Teaching kids to ride

Not that anybody asked, but I’m getting dangerously close to blog abandonment again. So, here’s a short description of how I taught my two kids to ride bikes, one at age 6, the other at 5:
0. Don’t push too hard! They’ll get it. If they’re not interested, don’t force it. Eventually they’ll want to. You don’t get any upgrade points for getting your 4-year-old onto a two-wheeler.
1. Both of mine rode training wheels for about a year first. I don’t think training wheels are all that great, and in the unlikely event I get to do this again, I might try a like-a-bike or weebike instead of a 12″ or 16″ bike with training wheels. I’m not sure it would make a whole lot of difference, though. In the end, the kid has to learn to pedal and balance. Learning them one at a time simplifies things. I’m not sure the order is all that important.
2. Make sure the bike fits, but realize that even the little bikes are heavy relative to the kid. A 12″ or 16″ bike might weigh almost half as much as the typical 5-year-old, making balance that much more difficult. Imagine riding a bike that weighed 50% of what you did. You’d steer like Harvey Wallbanger, too.
2. Initial balance sessions should be short, and on grass. I found that the kid has a “whoa” feeling the first time out and won’t want to practice too much the first time out.
3. For real balance practice, find a park with a gentle grassy slope. We’re fortunate to have one not a block from our house. Soft surfaces and no curbs let the kid focus on keeping the eyes up and the bike going straight, with low penalties for deviating from the intended path. The slope counteracts the higher rolling resistance of riding on grass.
4. To help the kid balance, grab the back of the saddle, not the handlebars. It’s uncomfortable to reach that far down, and I’m not all that tall. Pick out a landmark for the kid to focus on (the bike will go where the eyes go), give a little push, steady the bike from the saddle, and gradually let go as the kid picks up speed.
Both of mine only needed a couple of 15-minute sessions to get the hang of balancing. Starting and stopping takes a little longer, as does turning. And the 5-year-old is OK in the park but not ready for the sidewalk yet. She might be by next week, though.
I wish I could still pick stuff up that fast…

A little media exposure for BHCC

A few weeks ago, as I was riding back from Barnstable, a reporter from boston.com called and expressed his interest in doing a story on our club time trial. Sounded like a good idea to me, though not without some risk. What’s he going to think of a bunch of guys TTing on open roads? Maybe he’s faster than all of us, or a lot slower? What if nobody shows up and it’s just me on a funny looking bike?
Well, those fears were mostly unfounded, though I guess I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see if the Powers That Be have a problem with the TT. The article went live yesterday, and I’m pretty pleased with the result. I would have liked a little more input from the other riders, but I think he got a good story out of it.
I hope he makes it back this month, and hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, come on down.

On FaceTime

Hey, some non-bike content! Adapt!
Even if you’re not an Apple fanboi, you’ve probably heard that Apple announced the next-generation iPhone this week. Among many other magical new features, El Jobso brings us FaceTime, a video chat system. In fact, the new iPhone has a forward-facing camera for just this purpose.
Now, I’m not a video chat curmudgeon. I love video chat on desktops and laptops. In fact, I strongly suspect that the ultimate purpose of Internet technology is to enable grandparents to video chat with their grandkids (we should do that more often, grandparents). That, and ChatRoulette. Not that I’ve ever tried it. However, I have two big problems with mobile video chat.
The first problem is closely akin to the Gorilla Arm syndrome with vertical touch-screens. You’re not going to be able to hold that phone out in front of your face for any length of time. No, you’re going to want to rest it in your lap after the first deltoid-frying minute or so. Then what do you get? Nostrils and chins, folks, nothing but nostrils and chins. Even with people you love, I don’t think that’s what you’re going to want to gaze upon.
The second problem – which Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, addressed by making FaceTime WiFi only for now – is the distraction factor. You think texting while driving is dangerous? Try video chat. FaceTime will rapidly morph into FaceThroughWindshieldTime. Yes, I know the there are probably as many as five people in the world who have 3G mobile video chat capability right this very minute, but fortunately they spend all their money on gadgets and can’t afford cars. If or when the nineteen gazillion iPhone users get the capability, well, look out.
It’s not all bad. I’m sure someone will figure out how to multi-cast FaceTime sessions, at which point we’ll have live video coverage (desired or not) of all kinds of events. And I suppose there might come a time when I’ll need the ability to get somebody’s attention from beyond visual range and say “hey, look at this.” But for now, I don’t think we’re going to find FaceTime as compelling as Apple would like us to.

