Beginning to write this, I have some trepidation. I have written before that there is a very, very fine line between promoting an idea and self promotion. I loathe self promotion. But what happened this past Wednesday afternoon is something that I can’t get off my mind. It needs to happen more in my life and should be more prevalent in all our lives.
The clouds were swirling and pulling in various directions, grey and threatening. A few people in the normal group ride on Wednesday afternoon had already made a proclamation that come hell or high water they were riding. At the start time, I was alone. Wind was picking up. Yep, it was gonna storm. I had chosen my back-up bike, knowing the weather conditions, so I was set.
“Hey, are you here to ride with that group?”
I looked around and found a young kid, probably around 17 years old, on a very old Bianchi that had probably seen its better days. Weird thing was that I recognized the bike from hanging out in my favorite bike shop and the owner taping the bars. He said he felt sorry for the kid and knew that he didn’t have much, so he was taping his bars and trying to get the bike rideable. Mike often does work like that pro bono. Now, looking at the kid straddling this bike I kind of understood. He had a very cheap helmet that was too big for him and wearing some old board shorts and a white tank top.
“Yep,” I replied, “but I don’t think anyone is gonna show.”
The kid looked at the sky. “People are too soft these days.”
I chuckled inside. For being a kid, he was dead on. Thomas Paine talked about “sunshine patriots.” It works the same in cycling. Everyone is on board if everything is just right, and there are enough people to do most of the pulling. Throw in some water falling from the sky and a bit of wind, and you have two people show up to the group ride.
“Can I ride with you?”
I knew it was coming. I cringed. That would suck. What would be the point in riding? There was no way he could keep up to allow me to get in good work. So I said what anyone would say, forcing myself to smile.
“Of course you can.”
Off we went. The kid could talk. Holy smokes, could he ever talk. I was doing the normal things at the start, checking my computer, adjusting myself on the saddle, trying to warm the legs, etc. I learned that kid’s name was Greg. He was a nice young man. I began to feel like an ass for even thinking the way I was thinking. Heck, I was the one who had written blogs before about helping others, and here I am concerned about me. For an instant, I had become one of those: a bike elitist. In my book, they are the textbook definition of self promotion. That why it thrills me to no ends to dominate their pompous rear ends in a sprint or a climb. But I digress . . . sort of.
Usually for the first ten miles or so, I’m just warming up and getting things set. It was during this time that I noticed Greg’s legs doing about 150 RPM to stay even with me. I suggested that he stay in the big ring for now and just pedal it out. He said that his legs were already starting to burn, and I again told him that his cadence was way high and to switch over. He asked the obvious: how? After I told him and a series of tries, his front derailleur would not move the chain over. Bless his heart. This would be a long ride.
“Question.” Gregg said through heavy gasps of breath. “Do you think if I work really hard that I could might ride in the Tour de France, one day?”
He asked me this at the exact moment that I was getting a quick sip. It took everything I had not to cough, as I sucked most of the water into my windpipe. Slowly, I placed my bottle back in the cage and thought about my answer. In no way would I ever shoot down a kid’s dream; after all I am a teacher and am constantly telling students to reach and dream HUGE.
“Well, Greg, I’m not gonna lie. You absolutely can, but it will take a huge amount of time and dedication on your part. Most of your life will be spent on a bicycle, eating correctly, and honing your craft.”
Greg gave me a quick glance. “Well, one . . . thing . . . is . . . for . . . sure: I . . . got . . . to . . . get . . . my . . . legs . . . to . . . quit . . . burning . . . so much.” Then he smiled.
Greg and I rode for another 20 miles. My heart rate hadn’t hit 130 yet. The rain was beginning to fall, and the wind picking up. Drafting became a lesson I taught him, and he seemed to enjoy riding behind me. He continued to ask questions about clipping his feet to the pedals and getting real cycling clothes and why my bike sounded like a robot when I shifted gears. Somewhere between his 26th and 34th question, I heard his chain come off. I turned around. By the time I did, Greg had his bike flipped over and resting on the saddle and handlebars.
“Do we need to take the chain apart? I have no clue how to do this. Can you do it?”
I continued to pedal around my young padawan. “First, no YOU don’t have take the chain apart. Second, no I will not do it for you. Just grab the chain pull it toward your chain rings. The hanger on the rear derailleur will allow you room to place the chain on the ring and then just turn the pedals.”
Greg popped the chain on, flipped the bike, and jumped on. “Cool.”
He was eager to learn. “Just think, Greg. If you work hard enough like you said you wanted to do, you’ll have a crew to do most of your mechanic stuff.”
“I look forward to that!”
The rest of the ride went by without anymore mechanicals. The rain began to come down in buckets, and thunder rolled through the sky, vibrating my bike. On the last section of ten miles or so, I told Gregg that we were almost back to the bike path and asked him if he was okay to make it back. He confirmed that he knew where he was and thanked me for helping him and apologized for “screwing up my ride.” I assured him that he in no way did that and I hoped to on day soon ride again with a future Tour rider. He flashed a big smile. It was then that I let Greg know that I was gonna ride kind of fast on the last ten miles to bump up my heart rate and get a little training in on something I needed to work on. He asked if I minded if he tried to keep up. He’s such a great kid.
I rode on and glanced back one time, a little bit down the rode, and Greg saluted me from a distance and pumped his fist in the air. I didn’t see him after that. I made it back to my truck, loaded everything, and immediately called Mike on his cell phone. I asked him about Greg and getting in touch with him. Mike said that he didn’t know and that, as far as he knew, Greg didn’t have a cell phone. I told Mike about Greg’s front derailleur. Mike said that when Greg wandered in again he would get a way for me to contact him.
We all need to help a Greg and remember the joy of riding and helping others.