Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The serious rider


The Tour de France is over, once again, and my husband, my father and even my hairdresser are no longer sitting up late each night watching the stage until they fall asleep. Throughout the Tour I was given little morsels about tacks on the road, breathtaking challenges, mind games that were being played out as serious riders charged straight up mountains and hurled themselves down the other side. Apparently, it was riveting stuff.

I had a haircut, and while my hairdresser snipped away we had a long conversation about the Tour and bikes. Bless his soul, he wears Lycra as he rides his ten thousand dollar training machine up hill and down dale four days a week. He has two other bikes, one for racing and one for fun. Is he a serious rider? You bet.

Me, I ride to school and tootle around our suburb on a sturdy grey thing, and that’s about it. Every morning my three year old asks, ‘how are we travelling mama?’; and when I say ‘bike’ she runs to get her pink helmet then climbs into the trailer.

Sometimes she takes a book or toy; on cold days she grabs a rug. She’s unsuccessfully campaigned to bring my laptop so she can look at photos while we’re riding along, and she provides a running commentary on the state of the road and which potholes to avoid. She has strong opinions about which route I should take and is not afraid to voice them.

Her voice fills the air as I pedal and think to myself that pink helmets are not much defence against a collision and the trailer’s orange flag could be easily missed. I am always aware that something small and oh! so precious is tagging along behind me.

Meanwhile, my six and eight year old daughters are alongside and I never stop calculating. As we ride I call instructions: stop, that’s great, move to the left, give them a wide berth, turn right here, wait! Good job.

I block a dangerous corner and they ride past, then I race ahead to check the next crossing. We go the quiet route, but even so cars shoot out of driveways, turn without indicating and overtake in alarming ways. Riding with kids is work, very enjoyable when all goes well but not really a game.

I’m not remotely fanatical. We catch the tram on rainy days and we never go far. There are no hill climbs on our route, no breakaways, no peloton; we have no Lycra or ten thousand dollar bikes. You see people like me in every suburb on a school morning: a constantly vigilant parent drilling children in the patterns of traffic, the exceptions to watch out for, and the ways to ride well. We may cycle for hours every week but there will never be a television show, or even a bike shop, devoted to us. We’re low profile; yet as you drive past you can’t ignore the cavalcade as we shepherd it safely to school.

Listening to talk about the Tour de France I smile and nod my head sagely; but to myself I wonder who, exactly, is the serious rider?

Room on the Broom

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