Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In My Father's Shoes, or Pedals Rather

File Under:  Beyond Biking

On Saturday I biked 60 miles from where I live in Somerville, MA to my hometown -  a rural town in central Massachusetts. I had never undertaken such a solo mission before and I'll be writing more about that adventure in it's own post.

But I biked all these miles in my father's pedals. My first bike ride to my childhood home, carried on a piece of memory, carries significance for me.

As if I have come into my cycling inheritance.

History Lessons

My first bike, the very first one, the one with the training wheels, came in the mail, in a box, in a million pieces. My father built it up. We sat on the porch while he put it together. It was white, with streamers, sparkles, and had a top tube protector with unicorns. It was the most ridiculous bicycle ever.

My dad spent a lot of time with me and that bike. Around the age of seven I still had training wheels, and as it came time to take them off - I fell again and again. I had grown dependent upon them. But Dad didn't give up. And it wasn't until I had fallen down more times than I could count and cried and flailed and said that I was done with bikes forever that he did not push me any further.

For the next three years my friends and cousins learned to ride without training wheels. I refused to try. I would run along with the bikes, which made me a fast runner but I was ashamed of myself and my failure. Over these years I also took up horseback riding.

Then It Happened

Fast forward to the age of 10, and one day in late fall I thought to myself, I haven't tried a bike in awhile, I wonder what would happen if I just got on? I can ride horses, maybe I can ride a bike now... Fully prepared to fall and bite the dust, donning my horseback riding helmet - I got on a bike. And I rode.

Yes, I was wobbly, but I didn't fall. And I kept going. Soon I was biking everywhere. I biked constantly and well on into my teen years, up until driving became a priority, and on even after that. I didn't bike in college, although I often considered it. It wasn't until I moved off-campus in my final year that the cycling bug bit again and I've been urban cycling ever since.

Connect the Dots

My father passed away when I was twelve, so there were a lot of things about him that I didn't get to learn. Anecdotes and found objects have helped me to fill in the pieces of the man I only sort of got to know. And it was only about two years ago that I learned how my dad was a cyclist.

We always had sheds and out buildings filled with bicycles growing up, so I should have guessed - but I thought that that was normal. Everything from vintage step through frame bikes to vintage road bikes to racing bikes (but no mountain bikes) dwelled in our sheds.

When you got too tall for one bike, there was no necessary trip to a shop - there were probably already several to choose from on the premises  Tire flat? Wheel out of true? Derailleur not working? No problem, those where easy for him to fix. Other people gave him bikes they didn't want anymore and he fixed them.

All this bicycle-ness was completely normal for me growing up. My uncle, an auto body pro, would paint my cousins - his daughters' - bikes in the most fantastic ways - anything we wanted. Sparkles. Unicorns. Pastel. Fluorescent. Bikes were an intrinsic part of life. My sister, who knew how to ride, but opted not to was always a mystery to me.

The dreams of little girls

Bicycles were the horses for my imagination. We couldn't have horses when I was young, but I took lessons and rode in shows. And because I couldn't have my own horse, and my similarly 'afflicted' cousins (who lived down the street) couldn't either, the bicycles became our horses.

We would ride for hours and hours, our imaginations would fill in the storylines.

After my father passed away I kept biking. I did eventually become a horse owner as a teenager and even rode competitively in college. When I was in college my family gave away all the bikes left from my Dad's time. I was the only biker, and yet not.

Fast Forward to November 2010

The year before last while the entire family embarked on emptying out the attic of the old farmhouse, I found a wheel set, an old wheel set - one my father had built. Amongst the hodgepodge, from an unlabeled box with a hole in it peeked bicycle things. Still coming into my own as a cyclist I didn't recognize all the tools or components in that box but I knew it for what it was: bike guts.

Later, as I dug through the box I got a snapshot of another chapter of my father's life. A time dedicated to cycling and building bikes. Before he met my mom.

I was shocked and elated.


I learned through research and asking at shops more about the components left in that box. And my Dad did not skimp on those parts, all were of top-of-the-line European and Japanese manufacture from the late '70s. Amongst them were a hex wrench set, another wrench set, a chain breaker, all of which I still use, and a set of pedals with clips (aka toe baskets).

At the time I only had one bike, and Charlie's pedals were fine, so the pedals sat in my pile of spare parts.

Cycling Inheritance

Over this past summer, as I've entered the cycling industry I now have three bikes. One of them is a yellow Bianchi Veloce named Bumblebee (or on occasion she goes by Princess Buttercup, she's rather girly). She came into my life used, but equipped with clipless pedals for which I did not have the shoes (nor at that point wished to acquire said type of shoe).

So I thought to put on these pedals of my father's, to finally put them to use. They are vintage Mikashima keirin approved pedals with clips. They go nicely on the Bianchi with Campagnolo group-set situation that Bumblebee has.

But more so than that they are a piece of something greater. They represent a piece of something shared between those who cannot be together.

So, I may never have a chance to go on a bike ride like this with my Dad, but I somehow inherited his love of cycling. (Not just that but also his penchant for pretty components and very long rides (my aunt recently told a story of his bike ride to Cape Cod, but that's for another time).)

Somehow, despite life changes, distance, and so many other variables - I have become a cyclist of my own accord, just like my Dad. As I embraced my solo trek from my present to my past, I rode on my father's pedals.

I guess there's more in common than I have ever known.

Connections last across generations and distances and those we love are never far away because they're a part of us. As my dear friend has lost her father recently, I offer this up as a small anecdote that small things go a long way; and it's what we do with what we carry in our hearts after the fact that determines the future.

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License