Passing it on

One of the old-timers was complaining about one of the newcomers. “When’s he gonna learn how to ride a fuggin’ bike?”

In the old days, people learned to ride a bike through shouting and blunt curse trauma. Nowadays there are a few curmudgeons who still wield the lashing tongue as a method of instruction, but we are dwindling, and for good reason. For one, it’s a lousy method. For another, you get tired of hollering because the exponentially increasing number of new riders makes it impossible to holler at all of them.

Plus, no one pays attention. You’re just a grouchy old sourpuss with a hangover.

The Aged One grumbled a little more. “Fuggin’ punk pulls some of the stupidest shit on a bike I’ve ever seen. Whatever happened to ‘Show up, shape up, and shut up’,” he asked.

“Those days are gone,” I said.

“It’s a damned shame. We’ve all gotten too soft and considerate of the next guy’s feelings, even when he’s pulling some douchey move that could kill you.”

I wasn’t so sure. The good old days had their bad old side, too, and part of the bad side was a culture of exclusion. In order to be one of the gang, I seem to remember, you had to get yelled at a lot. The masochists and those who aspired to positions of sadism could stick it out, but many’s the happy cycling enthusiast who shrugged and walked away after getting screamed at or belittled.

The kinder, gentler pedagogy is visible in real life, too. A friend was telling me about his son, who had walked on to a Division 1 basketball team. After two years on the team the son sat down with his father. “Dad,” he said, “I’m thinking about quitting the team.”

This came as a pretty big shock to the dad, who had been at his son’s side for the entirety of his basketball career. “Why?” he asked.

“If I work even harder than I’ve been working for the next two years, and if the stars align, there’s a very, very small chance that I’ll see a few minutes of playing time. The guys I’m competing with are for the most part future players in the NBA. I’m good enough to be on the team, but I’m not that caliber. It’s a huge amount of work and I’m not sure I want to do it anymore, especially when I look at what it takes away from my studies. I mean, the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get an education.”

This of course is the point where the Old School Father would have given his son a talking to, something along the lines of “Quit being a fuggin’ candyass, dogdammit. Get out there and bust your ass, and don’t talk to me about quitting until your eligibility is up.” He would have loaded the speech up with some guilt and shame as well. “Do you know how disappointed your mother will be?” etc., etc.

But my friend, you know, instead of the reflexive harangue that I’ve seen parents use when their kids quit Little League, much less a Division 1 basketball career, he took a different tack, passing on what he’d learned over a lifetime of living and parenting to his child. “Don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, “but consider it carefully, and if you’re ready to walk away from it, then walk away.”

A couple of weeks later his son came into his study. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, dad, and I’m ready to quit. And also, dad … ”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for loving me enough to let me do what I have to do.”

All this rattled through my mind as the Aged One finished his complaint about the newcomer. “Well,” I said to him, “look at it like this. You’ve got more experience than anyone else out here, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“And he’s still pretty ignorant, right?”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, what’s the use of our superior wisdom and experience if we don’t know how to pass on what we’ve learned?”

He nodded and was silent for a few minutes as we finished our coffee. Just then, newcomer rolled up, smiling the smile of the young, the strong, and the just-finished-a-killer-ride. He went into the coffee shop, got a cup and came back out.

The Aged One made some space for him to sit down. “Hey, man,” he said with a friendly smile. “Could I talk to you about something?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

I couldn’t stick around, work being work, so I got on my bike and rode off. But a week later I saw the two of them riding side by side, chatting animatedly, punctuating their conversation with laughs. The newcomer was also riding a very, very, very straight line.

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26 thoughts on “Passing it on”

  1. WTF? Getting yelled at by Wanky during my very first Wheatgrass Ride Switchbacks decent was the highlight of my first year. “Double Dumbf@ck Sh:t for Brains” answered by “Yup, you are right”, soon followed by a calm, “Dude, we love you. We love you so much we don’t even want to see you killed.” Still remember Gussy just shaking his head knowingly. Rode straight next time!

    1. Going over the double yellow line into the oncoming traffic lane at 40 gets everyone’s attention, especially the person back home responsible for chamois scrubbing.

  2. When i first started on the Pier ride…nearly 20 years back…there were National Champions in the group…like Sean Watkins, and John Walsh…and when you did something really stupid…they didn’t yell at you…they just rode up next to you…put an arm around you…and said something very calm, like: “hey man, how about staying off the sidewalk”…or whatever…and then you never did that again…

    1. Well, I’m not naming any names, but there were also some former chain gang bosses of that vintage who, when they wanted to reprimand you, did it with a wheel chop or a deft bike maneuver that could put you on the pavement, and occasionally did.

  3. Hmm, I didn’t consider myself a newbie when I joined, but I just got the cold shoulder for the first year and half. After that, people probably realized that I wasn’t going away, so they may as well say hello.

  4. When I started riding with La Grange in 1975, just a look from Jerry Ash was all it took to make me understand what was expected. When the groups were smaller riders had a chance to learn from the best. I was fortunate enough to ride with Robert Peoples, Ron Skarin, Rene Averseng, Ralph Therrio, and David Huntsman. These guys set the example of how to ride and you followed it or else…

  5. Yup, sadly they are. Now some dude buys an expensive carbon bike and some faux racing like lycra and thinks because he can keep his balance that makes him a cyclist. Not just young dudes either. Rich old guys spending 25K on a bike that they will never learn to properly ride. I don’t care about how much one of these guys spend on a bike, more power to them, but I sure wish they would spend just 10% of that money learning from a coach or someone what to do to really enjoy all that bike can do.

    1. And … they get really fit really quickly, cf. the 65 y/o lawyer who broke his neck in a time trial riding in a straight line.

  6. After a 15+ year sabbatical – and now 3 years back on the bike – biggest thing I’ve noticed is a general degradation in riding abilities which I’ve attributed to hrm/power training vs assimilated group training of old. I was in the NE @ college with something like 8 cat 1/2s who were ever attentive to this new guy. I probably overtrained, but I sure as heck learned a ton!

      1. I saw this in the mid 80’s. I surmised it was triathlons, where you were not supposed to draft and ride in a group, bringing solo training as the standard and index shifting. Index shifting reduced the comprehension level of how to control a bike.

  7. More people ride now (totally unreferenced generalisation..) and so the skill level is more dilute. There are still experts and noobs and folks in the middle – just more of all of ’em.

    FWIW, I appreciate the non-shouty approach. Unless safety is at stake, life is too short for shouting. Besides, no matter how well you ride, someone else rides better.

  8. Best post yet.

    Almost squeezed one out of me…

    Almost.

    “Blunt Curse Trauma”, I have been shaped by it and have used it plenty. It does lack compassion but it can be an effective tool. I mean, you get tired of congratulating kids(read: anyone under 30) for pooping in their diaper.

    Thanks for the warmth.

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