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VN Archives: Be careful what you wish for

With Father's Day on tap for the weekend, we feature this 2000 At the Back column from Lennard Zinn.

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The last half century has produced countless amazing moments in pro cycling, and VeloNews has been there for almost all of them. This year we celebrate our 48th birthday. With 48 years worth of archives, we want to present some of the more memorable VeloNews covers, feature stories, and interviews from our past. Our hope is these curated snippets will help motivate you to pursue your passion for the sport you love. For Father’s Day, we decided to publish this 2000 At the Back Column from Lennard Zinn about his daughters’ love of cycling. 

I love to watch my daughters ride their bikes. Seeing them clean a tough singletrack climb fills me with pride. Watching them become more graceful and powerful riders with each passing year is a beautiful thing. So why can’t I be happier about it? Isn’t this what I want?

Yes, but. The fact is, my girls’ confidence and ability on their bikes is bringing on situations I’m not sure I want to confront. It’s one thing for them to be excited to go riding in Moab with me; it’s an entirely different thing for them to be busting out of the nest on their own. I brought this on myself, of course. I was sitting my girls on bikes before they could walk.

I wanted them to see the broader horizons a bike can make available. Well, they saw those horizons soon enough. At age three, my first daughter was constantly out on her bike in our cul-de-sac, hanging with the neighborhood kids. She could hardly be dragged in for dinner. And she couldn’t wait to get those training wheels off of her bike. Two-wheeled mobility changed everything. On any warm and sunny day, you could find my girls riding to this friend’s house, then that one’s, then to the lake, then to Grandma’s.

I pedaled alongside, reminding them about wearing a helmet, jabbering encouragement, warning about potholes, gravel and moving and parked cars. I scolded them for drifting to the left (and explained repeatedly how to tell left from right), pointed out when to brake and which way to tum, and gave pedaling efficiency pointers. They never complained about my nannying – it’s amazing what kids put up with – and we had great rides together. Then came a lull. After the initial thrill of being able to ride a “two-wheeler” had passed, resistance to using a bike for transportation appeared.

Against the drumbeat of, “Please, Dad, can’t we just take the car?,” I tried to talk them into riding instead – to school, soccer, dance, piano, and their friends’ houses. Yet it seemed that all of my early encouragement had done nothing to foster the bike mentality I had hoped for. Sometimes I put my foot down and insisted. The result: a ride with a very surly girl. Other times, I invited their friends along on our rides, and encouraged friendships with other bike-riding kids. I even taught bike riding and maintenance classes at their school, a strategy that generated a whole raft of cycling devotees.

But it was my own daughters I wanted to reach, and they seemed unreachable. And then, all of a sudden, the tide turned again, especially with my older daughter. Now, she became the one suggesting bike rides. Her goal sheets for school would include entries like: “Ride to school whenever the weather is good.” And both girls began to develop endurance and become adept with braking, shifting, and clipping in and out of pedals. My dreams were coming true. But my daughters are also smart enough to know how to use Dad’s intentions to their advantage. Eager to reveal parental hypocrisy, each knows that if she accompanies a request for permission to go somewhere with the plan to ride her bike, Dad may have to fold.

Ah, the challenge of parenthood: You strive to encourage the independence a bicycle can provide, and then they go and take it! To my, “No, you can’t go downtown to see a movie; neither your mom nor I can take you or pick you up,” I’d get back, “You don’t need to drive me, Dad. My friends and I were going to ride our bikes and meet down there.” Or, to my, “No, you cannot go visit Susie (who lives in the next town), because I am too busy to take you there,” the response is, “But can’t I ride my bike there, Dad?”

Bottom line is, not having the car is no longer a good excuse to prohibit an activity. I either have to give in to a daughter’s wishes and sit at home crossing my fingers that she is okay, or face her with my real reasons for not wanting her to go. And when I do let them venture off, even if it’s just a ride to school, it can be nerve-wracking. It was one thing when I rode along, but now, when my daughter gets ready to pedal off, I have to stop myself from trying to talk her out of it.

The first three miles of the route to school are on a four-lane divided highway and include an interchange with another highway. After she leaves, I tend to do get the hand-wringing going, and I can’t seem to stop myself from running out to the highway and watching her pedal out of sight. I’m on pins and needles all day until she arrives safely home. Why can’t they just wait for their driver’s licenses before they head off so independently?

And why didn’t I realize that with all my cycling support, I was in some ways giving them the car keys a few years early?

“With every wish there comes a curse.” I listen to Bruce Springsteen sing those words and I nod in agreement. And man, it’s hard to keep them down on the farm, now that they know they can ride to Paris!