Soft Rides, Hard Landings

This past Friday, Outside posted my latest column, which is about why bike racing is good:

It’s now Monday, and I take it all back. Well, okay, not really, but the timing is all rather ironical, because the very next day my elder son and I headed out to a mountain bike race on Long Island. This is a race we both rode two years ago, and he’s wanted to do it again ever since. Last year we didn’t make it, but this year I finally signed us both up again, since not only has he already been racing at the velodrome for the past few weeks, but I figured it was also a perfect opportunity for me to put the Gumby Bike to the test:

At this point in my life two years seems like five minutes, but a lot has changed in that time, and I might as well have arrived at this year’s race with a completely different person:

Here’s the kid who came with me two years ago:

Race conditions were also quite different. Two years ago it was sunny and hot:

Whereas this year it was already drizzling when we left the Bronx, and by the time we got to the start it was raining heavily–though this did not deter my son, who got a solid start despite the conservatively low gearing of his singlespeed:

I’d registered for the race following my son’s, and so I waited for him by the finish line were I cunningly pre-soaked myself:

The key is to fully saturate your jorts:

This in conjunction with a wet embroidered saddle creates practically Velcro-like scranial engagement:

Sure, ordinarily you want to be able to shift your weight and move around on your saddle a little bit, but you have to remember my aim was to evaluate the performance characteristics of the Softride’s patented (?) beam, and by suturing my crotch to the seat I’d ensure consistency of data for testing purposes. Also, maybe this adhesion would help keep the beam from catapulting me off of it.

As I waited, the rain only got heavier. I was nicely moistened by the time the winner came in, and I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my son, as well as the start of my own race so I could finally generate a little body heat. Instead, I got a call from his phone. “Ah shit, he got a flat,” I thought to myself, waves of guilt washing over me for equipping his bike with primitive inner tubes. Alas, no–as it turned out, he’d had a nasty crash and couldn’t continue, and after some passing back-and-forth of phones a first-responder in an ATV headed into the dense Syosset jungle:

It returned with his bike, which I soon learned would be impounded by police as evidence, as I’d be charged with sending a minor to race in the rain on a rigid bicycle with rim brakes:

Just kidding:

But yes, the ATV returned with both my bike and my son, who was in a makeshift sling and quite a bit of pain, but who was handling it with aplomb:

Instead of lining up for my race, I was now headed to the local emergency room. Calibrated for city wait times, I figured we’d be there well into the evening, but in the end I don’t even think the entire visit lasted more than two hours. X-rays showed nothing broken, though we do need to follow up with one of those professional bone doctor people.* In the meantime he’s in a sling, and hopefully it will be a speedy recovery.

*[Looks like ER doctor missed something, professional bone doctor says there’s probably a fracture, though he’ll just need to keep wearing the sling.]

As a parent, when your children get hurt, you feel like it’s your fault. But then you tell yourself (whether rightly or wrongly) that getting hurt is a part of life, and that no activity is free of risk:

As a cyclist, you take things a step further–especially when you’ve made a cottage industry out of eschewing the latest bike tech and fawning over singlespeed mountain bikes like I have. “Maybe he wouldn’t have crashed with gears and suspension and disc brakes,” I thought to myself as I put his bike on the rack before heading over to the emergency room. At that point I still knew nothing about the circumstances of the crash, but now that I have a better idea of what happened I doubt any of that stuff would have made the slightest difference. Basically, he took an ill-timed drink and lost control, and the only piece of equipment that might have obviated that would have been that hydration pack he used when he was two years younger and it was about 20 degrees hotter, since he would have at least had both hands on the bars. More familiarity with the course would also have been a big help, and not taking him to pre-ride something he last rode two years ago falls squarely on me.

Regardless, whether we’re kids or adults, racers or sane people, we all crash sooner or later. Moreover, every crash at least represents another avoided in the future, since you learn something from each one. Perhaps most importantly, my son got to experience a cycling rite of passage, that being at least seventeen medical professionals asking you if you were wearing a helmet.

Plus, I didn’t have to parade myself around in the mud on that Softride, so all in all it could have been a whole lot worse.

Powered by

Up ↑