Friday, June 22, 2012

Learning to Ride a Bike (from Tales from the Bike Shop)

When I worked at UC Cyclery, I had the great fortune of being able to help newer riders work through their fears of getting on a bike. Here's Jake's story - one of my favorites - from June 2008.

Jake - My Customer of the Day
Jake came in today with his grandparents. Jake is eleven, and has not yet had his growth spurt. He's a good-natured, kind, loving kid, witnessed by his encouragement and support of his younger sister who also learned to ride a bike tonight, and his respect and love for his father. Jake is my customer of the day.

When he first came in with his grandparents and they told me that he needed a new bike, I turned and talked directly to Jake, and asked if he would like try an XS adult bike rather than a 24"-wheeled kid's bike. He was certainly big enough.

"No," he insisted, "I like this one better," he said as he moved timidly to the smaller bike that was clearly too small for him. Jake is a little pudgy, and probably not very active. I found out later that his grandfather, who is here on vacation from Montreal, rides a bike every day. I create an image in my mind of the grandfather who comes into town, discovers his sedentary overweight grandson, and determines to do something about it. So he drags him to the bike shop determined to get the boy on a bike. This is where come in.

"Well, if you like this [smaller] bike, let me take it to the mechanic so he can get it ready for a testride. How about that?" I ask Jake.
"Oh, no. I don't need to ride it. It'll be fine," he tells me.

He's afraid of riding the bike.

"What's the thing that's keeping you from riding the bike?" I ask.
He hesitates, then confesses, "Um, I have the wrong shoes."

I look at his shoes. He's wearing Crocs.
"OK, so if you had better shoes, would that be OK?"

"Well... not really. I don't need to ride the bike..."
I drag his main hesitation out of him.
"I might fall," he says.
"Well, what will happen if you fall?" I ask.
"I dunno, I get hurt a little," he says.
"And then what?" I ask.
"Um, maybe I bleed..." he says, almost as a question.
"Then what?" I ask, prodding him to look further.
"I dunno..." he shrugs.
"Do you get back on the bike?" I ask.
"I dunno... I guess," he says, confused.

"So, the worst that can happen is that you fall, you get hurt, but then you get back on the bike. Right? Has that happened before?" I ask.

"Well, yeah, and it was really um, kinda scary," he confesses.

"OK," I tell him. "Well, that sounds really normal. Lots of people who fall and get hurt are afraid. I think everybody is. But, you know how that chocolate cream cake in the window of the bakery looks soooo good, but it never really tastes as good as we think it will?"
"Um, yeah..." he says.
"Well, things are always exaggerated in our minds. The desserts always taste better, and the falls always seem more painful, but it's never as intense in reality as it is in our minds. Right?"
"Wow. I guess so," he says.

"So, if I gave you some elbow and knee pads that I have in my car, so it wouldn't hurt if you fall, and if you came back here in better shoes, would you take a test ride?"

He searches for a flaw in my argument, but can find none. I assure him that with elbow and knee pads, he will not get hurt, that I fall all the time and I'm OK. He agrees to come back later in the day with his father.

Meanwhile, his grandmother has stood and listened to this exchange in something akin to awe. She asks me how long I will be at the shop today. I tell her till 8pm.

I help Jake choose a helmet, one with colors he likes, and set it aside for him. He and his grandparents leave, and I all but forget about them until almost 7pm, when they return to the shop, this time with Dad, Grandad, and the younger sister Abby, who is about seven.

Jake is ready for the ride now. He readily dons the elbow pads and knee pads that I retrieve from my trunk. I show him how to put his pedal at 2 o'clock for maximum impetus. But despite all my coaxing and coaching, he begins to get discouraged, has almost half a dozen false starts and suddenly cries in frustration, "I can't!" I ask him for one more good effort, and this time, I hold him steady as he pedals a few strokes in the parking lot. He comes to a stop, his eyes wide.

"Wow. I almost did it," he says, amazed.
"Yes! You did! Do it again!" I tell him.

He starts again, and this time, I let go, allowing him to ride by himself. He does it. He comes to a stop triumphant in front of his father. "Dad!! I did it!!" he calls.

This kid has not been on a bike since he was five years old. His dad is really trying to contain himself, while I hold nothing back and literally jump up and down and give Jake a high-five. It is now that I tell him he should try the XS adult bike.

"You think I can?" he asks.

"Dude! You looked so good on the 24"-bike, I think it's really going to be a better fit..." I tell him. I glance at the father, who takes a deep breath and purses his lips. He really wants his son on the bigger bike, but knows he can't push him.

Jake gets on the XS Hardrock and rides it like a champ. "I'm doing it!! I'm doing it!!"

These are the moments that make my job sweet. My day can hardly get any better at this point. A boy who was afraid of bikes now can't wait to go ride the new one he will be getting.

The father looks at me and says, "So, Abby here has never ridden a bike. Can you teach her too?"

I prepare a 20-inch girls bike with coaster brakes for Abby. She is fearless, and although she has several false starts, she takes instruction well and is soon riding well, as long as she doesn't have to turn or brake... which will come in time.

Amusingly, Jake has been attempting to coach her with his new-found knowledge as one who has *ahem* been riding longer than her. His dad quiets him, telling him, "Let Laura tell her..."

