While Mother’s Day has gotten our attention in the past, Father’s Day gets routinely neglected, undeservedly so. Yet Cyclocross Magazine wouldn’t have been started without the long-term, unique support of one cycling dad. For this year’s Father’s Day, our own Andrew Yee reflects on his dad’s quiet, grimy helping hand.
“Are you sure you don’t want the flat pedals?” my dad asked me after seeing how short the little kid’s race was.
I thought about it and shook my head.
I knew the drill. If I got my right foot into the toe clip quickly, I had a good chance to sprint to win the short 50-meter race. Fumble with them and I’d watch everyone else pedal away. There was no devil for the little ones at Somerville, New Jersey’s Devil of a Race, but he just might appear anyway to yank my chances if I didn’t get into my pedal.
I rode back and forth on the street, practicing my start. Look down, flip the pedal over, shove my foot in and sprint. It seemed easy enough. Between getting ready for his race and overseeing my far-more-talented sister prepare to beat up on the USCF Midget boys, my dad kept an eye on me. After asking me one last time if I wanted the flat pedals, he escorted me to the start line.
I’ve done a ton of races over the years, but for some reason, this one has stayed fresh in my banged-up noggin. I can still feel the nervous excitement as we were all lined up across the two-lane road, ready to race down the crit’s finishing stretch, but in reverse direction. I remember parents lining the road. I remember a whistle, and then looking down at my pedal, and not quite flipping it perfectly with my toe. And I remember that sinking feeling of seeing racers pedaling away while I fumbled away.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got my foot in. Was it too late?
I did my best to make up for lost time. I sprinted my bike down the road, weaved through some other kids, and charged towards the line.
It was bittersweet. However, looking back, it was an important result. I learned invaluable lessons about sport and parenting that I now can appreciate.
At the time, I was pretty new to toe clips, and even though I got used to them quickly, I’m sure my dad knew my best chance to win my little race was with flat pedals. Yet I wanted to be like him, like my big sister and the pros, and he gave me the freedom to make my own choice and then battle the what-ifs after. Giving me such freedom was a winning decision.
When you make your own decisions, there’s nobody to blame if things don’t work out. I chose my pedals, not my dad, and that cost me time. That was incredibly motivating.
Soon I found myself at the bottom of our driveway, practicing start after start. One foot clipped in, one foot on the ground. I’d pretend to hear the starting whistle, push off and then attempt to flip the pedal and shove my foot in the metal clip, all in one graceful motion. Sometimes I’d do it looking down, sometimes I’d try to do it only by feel, and other times I’d just reach down to stabilize the pedal and pull on the toe strap. Practice makes perfect, even if inconsistent.
One day I found some giant aluminum lips on my pedals. Perhaps my dad saw something like these MKS accessories and thought he could make something similar to increase my chances. He cut up an aluminum cookie sheet (probably the same one he disastrously tried to create a homemade snow shovel out of), hand bent the lips and bolted them to my pedals.
The DIY flips did their job and made my success rate of getting into my pedals higher, at least until I really botched a start and instead landed on the thin aluminum and flattened it. When that happened, I would bend it back out and keep practicing, but I would soon get a firsthand experience that aluminum doesn’t like this kind of repeated mutilation when eventually it snapped.
The funny thing is, after snapping one of my dad’s custom pedal flips off, I’d soon find another freshly-made one affixed to my pedal. It seemed to just appear without a conversation or guilt trip. There wasn’t talk of practicing starts or switching to back to flat pedals. My dad saw I was determined to get better with toe clips and added these flips to increase my chances.
The Power of Two Wheels and a Wrench
Bike racing was a lifestyle for my family back then, and boy did I love it, despite our modest means. Often Fridays would start with my dad strapping our bikes upside-down to our Volkswagen Rabbit’s roof rack using inner tubes, packing up the car with camping gear, and driving off to some campsite close to the races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Connecticut.
Such weekends brought freedom. I’d endlessly ride my bike around the campground, and then at the race, after my kids’ race was over, I’d circle the real race course by riding on the sidewalk. If all my start and toe clip practice paid off, I’d be riding around with a medal around my neck. And if not, I’d still be riding around with a big smile on my face and a sense of freedom.
