I have a burly dual-suspension Proflex mountain bike that dates from the late 1990s. Amazingly, I now see this bike characterized on the Internet as “vintage.” Mine is in mint condition. In the first few years I owned the beast (the bike weighs about 7 million pounds), I did ride it on rugged singletrack, from Utah’s White Rim to the aspen-covered flanks of Crested Butte. Which is the point, of course.
But before long, I started having babies. This procreation business curtailed my mountain biking near completely. And since those darling little chiddlers have hijacked my life, the bike has suffered the indignity of hanging upside down in the garage for a decade, only to be resurrected for the purposes of hauling toddlers in a Burley, dragging preschoolers on a tag-a-long, and making multiple ten-minute laps to the local elementary school on paved suburban roads. I have seriously considered putting a plastic basket on the front of the bike. It would be convenient for carrying my keys. But that would be like stringing pearls on Vin Diesel, and the bike has suffered enough humiliation as it is.
The poor bike. (Poor me.)
The story of the bike says something about the life of a mom of school-aged children. Let’s take a look a few telling snapshots from the last three years:
Drag-along Biking: Two summers back, my husband and I and our three kids rented bikes in Acadia National Park and took to the carriage trails. I suppose technically this is mountain biking. We climbed some hills and made the subsequent descents, but it was all on smooth dirt paths, so I don’t think it counts. However, I was dragging my four-year-old daughter behind me on a tag-a-long. This is a different kind of hard-core, and you know what I mean if you’ve ever hauled a 40-pounder who refuses to pedal on the back of your bike. Dead weight, I’m telling you.
Bike Park Fiasco: Last summer, my husband and I took the kids to Boulder’s new Valmont bike park. It’s laced with dirt paths, jumps, berms, and rocky drop-offs. My daughter, now five, was still pretty wobbly on her two-wheeler, so I took the first shift as spotter (you know, where you’re running alongside your child, sort of half bent over, grabbing them at the waist when they start to tip over.)
After about 15 minutes, the Proflex still firmly affixed to the roof of the car, my husband appeared around a corner, blood running from his temple. “Um, I think I need to go to the ER,” he said. Indeed. He had tried to bunny hop a two-foot high vertical slab of rock. His face swelled up and turned shades of purple. He looked like a battered Mr. Potato Head. At the ER, they glued his gash shut and diagnosed a concussion. I did sneak back to the park and make a few laps around the dirt paths while he was getting treated. I mean, no sense us both hanging around the hospital, right?
The maniacal uphill run and shove: Last spring, my daughter, now six and in kindergarten, often wanted to ride her bike to school. She was less tippy by this point, but it’s uphill the whole way so she needed a little push every four mailboxes or so. At first, this meant I could not ride my own bike. Instead I would run alongside, giving her a good shove in the lumbar when she needed it. All the while, I’d be yelling (like a lunatic): “Pedal, pedal!!! You can do it!!! You’re almost there!!! Use your big muscles!!” Lance Armstrong should hire me as his coach.
One day I did this shoving-running drill while wearing jeans in 80 degrees weather with my 5th grader’s forgotten trumpet slung over one shoulder. Strangely enough, my back was sore the next day.
Eventually I modified my technique by biking alongside her with a hand on her back, giving her that little extra oomph to get uphill. Now, I can tell you this is extremely dangerous. If either the pusher or the pushee wobbles her front tire, it’s a collision in the making. And kindergarteners wobble their front tires with great regularity.
Until very recently, those snapshots pretty well defined the biking in my life. But there is hope. I feel compelled to add an epilogue here for any erstwhile mountain biking moms of young kids who might feel disheartened by this post. This summer, I finally got back on the bike for real. I’ve been out on the trails around Boulder with another mom, climbing steep hills, negotiating rocky sections, and zinging downhills technical enough give me an adrenaline boost. My Proflex, which is a conversation starter on the trail, even has some mud on it now.