After Abby has mastered starting and stopping, and Jake tells her what a fine job she's done, I turn to Jake and say, "Your sister has learned very well from your example." He smiles.

"She probably learns a lot from you, right?" I ask.
"Well, sure," he admits.
"Do you know what you can learn from her?" I ask him.
"What?" he asks.
"She had a number of false starts, and messed up a lot of times..." I say.
"Haha... yeah," he laughs.
"But she never got discouraged, did she?" I ask him.
His smile fades, as he realizes this.
"She knows it's OK to make mistakes. You could try to learn that from her," I tell him with an encouraging smile.
He casts his eyes down, then looks back at me and nods with a tight-lipped smile.

God bless him, I too am a first-born who has to get everything RIGHT the first time!! My younger brother was always messing up, but it never mattered for him. If only I had been able to learn from him early on, and see his flexibility to get it wrong as a strength...

Haha... somewhere along the way I developed this compulsive need to make it easier on subsequent generations, seeking out first-borns and letting them know it's OK NOT to get it right the first time.

Today, Jake was my customer of the day, for his spirit, courage, and intellectual fortitude.

Update - I ran into Jake's father at UC Cyclery one Sunday afternoon in 2011 when I happened to stop by the shop. He said Jake was riding his bike often, and Jake's sister commented that he was "really good, too."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Flat-changing Clinic part 3 - What's in your Camelbak?

This is Part 3 of the 3-part series on Bicycle Maintenance: Tires and Flat-changing.

One of the most frequent questions I get from attendees at my clinics is: 

What should I carry when I ride?

Five things you should absolutely have when you ride. 

  1. Mobile phone
  2. Copy of your picture ID, emergency contact info, blood type, known allergies
  3. Spare tube, Tire levers
  4. Pump and/or CO2 inflater head and 2 cartridges
  5. Emergency cash
In addition to these things, I carry a few more items. Here's my road saddlebag.
Laura's saddlebag, clockwise from the top: KINeSYS sunscreen, Purell mini, tire levers, mechanic gloves, photo ID, emergency contact card, pocket knife, Elete electrolyte concentrate single, $20, spare tube, 2 CO2 cartridges, MicroFlate Nano CO2 inflater head, patch kit, Allen wrenches, small bottle of  Elete TablytesClif Chocolate Cherry turbo shots.
List of additional items you might carry, that I do carry on the road, in addition to the 5 basics:
  • hex wrenches
  • nutrition (gel, bar, etc.)
  • electrolyte tablets (e.g., Elete Tablytes)
  • tube patch kit
  • pocketknife - helpful to remove glass from a tire among other things
  • mechanic gloves - when it's a grimy job and you still have hours to go
  • sunscreen mini bottle - to re-apply as needed
  • Purell mini bottle 

Mountain bike rides are different, because you can me in remote areas without access to emergency assistance. I carry quite a bit in my CamelBak when I'm mountain biking. Here are the additional items you might carry, that I do carry on the trail. The only things I've never had to use are the space blanket, photo ID and medical info card.

Laura's CamelBak contents: medical bag (bandages, medical tape, alcohol, maxi pad - a great sterile dressing for a deep cut or a large scrape, anti-bacterial ointment, Benedryl, etc.), photo ID, emergency cash, spare tube, bag of many-sized nuts and bolts, chain break tool, space blanket, spare cleats and screws, electrical tape, duct tape, shock pump, SRAM quick link, energy towel (to cool off someone suffering from heat exhaustion), CO2 cartridges, tire levers, tube patches, CO2 MicroFlate Nano inflater head, hex wrenches, knife, nail clippers, Sharpie, chain lube, Elete electrolyte supplement, spare derailleur hanger, Sportlegs (prevents lactic acid buildup), sports nutrition, tweezers to remove cactus needles, 2 small combs to remove cactus bulbs, large bandage, personal medical and emergency contact info.

In addition to the 5 basic items, here are the things I carry in my CamelBak.
For the bike:
  • hex wrenches
  • tube patch kit
  • chain lube
  • SRAM quick link
  • bag of many-sized nuts and bolts 
  • chain break tool 
  • shock pump 
  • spare derailleur hanger
For the body
  • sports nutrition (gel, bar, etc.)
  • electrolyte tablets (e.g., Elete Tablytes)
  • Sportlegs
  • energy towel (to cool off someone suffering from heat exhaustion)
For random emergencies
  • folding knife
  • Sharpie
  • spare cleats and screws
  • electrical tape, duct tape 
  • medical bag - bandages, large bandage, medical tape, alcohol, mechanic gloves, maxi pad - a great starile dressing for a deep cut or a large scrape, anti-bacterial ointment, Benedryl, sunscreen, nail clippers, etc. 
  • tweezers to remove cactus needles, 2 small combs to remove cactus bulbs (we are in the desert)
  • emergency cash
  • photo ID, medical information card with emergency contact info, blood type, known allergies
  • space blanket

While you don't necessarily need to carry items for any emergency, if you know how to use these things, they really come in handy when you need them. 

Have a great ride!

Please feel free to leave comments about thing you find useful, things you carry on the trail, or helpful suggestions for riders.