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The Ring: A Collection of Voices

Wankmeister: Passing It On

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One of the old-timers was complaining about one of the newcomers. “When’s he gonna learn how to ride a fuggin’ bike?”

Seth Davidson/Kare Dehlie Thorstad

In the old days, people learned to ride a bike through shouting and blunt curse trauma. Nowadays there are a few curmudgeons who still wield the lashing tongue as a method of instruction, but we are dwindling, and for good reason. For one, it’s a lousy method. For another, you get tired of hollering because the exponentially increasing number of new riders makes it impossible to holler at all of them.

Plus, no one pays attention. You’re just a grouchy old sourpuss with a hangover.

The Aged One grumbled a little more. “Fuggin’ punk pulls some of the stupidest shit on a bike I’ve ever seen. Whatever happened to ‘Show up, shape up, and shut up’,” he asked.

“Those days are gone,” I said.

“It’s a damned shame. We’ve all gotten too soft and considerate of the next guy’s feelings, even when he’s pulling some douchey move that could kill you.”

I wasn’t so sure. The good old days had their bad old side, too, and part of the bad side was a culture of exclusion. In order to be one of the gang, I seem to remember, you had to get yelled at a lot. The masochists and those who aspired to positions of sadism could stick it out, but many’s the happy cycling enthusiast who shrugged and walked away after getting screamed at or belittled.

The kinder, gentler pedagogy is visible in real life, too. A friend was telling me about his son, who had walked on to a Division 1 basketball team. After two years on the team the son sat down with his father. “Dad,” he said, “I’m thinking about quitting the team.”

This came as a pretty big shock to the dad, who had been at his son’s side for the entirety of his basketball career. “Why?” he asked.

“If I work even harder than I’ve been working for the next two years, and if the stars align, there’s a very, very small chance that I’ll see a few minutes of playing time. The guys I’m competing with are for the most part future players in the NBA. I’m good enough to be on the team, but I’m not that caliber. It’s a huge amount of work and I’m not sure I want to do it anymore, especially when I look at what it takes away from my studies. I mean, the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get an education.”

This of course is the point where the Old School Father would have given his son a talking to, something along the lines of “Quit being a fuggin’ candyass, dogdammit. Get out there and bust your ass, and don’t talk to me about quitting until your eligibility is up.” He would have loaded the speech up with some guilt and shame as well. “Do you know how disappointed your mother will be?” etc., etc.

But my friend, you know, instead of the reflexive harangue that I’ve seen parents use when their kids quit Little League, much less a Division 1 basketball career, he took a different tack, passing on what he’d learned over a lifetime of living and parenting to his child. “Don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, “but consider it carefully, and if you’re ready to walk away from it, then walk away.”

A couple of weeks later his son came into his study. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, dad, and I’m ready to quit. And also, dad … “

“Yes?”

“Thanks for loving me enough to let me do what I have to do.”

All this rattled through my mind as the Aged One finished his complaint about the newcomer. “Well,” I said to him, “look at it like this. You’ve got more experience than anyone else out here, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“And he’s still pretty ignorant, right?”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, what’s the use of our superior wisdom and experience if we don’t know how to pass on what we’ve learned?”

He nodded and was silent for a few minutes as we finished our coffee. Just then, newcomer rolled up, smiling the smile of the young, the strong, and the just-finished-a-killer-ride. He went into the coffee shop, got a cup and came back out.

The Aged One made some space for him to sit down. “Hey, man,” he said with a friendly smile. “Could I talk to you about something?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

I couldn’t stick around, work being work, so I got on my bike and rode off. But a week later I saw the two of them riding side by side, chatting animatedly, punctuating their conversation with laughs. The newcomer was also riding a very, very, very straight line.