It was one of those rare, springlike March weekends warm enough for a ride. Kathy and I hopped on our tandem, and our 15-year-old son, Joseph, clipped into his single bike. Destination: Castle Rock, about 45 miles from our Colorado Springs home. There, our daughter, our car and our bike carriers would be waiting to haul us back home.
Our route would take us up and over the Palmer Divide into Douglas County on Colorado Highway 105, which on warm, sunny days is a favorite two-laner for bicyclists, motorcyclists and convertibles. The ride to Castle Rock is not an epic distance, but this was our first extended RTR training ride of the season, so we planned to break up the four hours of saddle time with a picnic lunch in Palmer Lake.
We ride to the town of Monument in northern El Paso County regularly, so Joey had no trouble making the steady climb toward the divide. We found a sunny gazebo in Palmer Lake. The picnic was splendid. When we saddled up for the second half of the ride, spirits were high. We began our climb up 105 to the top of the divide, and descended into Douglas County.
Joey’s mood darkened a dozen miles later, however, as we turned east off 105 and began the stout climb up Tomah Road. We still had about 15 miles to our destination. This was news to Joseph. He didn’t know about Tomah Road, or about the 6 miles of frontage road awaiting on the other side of the ridge, or the subsequent ride through Castle Rock to its northern end. Two miles into the ride along the frontage road, he was visibly discouraged. By the time we hit town, he was in open are-we-there-yet rebellion.
While Kathy and I had made this ride before and knew what to expect, Joey had not and did not. We failed to manage his expectations.
Here’s the thing: Joey drops us on the hills without mercy. He pops out of the saddle and hops his way to the summit, while we slog away in our saddles, just trying to keep a decent tempo. He’s a kid, lean and light. We’re adults, and we’ll leave it at that. Point is, Joseph’s power-to-weight ratio is much more favorable than ours.
So why can it be such a challenge to get him out for our longer RTR training rides? Why does a fit teenager who loves to ride, and rides well, hit the wall? At a certain point, he’s done. Not exhausted, but tired of it. Not sore, but sullen.
Not long after our Castle Rock ride, we rode into the Black Forest area north of Colorado Springs with a friend, an adult who is perfectly happy to set off for hours with a bottle of water and a Power Bar. Eventually it dawned on Joey — and us — that a lunch stop would not be on the day’s route. This was not a big deal to Kathy or me; it was a major revelation to Joseph.
We adults throw ourselves into long rides. Before we even start we know we’ll be out for six or eight hours. We accept it’s going to get difficult at some point. We savor the sweet and the sour. So when mile 50 rolls around and the afternoon winds are up and the food is low and the finish is still 20 miles off, we put our heads down and motor through it, imagining the beer that awaits us. Somewhere in every bicycling magazine you’ve ever read is a rhapsody to the misery of it all, sigh.
To a 15-year-old, however, there’s no reason why riding a bike should suck at any point along the way, and when it does, it’s time to stop and do something else. Most kids haven’t developed the ability to take the long view.
As his parents, we could demand that he see things the way we do, and as his parents, we know our chance of success is zero. So let’s look at it his way.
Kids live in the moment. When the tough stretches come, it’s not in their nature to summon an appreciation for the delayed gratification of gritting their teeth through this brutal headwind. The fix: Schedule a longer day, and chop the ride into chunks. Take breaks. Find a park. Pack a Frisbee. Unless your kid is a USCF junior racer, the point of the whole bike thing is to enjoy ourselves. So, enjoy the places that a bike can take you to, and not only the experience of riding the bike itself.
Kids are hungry. In their early teens, their metabolic engines run hot, and they need fuel. When they get hungry, they get cranky. The fix: Plan a lunch stop. Pack a real meal in a pannier, or roll up to a restaurant. Living off shared bites of your Clif bars for seven hours won’t cut it.
Kids are literal. Understand that to them, “just a little bit farther” means you are now rolling up the driveway. Nothing crushes their enthusiasm as much as the discovery that they still have 30 minutes of solid cranking ahead when they thought the destination was literally just around the corner. This was where we failed him during our ride to Castle Rock. The fix: Don’t overpromise. Translate your sense of time and distance into theirs.
Someday, your kid will drop you. You will be astonished. The fix: A big smile and a hug when you catch up to her at the finish line.