My dad’s resourcefulness didn’t stop as I grew older. Little kids’ sprints turned to Tuesday night racing at Trexlertown, but my sister and I didn’t have track bikes. Instead, on race weeks, my dad would disappear into the basement to convert our little bikes from geared to fixed and back so that we could still ride during the week, race on the track at night and then do family rides on the weekend.
Later, when I became the third owner of my sister’s heavy 24” wheel bike, my dad asked me what color bike I wanted. Next thing I knew, he had spray painted the frame silver and red to make it my very own.
His helpful mods weren’t just constrained to my own bikes. When I was in seventh grade in Hawaii, my dad answered my long-standing dream of owning an off-road bike by gifting me a Miyata mountain bike for my birthday—my very first bike that wasn’t a hand me down. I rode it everywhere, but now when I turned off the pavement into the muddy rainforest, my dad couldn’t join me to explore the trails (or see how quickly I could get into those toe clips now). Was I finally all on my own?
He’d later ride down to the local police auction, buy a beat-up old road bike, hide it somewhere in the city and then go back later to retrieve it with the car. I couldn’t figure out why he needed another road bike, but soon two 27” Specialized Tricross cyclocross tires arrived in a cardboard box, and then I watched him hand-bend a drop bar to add some flare (don’t try this at home, please). Suddenly he had a somewhat off-road worthy machine, and I still had my dad as a riding partner.
We dipped into the muddy trails above Honolulu, stopping many times to pull mud out from his center pull brake and my Suntour Roller Cam, and return home covered in mud but in one piece and with big smiles. Time and time again, with some creative wrenching, my dad found a way to increase my chances of cycling success and enjoyment.
A Full Revolution
Nearly three decades later, I’m now a father with a bike-loving six-year-old kid. I’m grateful that he loves to ride a bike and enjoys racing, and while I don’t care so much as to whether he wins his events, I now find myself wanting to do all I can to make sure he has the best chance to stay upright, have fun, do his best and love riding.
When he was four and crashed in a loose gravel corner in a kids cross race on his little Craigslist bike, I went straight to my local bike shop for a fresh set of knobbies to increase his chances of staying upright. More recently, he wanted to do a triathlon, so I hunted down a pair of cord locks for his sneakers at the hardware store. When they wouldn’t stay in place, I tracked down a better pair at REI. And now that he seems to enjoy BMX racing, I’m trying my hardest to secure a full-face helmet and convert an old mountain bike so I can join him in this new adventure. Sound familiar?
It’s a complete about-face for me. Just four years earlier I remember being in a bike shop and overhearing a dad ask about lighter 12” tires and tubes for his kid’s upcoming first race. I’m sure I quietly snickered, thinking that he was focusing on the wrong things at such an early age. But now that my kid is riding and racing, I can appreciate how that dad was really just trying to increase his kid’s chances and offer a helping hand.
Taking a Turn in Perspective
My kid has already had a long, diverse history as a cyclist and bike racer, and I’m extremely grateful for it not only because we’ve shared some great times on two wheels together, but because now that I’ve gone through enough stages of being a bike racer dad, I can now fully appreciate all that my own dad did for me, while he’s still alive and still kicking butt.
Whether it was the offer of flat pedals, making homemade flips for my toe clips, converting my road bike into a fixed gear each week, building a cyclocross bike to join me on mountain bike rides or eventually taking a second mortgage to help me with college tuition, I see now that my dad wasn’t focused so much on winning and losing in racing, but rather just simply giving me the best opportunity for success, despite our limited resources. I’m grateful for the opportunity, doing my best to still take advantage and not blow it, and trying to do the same with my kid.
My dad has never been a very talkative or expressive person (unless you really piss him off), and we’re very different in that way. But now that I’m walking in a father’s shoes, I see that all my dad’s efforts around my bikes and cycling was his natural way of expressing parental love, and it speaks volumes without him uttering a single word.
That doesn’t mean I need to be silent.
Thanks for everything Dad. Happy Father’s Day.