Fathers, Sons, and Bike Parks

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A father balances pride for his son’s rapidly improving skillset with the bittersweet reality that he will soon be overtaken

Jamaica scares my son. Not Jamaica the country, Jamaica the trail, which dips into the forest on the edge of the bike park in our hometown. It’s maybe a mile long, but it’s tight, with quick elevation changes and plenty of chunky rock sections that give my eight-year-old pause.

There’s one technical bit in particular that my son always gets hung up on. It’s a short drop over a granite slab that leads to a quick grade reversal covered with a nest of roots. You can roll the whole thing without too much trouble, but it’s always slowed my son, Cooper, down. More of a lack of confidence than a lack of skill. So, after I clear the section, I stop to wait for Cooper to walk the drop and roots and catch up. But when I turn around, he’s right there, on his bike a few inches from my back tire.

“Keep going dad.”

Crap. He’s getting better.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my son to rip on the bike.

I figure I’ve got two years, maybe three if I can distract him with something like Little League baseball, but the end is nigh. Soon, my son will be a better mountain biker than me. He’s eight now and by the time he hits double digits, he’ll be pulling off the side of the trail to wait for me to walk the technical bits.

It’s Kolo’s fault. Kolo Bike Park opened on the edge of our hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, when my son turned five. It’s not a big park, maybe five miles of cross country singletrack winding through the woods on the periphery of a small golf course, a couple of pump tracks, a skills area with drops and techy rock lines and a small jump park with three avenues of table tops that get progressively bigger. But when you’re a kid, just learning the nuances of mountain biking, a park like Kolo opens up a world of possibilities. It gives new bikers easy access to consistent, well-built features that they can session over and over. That’s the kind of repetition it takes to get good, and my son is definitely getting good. And fast. Maybe too fast?

Don’t get me wrong. I want my son to rip on the bike. Mountain biking with him is one of the great joys of fatherhood, right up there with playing catch in the backyard and telling him about how difficult life was during my own childhood, a bleak world void of iPhones and Lunchables. I beam with pride every time I unload his small bike at the trailhead and gear up for an hour or so of family time on singletrack. But I’m not ready for him to usurp me on the trail just yet. He already looks better than me on the bike.

They can race through the pumptrack, discovering the secrets of cornering without even knowing it.

He’s fluid, the bike more of an extension of his body, all moving in tandem seamlessly. I’m stiff and rigid, the bike a hunk of aluminum I have to muscle through the dirt. Again, I blame Kolo. Cooper spends a chunk of his summer at mountain bike camp here, progressing through skills under the watchful of eye of bike coaches who actually know what they’re doing. He learns fundamentals about body position and weight distribution and then gets to practice those fundamentals, gliding through flowy berms and sending pre-fab drops with precision. Every time I ride Kolo, I’m envious of the kids who get to grow up with access to these kinds of places. Their riding skills will take evolutionary leaps because they can hit the same jump over and over, because they can race each other through the pump track, discovering the secrets of cornering without even knowing it.

But there’s a bright side to my existential angst. As Cooper continues improving on his bike, we’ll be able to ride together more. Long, technical rides. As equals. I imagine us doing multi-days through Pisgah’s dank singletrack, camping and swimming in rivers along the way. Maybe when he’s in middle school, we’ll take some trips out west, hit some hut systems and take selfies on the edge of cliffs overlooking vast deserts.

Is it wrong for a dad to want to bask in the unmitigated admiration of his son for just a few more years?

Still, I’m not quite ready. This is something all dads have to deal with at some point in their lives. Right now, Cooper thinks I’m awesome. He’s literally told me that. And the better he gets on the bike, the more he’ll realize I’m not awesome at all. Is it wrong to want to bask in the unmitigated admiration of your son for just a few more years?

Sons grow stronger, taller, smarter while, simultaneously, dads are getting slower, weaker, more fragile. It’s a cruel fact of life. One day, my son is waiting on me to catch up after a long gravel climb, and the next he’s interviewing live-in nurses. This is big mortality stuff I’m dealing with here! The stuff of Depend underwear commercials. I just happen to be struggling with my mortality on a bike while wearing a chamois.

My only option is to enjoy the ride.

The jump lines at Kolo are where you can see the gap between us narrowing the most. We’re both still on the beginner line of tabletops—the jumps with a more gradual launch and forgiving landing zone. I can still go a little bigger than Coop, but that’s probably because my 200-pound frame can gather more momentum. His technique is better than mine. He shrinks just before the lip, compressing before releasing all of the energy his 60-pounds of skin and bones can muster, sailing a few feet off the ground before a light and effortless landing. I might get more air, but I look like a 2’x4” hurtling through the air—rigid and decidedly not aerodynamic.

Watching him hit tabletops drives it home. My only option, the best one for both of us, is to enjoy the ride. This one and the next one and the next one.

At least he’ll probably always need me to fix his flat tires. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

 

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