I put the call out on Facebag to see if anyone had a starter bike, 54 cm or thereabouts, for my 16-year-old. We’d been talking and he had said, “I’d like to go riding with you sometime, Dad.”
Several friends reached out with various kind offers, but none kinder than Wankomodo. “I have a fairly nice bike I could let go for $500. It’s just sitting in the garage and I’d rather see it used than gathering dust.”
A couple of weeks went by and I finally got around to visiting to check out the bike. It was an immaculate S-Works Tarmac with Campy 10-speed, Ksyrium wheels, brand new Continentals, and Speedplay pedals. “If you want the compact chain rings and rear cogs I can throw them in for fifty bucks.”
That night I got home with the new bike and showed it to junior. He glanced at it. “That’s nice,” he said.
Some more weeks went by. I was busy, then sick, then he was at a track meet, and then finally our schedules meshed. “Let’s go for a ride on the bike path,” I said.
In the interim I’d yanked the Speedplays and replaced them with a pair of flat plastic pedals. This would be the only super bike in L.A. with “pedal” pedals.
“What should I wear?” he asked.
“T-shirt and shorts and sneakers should be perfect.”
“Okay. Who’d you borrow this bike from?”
“I didn’t borrow it. It’s yours.”
He looked at it differently.
Before we left I aired up my tires and then gave him the pump. He pushed and strained to get the gauge up to 100 psi. “This is hard!” he said. I had forgotten that not everyone is born knowing how to air up a tire as I watched him struggle with getting the pump head on the valve.
We loaded the bikes in the car and drove down to the Riviera. I parked on the flat section of Camino de Encanto and got his bike out. He put on his helmet. He hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was eight. “How do I do this again?” he asked.
I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike everyday.
“Throw your leg over the top tube and set the pedal up like this … ”
“What’s the top tube?” he asked.
I’d forgotten that not everyone knows what a top tube is.
“It’s this.” I walked over and showed him. Then I returned to the car to get my bike out. I heard some funny noises and looked back. He was weaving and barely staying upright.
“Keep pedaling,” I said casually, my heart in my mouth. I turned back to the car. He wasn’t a child anymore. I could not run to him, because he is now a child with the mind of a man. He passed by, smiling, still wobbling a bit. I smiled back as if it were the most normal thing in the world, as if I were not afraid.
“Stay to the right,” I added. He reached the stop sign, turned around, and came back. “Why don’t you do that a few more times to get used to it, then we can go.”
“Okay,” he smiled. “My ass hurts though.”
I grinned. “Welcome to bicycling.”
A small group of Serious Cyclists were going the other direction. The fattest one with the fanciest bike eyed our amateur get-up. “You’re going the wrong direction!” he smirked. “The hill is the other way! C’mon, don’t be weak!”
“Martin Howard would have laughed at that,” I said to myself with a smile.
The bike was a terrible fit because I hadn’t jammed the seat forward and put on a super short stem. It looked awfully uncomfortable; he was stretched out like a circus performer. But I didn’t say anything. He was riding, and he was riding with me.
We coasted down the street when suddenly I heard someone say, “Hey, Seth!” It was Marilyne, Craig, Lisa, Renee, and Carey, all returning from the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. I was wearing shorts and a tee, and they summed up the situation instantly. We chatted and coasted down to the traffic circle. They all went very slowly, with my son tagging along on the back, uncertain and wobbling and me so afraid. He was in the road, the damned road, on the damned bike, anything could happen but I swallowed my fear.
“We’re going down to the bike path,” I said.
“See you!” they said, and rode off.
We went down the embankment and I was afraid again but I said nothing and showed nothing because he is no longer a child. Something happened and I heard a scraping noise. He got back on the bike and didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything either because there was nothing for me to say.
On the bike path we rode to the pier at Redondo Beach. The path was crowded with people. I had forgotten that not everyone easily weaves between hundreds of people on a crowded path and never worries about hitting them. “Hey Dad,” he said. “Can we stop for a second?”
We stopped. “This is stressful,” he said with a nervous smile.
I had forgotten that, too. “You’re doing great,” I said.
He remounted, smoother and faster and more confident than even ten minutes ago. We reached the pier. “Take a break?” I said. “This is the turnaround.”
He looked relieved. “Yeah.”
“How about some ice cream?”
Out came the big grin. “That would be great!”
It has been lifetimes since I rode my bike a couple of miles in shorts and tennis shoes with someone I loved and stopped and ate ice cream. Never, maybe.
We sat on the bench and watched the Jesus freaks and the tourists and the man with the battered guitar and the happy little kid dashing with his mom running after him out of breath and the ice cream tasted so good. “You ready?” I said after we were done.
“Sure!” He had the enthusiasm of ice cream, now.
We pedaled back without incident. Behind me, he talked about a book he was reading. It was as pretty a sound as any symphony.
We got to the ramp and he almost fell making the turn. Then he got off and walked to the top. I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike up steep hills for miles at a time. We remounted and made for the car. There was the little climb up Calle Miramar and then the more significant bump up Camino de Encanto.
He was puffing. I had forgotten that not everyone rolled up those two small hills without puffing.
We got to the car and loaded the bikes in.
“That was fun,” he said.
“Yes, it sure was,” I answered, thankful I hadn’t forgotten that you’re never too old for ice cream.
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