dealing with day to day trivialities which probably cannot be got in any other way, and a habit of quick decisions.”
    — Nevil Shute

  2. MattC

    Today is a different world than when I grew up as a kid (the 60’s and early 70’s). We’d be out all day on our bikes, all over town, and even out of town sometimes, and nobody (except for us, and sometimes not even that) knew where we were. Jumping, skidding, racing, you name it…the game was on. Helmets? HA…didn’t exist. Just our Keds shoes, shorts and a tank top for safety gear. If we didn’t come home with road rash and cuts, we weren’t playing hard enough. Learned a LOT. Survived it all, and I think we are better for it. Growing up in a safety-sanitized environment isn’t doing a kid any favors. We learn the most from our failures. How do you know a burner is hot until you touch it? But you learn (hopefully) NOT to do that again. How do you know what the limit of your traction is until you surpass it? What kid didn’t (doesn’t) think riding with no-hands is the coolest thing EVER? How far can you go without touching the bars? It’s a challenge, and a learning experience. Rituals of becoming an adult cyclist. Letting your kids fail and (hopefully) learn something from it makes you a GOOD parent (IMO). Just my 2 cents.

  3. TominAlbany

    The fact that you asked the question answers it. Were you NOT a good parent, you wouldn’t question your own choices here. Additionally, the guilt comes from knowing that your kid is in pain and you really can’t do anything about it.

    Remember, HE chose to ride no-handed. You may have planted a seed but, he watered that one for a while!

    Also, the learn by failing thing is real.

  4. Aar

    Thank you for refusing to put a bubble around your children like so many people in our world these days. Scars (at least the smaller ones) are so much better than participation trophies.

    1. Stephen Barner

      I can’t give any valid advice on raising kids, as I’ve never done it, but I am very happy that I grew up long before this modern era of 24-7 connectivity, online gaming, and helicopter parenting. My parents never knew where we were, other than that we were in the general area of the neighborhood, which could include a mile into the woods. I don’t recall ever being asked what we had been doing. It was all good, and I never wore a helmet for anything, until I was married. (I did have a leather hairnet that I wore in my short-lived racing phase.)

      After close to 60 years of riding, I’m finally making a concerted effort to get more comfortable riding no-hands. It’s a skill I should have mastered when I was nine, when I now wish I had also practiced my violin more. I try harder to avoid crashes these days. I’ve lost no joy by dialing back my risk-taking and listening to that small voice that warns me when I’m being dumb.

  5. Scott Gilbert

    You are definitely NOT a bad Dad. Kids these days are insulated from learning from trial and error. My daughter learned about balance, speed when she tried to jump a curb the first time. She crashed and nailed the jump the second time.

  6. Shawn

    Road rash, bruises, cuts and scrapes, even a broken bone maybe: gonna happen.

    I get the “school of hard knocks” I’m hearing in the comments. I subscribe to it myself. Failure is the best learning tool.

    But breaking teeth is a different ball game. Been there, done that and would do pretty much anything for a do-over, 35 years later. Your grille is your introduction to the world. And having spent tens of thousands on my kids’ smiles, I’d hate to see all that work wrecked. Only one of the kids rides, but she rides mtb. That means chances of crashing are higher (although impact speeds/crash energy will probably be lower).

    She’s in college now and is free to do as she pleases, but when she lived at home I always made her wear her retainers when shredding with me. They don’t offer protection like an NFL mouthpiece, but they offer something, and unlike an NFL mouthpiece they’re likely to be worn when riding. Hopefully that’s a good habit she can’t break . . .

  7. Parker

    Given the facts of life, people who’re not good with getting older should try to be; and anyone who doesn’t like being hurt should be reasonably safe while adventuring. Right? What counts as reasonable safety for older people is somewhat mushy, because their strength/stamina/reflexes/resilience/situational awareness wax and wane in sometimes unpredictable ways. My own mild gamble with the jagged edge of prudence is no more than typically riding and touring solo. It bothers my wife, but not so much that she complains. I was good with no hands on my empty paperboy bike, but’m not on any of the drop bar bikes I now use. Sometimes wish I were, and maybe I’ll practice more. Always wear a helmet now, and always carry a phone, drivers license, and medicare card. Except on tours, try to avoid roads with gravel or heavy traffic. Not hard to do where I live. After thinking about this week’s questions, sent off for a ROAD iD.

    If I were a parent, I’d insist my kids wear a helmet while biking even if they were concerned about helmet hair. Tho I know most Copenhagen commuters disagree, helmetless riding doesn’t strike me as reasonably safe. I’d encourage kids to push almost any skill limit they wanted. But might occasionally offer ideas if their reach exceeded their grasp for a long time. Some folks need practical ideas for appreciating their limits. That strike anyone as fetishizing safety?

    1. Lyford

      I also have a partner who worries about me riding alone. For mutual peace of mind I have an ANGi(was ICEdot)crash sensor on my helmet, and she has permission to track my phone. I wear “dog tags” as my emergency identification.

      Aging does add another factor to safety decisions. A simple fracture can be a life-changing event for an older person. I am weaker, slower, and less resilient than I was, and I need to be realistic about my limits. But if we restrict ourselves too much, our abilities shrink even faster, and our world of possibilities contracts into a small safe ball of blandness.

      I’m planning to take a mountain bike skills class to try to expand my comfort zone.

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