Wednesday, December 13, 2006


In the fall of 1987 I was in eighth grade. I was an awkward four and a half feet tall, weighed just over 90 lbs, and I was obsessed with racing bicycles. I lived in Boise, Idaho.

In December of that year I'd saved enough money (around $300) to buy what I considered a "serious" road bike. When I walked into a bike shop, looking for "serious" bicycles, I was looking for three things. First, the absence of "safety brakes," or that the only brake levers on the bike were available from the drops. Second, downtube shift levers. Third, toe clips. This catalog cutout from about 17 years ago adequately wraps up what were then my major requirements.

This is the bike I bought, a 1987 Bridgestone 450 (click here for the whole catalog page):

From the time I bought that bike until I graduated from high school I rode close to 20,000 miles (not all on the Bridgestone) up and around and all over the Treasure Valley (Boise, ID). When I was still 14 my friend Mark and I did our first club training race. All the next year we religiously trekked out to the desert (getting rides from our parents before we could drive) for the Tuesday Night Races...20 mile out-and-back affairs over a hilly, gale-force-windy desert road to nowhere.

In 1990 I bought a USCF road racing license. From 1990 through 1992 I raced as much as I could afford and my parents would accommodate (my parents were kind, but more or less apathetic and bewildered by my interest in cycling, and certainly provided no financial support).

My friend Mark and I experienced some success in racing, but mostly not. We didn't know what we were doing. We didn't train, really, we just rode. As much and as hard as we could. There were periods where I nearly rode myself to exhaustion every day, week after week. No one told me to do otherwise. In fact, even when I began to get legitimately fast, when I began to surprise stronger cyclists by keeping up with them, or even dropping them on the big hills, not one adult, experienced cyclist asked me my name, gave me a single word of encouragement, asked me how I was doing, or even so much as gave me a headnod of recognition at a race or club ride. I was invisible, shy, and hopelessly intimidated. But I kept riding.

I think I wanted to win races so that I would be noticed. Noticed by them. The fast guys. The guys with all the sweet gear. The guys that won big races. I figured I needed to earn their attention. So if I could just place top five in this race, or stay with the fast guys up this hill, or take a strong pull in this paceline...if I could just do something strong and fast they would finally look up and acknowledge my existence and my efforts and they would let me join their team, mentor me, give me stuff, and let me be part of their world.

In 1992, at 18, I won the Senior Men Cat 4 State Championship Road Race. No one seemed to notice. I stopped riding for a long, long time.


Yesterday USA Cycling announced its clubs of the year. This bit caught my eye:

Other recipients include...the Boise Young Rider Development Squad (BYRDS) in Idaho as the Junior/High School Club of the Year.
So what is BYRDS? BYRDS, from what I can tell, is what there was no hint of when I was growing into cycling. BYRDS is a very belated dream come true.

The existence of this organization makes me unspeakably happy. A place for kids in this very expensive, very intimidating, very adult sport.

Congratulations, people. Very well done.


Ian said...

It may be the hardest because it brings back a hard memory. Nicely done.


Gregory said...

I really liked reading this as I can relate to some degree to that feeling of always trying to "make it" and never arriving. I used to feel cheated they never had men's volleyball in high school. Very informative for me to read this, even after knowing you all these years.

TheOlderGoat said...

The sport has certainly evolved in terms of encouragement. I can't speak to road races, but I've seen a lot of encouragement for younger riders at the MTB events I've been to. Not much perhaps from the really fast folks, but a lot from the Sport and Beginner groups.

As a generality, more accomplished cyclists are an egotistical and stuck up group. If you don't wear the right cloths, don't have the right name brands, don't look or act just right, you're snubbed. I make it a habit of nodding or saying HI to folks I meet along the trails. Most people acknowledge the with a nice response. There is the occasional grumpy old man out for a walk that won't respond, but it's the FEW cyclists that I've received the worst snubbs from -- which is funny since I'm on a bike (but I don't have the right cloths -- not into spandex). (or maybe they are from California? I rode along the beach in Calif and almost no one would respond. They just stared, some with mouths open ... but that is another story.)

I see some of that from a few adult riders to the youth riders. My son (10) is just getting into cycling. He raced MTB last year with some pretty good success. Most riders were kind and a few were really encouraging, but unfortunately there were a few that were down right rude. Obviously a 10 year old will be slower than the adults. On some courses when there are multiple laps, the occasional adult is awful. Most are great. However, once in a while someone yells at him for being on the trail -- as if they had the right!

Secondly, my son likes a full face helmet. He races XC, but fell once and really scraped up his face. He asked for a full face helmet and I got him one. He still has a regular one but he chooses to wear the full face. Wow, has he ever heard some awful comments about that! One guy even approached him and insulted me saying if I wouldn't buy him a helmet, he would. Nice gesture, but what a jerk. If he was really that interested, he would have done much better to ask about why he wears a full face helmet.

So what is it about accomplished cyclists that causes the arrogance? I don't know, but I'm sure that is something to do with the feelings expressed in the blog.

With my son getting into it, I have started working with a youth riding group. What a kick to see these riders (girls and boys) improve. I am very glad there are other adults there that are involved and can assist with my son's training. (You know it, dad can say something 100 times, but when the coach says it -- oh yea.) I wonder some times what difference it would have made if someone had really taken you under their wing and assisted you? I suggest to everyone reading this, when you are out racing, find some one to encourage. Make for them the experience you wanted. One word can go a long, long, way. As it says "... sunshine forever impart ...")