From (Almost) Nothing to (Just About) Everything

There is no reason for me to be bike crazy. Humans tend to follow their parents. Are your parents Catholics, Muslims, Zoroastrians? Most of the time, you will be too. Sure, there are exceptions. You may even be one of them, but by and large we adopt the same views, the same predilections as our forebears. There is likely some evolutionary biological imperative at work. Don’t deviate from what you have seen work. Survive. Pass the genes.

Whatever I might say about the ways I’m different from my father, for example, we are largely the same also. He grew up poor, on a farm in Wales. Through hard work he became a middle class American, which is the world he delivered me into, and now I’m a middle class American with many of the core values of a Welsh farmer. Bike riding, for fitness or fun, is not a part of that picture.

But sometime in the 1970s I saw Evel Knievel jump a motorcycle over a bus, possibly many busses. The memory is dim. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. Around the same time, I saw a BMX bike, and my young mind, still quite impressionable, connected the two things, Evel Knievel and BMX, and melded them. There was suddenly a path from our quiet, suburban street to a life of adventure, dare-devilry, and something like performance art.

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In the ‘70s, traditional cycling culture, such as it was, didn’t penetrate my consciousness. I had no sense of the Tour de France or any roadie role models in my life. The first ten-speed boom was happening, but I didn’t really get why you would want a bike with curvy handlebars then. Evel Knievel jumping motorcycles over buses, and then what I construed as the kid-accessible version of that, BMX, were what captured my imagination. 

My father had no interests. He worked, and he worked. When he wasn’t working, he thought about working. Ours is one of those common, generational stories where the father grew up in another culture, one that viewed anything other than work as frivolous, but then our relative prosperity allowed me, the son, to be interested in things that weren’t earning money (like working in the bike industry).

Absent any parental guidance, although my dad, to his credit, did try to teach me to ride a bike, and without any kind of reasonable role models (Evel Knievel is what I’d call an unreasonable role model), moving through the world on two wheels became the coolest thing I could imagine doing.

All the other parts of bike culture came after that, and I’m grateful, obviously, that they did, but I’m also sort of amazed that you can get from there to here. As a family, a genetic unit, moves forward through time, its members cling tightly to the familial and cultural signifiers of safety, livelihoods, religions, politics, whatever. And if they’re lucky, they become prosperous enough to be able to branch out from those safe seeming places into new places of their imagining.

I don’t think my father ever really understood how I could plow so much time into riding bikes, or how later, after I’d made careers in software and then in publishing, I could even make bikes my job. I will give him credit for being brave enough to let me make my own way, with all the mistakes and successes that come along with that. Maybe that was his version of dare-devilry, to have a child and let that child hurl himself into the world, to trust that the values he’d gotten from his parents would carry that kid safely through life or over busses, if that’s where it lead.

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