For the last month, I’ve been anxiously researching which new bike computer to buy. My old Garmin’s battery is really starting to fall short, so a new head unit is very much in the cards.
I’m frantically watching YouTube videos about cycling computers to find our life-changing questions; which is more reliable? Which has a better battery? Which one does Tadej Pogacar have? Surely, I need to have a similar computer if I want to have a prayer to ever be fast.
After all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? If not being fast, surely, looking fast is the next best thing. Hours of indoor trainer time, a fancy aerodynamic helmet, and cycling socks that look just right with my $275 cycling shoes. If I get the look, the fitness, and some curated Instagram posts of me in my Spandex, people might think I’m a good cyclist. Fake it until you make it, right?
I’m starting to think all of that is just noise. Our enjoyment on the bicycle isn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be tied to the stuff and the riding numbers we see on Strava. Your shoes, your kit, even your bike, really doesn’t matter.
I say all this after “coaching” two pre-k classes at Immaculate Conception the other day. Saying we were “coaching” 4-year-olds is misleading. Tyler, my Norte coworker, and I were trying to keep the kids from running into each other and not crying because they didn’t get a pink balance bike.
None of these kids had cycling kits or cycling shoes. In fact, half of the shoes had lights, glitter, and/or Spider-man on them, and a fair few weren’t even on the right feet. I asked Everett what his FTP was. He said, “No, I went before we came to the gym.” I don’t think he knows what an FTP is. I didn’t even ask if he was going to watch the Tour this summer; his nose was running uncontrollably (to which he was oblivious) and he gave me a look as if I was desperately cramping his style. He didn’t want to chat. He wanted to ride.
So, the kids didn’t know squat about cycling tech or the sport. What Everett and his buds did know, however, was how to have fun. They went in a big loop around cones about a zillion times, picking up speed in direct correlation to their growing confidence. Not a Strava KOM in sight. If they felt brave, they tackled a slalom course composed of colorful cones dubbed “the Rainbow Road.” The cones got pummeled. Steering is hard when you’re fascinated by the sight of your own feet motoring along and you want to look behind you to see if you’re still with your friends. Looking forward, it turns out, is something young cyclists have to be taught or else they learn the hard way.
No, I’m not ditching any of my fancy cycling gear. But even with all the data, marginal gains, and vain attempts at looking like a “Pro” cyclist with a 45-hour-a-week job on the side, all that stuff isn’t as instructive as a bunch of kids on balance bikes. They reminded me that bikes, first and foremost, should be fun.
Every once in a while, take a second to look at your feet motoring you along and glance behind you to see if your buds are keeping up. You’ll be glad you did.
Wes works for Norte Youth Cycling, a youth cycling nonprofit based in northern Michigan.