The Big Ring Rumpus

Word came across the NE Cyclocross mailing list a couple of weeks ago that this weekend’s EFTA MTB race, the Big Ring Rumpus, offered a flat, non-technical course well suited to cross bikes. In fact, the organizers went so far as to add a cross-bike category, as well as allowing cross bikes in the MTB races. Well, I suppose cross bikes are always allowed in MTB races, they’re just hardly ever the right tool for the job. The cross-bike category didn’t mesh with my schedule, but the month-long hole in my road racing made me desperate for some hot laps. With a little trepidation, I signed up for the Novice race at 9am. While I’m not exactly a hot-shot bike racer, I’m not new to it, but I’d never done an MTB race.
I have an MTB now, so I packed it up along with the cross bike. Bike prep consisted mainly of throwing the tubie wheelset on the Redline and making sure they still held air. I split for Auburn with the thermometer reading 72 degrees, but watched the temp drop steadily on the drive, making me regret not packing more than a pair of bibs and a short-sleeve jersey. OK, I had a skinsuit, too, but…seriously? Skinsuit in a novice MTB race? That might be poor form.
Rain began to fall soon after I parked, but the course wasn’t all that wet on my pre-ride. As advertised, it was four miles of pan-flat fire roads with the occasional rock or root. The MTB stayed in the van and I decided to keep the file treads on, running about 30psi, despite the developing rain. I got two laps in, enough to get a feel for where the few dangerous holes and corners were. Then I stood around in the rain for almost half an hour waiting for the pre-race brief. I guess when you’re not closing roads or paying cops, starting on time becomes a little less important.
Muddy rumpus!
I was almost shivering by the time we made the start, with a a half-mile dash down a straight fire road to the first turn, a loose right-hander into a slightly rutted gravel wash. I made it to the corner with company, went wide into the gravel, and slowed way down trying to make it back onto the line. That let a gap open to a couple of guys on MTBs, plus a couple of cross-bike drivers ahead of them. By the end of the first lap I had made it around the MTBers, but the crossers still dangled in front of me. I could see the lead rider, who turned out to be Jim White, looking back quite a bit. I didn’t know his name until after the race, so I dubbed him Skinsuit Guy, since he did have the guts to roll to the start of a novice MTB race wearing a skinsuit. And now he was riding away from us, if a bit slowly. Hey, I thought, that’s probably the head of the race, if you can get up there you can WIN THIS THING!. Afterburner time!
Sometime on lap two I made it up to the 2nd crosser, who I learned later was Terry Cowman. I stayed on his wheel for a while, then moved around him on one of the flat, grassy sections. He stayed on my wheel, and we raced together around an increasingly greasy course. The rain persisted through the 2nd lap, with more mud holes appearing by the minute. I started to regret my tire choice, especially as I heard my front rim whang off rocks a couple of times. No flats, though – those cotton FMBs must be tougher than they look!
Terry and I stayed together until about halfway through the third lap, when I got sideways through a muddy right-hander and lost most of my speed trying to stay upright. He blasted off, and I suddenly discovered that pedaling hard makes me tired. Skinsuit Guy was already out of sight, so I cruised through the finish chicane and then got back in the big ring for the last lap. I dodged a few lapped riders while trying to catch up to Terry, but ended up finishing about a minute down from Jim, who was just a few seconds ahead of Terry. Turns out Terry is an old guy, though, so that put me in 2nd place in the Novice Veterans I Born On Tuesday With Dark Hair category. I think we were the only three to finish the race in under an hour, all on cross bikes. Higher gearing and skinnier tires definitely made the cross bike the proverbial gun at a knife fight.
So that was good, muddy fun but I think I can still say I’ve never done an MTB race, since I didn’t even bother pulling the MTB out of the car. It wasn’t really a cross race, either. Four mile lap? No barriers? No beer? I don’t know what to call that, but it’s not cyclocross, no matter what I was riding. Just fun. Bikes are fun, folks. Have you ridden yours today?