Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Learning to Ride (Why We Ride)

I originally just planned to post a few pics of Little Man learning to ride his KTM Strider bike because it's been fun to watch and I've been looking forward to it for awhile, but looking at the pics reminded me exactly why we ride and prompted to me to look for older pics and think about my life on two wheels. Feel free to skip the following diatribe and get to the happy pics at the bottom. Learning to ride is fun...

On a bike, smiling.

I can't say I remember exactly when that picture was taken, but I know where it was taken. And I remember being real proud in that jacket one chilly day because I was riding my bike on asphalt for the first time. The cul-de-sac in our little North Carolina trailer park that used to seem so far away was suddenly a lot closer! Not long later, I learned to wheelie and take her off some sweet jumps -- huge driveway curbs -- in a Michigan neighborhood. Semi-recent trips back to those old spots revealed that the cul-de-sac was never really far away and the curbs weren't big at all. But that didn't matter. What mattered was the smile on my face when I was riding that bike with my brothers.

The best day of my life occurred a couple years later in Indiana when the Baas Bros woke up to brand new bicycles in our bedrooms. It wasn't Christmas. It wasn't anybody's birthday. It was early morning and there was no reason for those shiny new things to be there. It was the best surprise ever! Thanks, Mom! Soon thereafter we learned to put playing cards in the spokes. We were awesome, and we were smiling.

A few years later in a nice Kentucky neighborhood those bikes made friendships and summers a lot better. When a five minute walk to your buddy's house is reduced to a 30-second ride or a 15-minute walk to the park is just a three-minute ride, it creates a lot more time for fun stuff like baseball & football games or Super Mario sessions on your friend's Nintendo. And of course there was nothing wrong with just riding around for a few hours because riding is fun. The narrow curvy paths of a nearby cemetery were like my first racetrack -- is that weird? Losing bike races to girls wasn't fun, and I'm not even saying that happened to anybody I know. I'm sure it didn't happen to me, so I was smiling.

In the middle school years on days when the parents might not notice, pedals made it possible to get across town and see girls we shouldn't be seeing. On the bigger streets outside of our normal neighborhood routes we took turns nearly getting run over by cars and trucks, but we always had each others back and we survived. We got lost a few times, but we survived. That was fun, and when we made it home without getting caught we were smiling big-time.

Bike rides got serious in early high school while living in a more rural area. The swimming holes and the country stores that we still love visiting today weren't exactly close and those summers were hot. But the rides were fun and rewarding. What's better than a root beer float after a ten mile ride before a session at the creek's rope swing? Not much. Flat tires and face plants that left a mouthful of teeth on a country road weren't exactly great, but when those things didn't happen we were definitely smiling.

Mountain bikes were equal parts useful, fun, and detested in college. It was nice to park right in front of the classroom campus buildings, and oftentimes the ride off the hill back to home was the highlight of the day. Nighttime rides with friends were great, especially when the cops started getting serious about trying to remove us from certain areas of campus. Watching skilled friends learn freestyle tricks and break frames while trying flips and 360s was impressive for sure, but I knew my limits so I just watched. Trail riding was not fun... not for me. It seems like every mountain bike trail I encountered was 99% uphill; however, I will admit that the 1% of downhill action made me smile (when I wasn't crashing).

Later in college, the real fun started. Fun came in the form of a Suzuki Katana. Having never ridden a motorcycle before, I almost crashed it twice on the way home. And I almost crashed it again the next night. And you better believe I was smiling the whole time. I was done with pedals! The next few years led to some upgrades (first a Honda CBR and then a Kaw ZX-7R), an appreciation for two-wheeled road racing, and more importantly some friendships that I still value today. We did stupid stuff: we went crazy fast on narrow back roads with blind hills and blind corners, we did stand-up wheelies through town, we crashed, we rode too fast with girls on the back, and we ate too much Taco Bell. We eventually learned that safety gear was important and that the track is the place to demonstrate speed. Most of us survived those learning years, and we were usually smiling. Those same friends who now spend time riding to Sturgis, working in the motorcycle industry, racing WERA on weekends, or just blowing off steam on a BBQ run are still smiling today.

The post-college years featured time in Chicago & Nashville that did not involve much riding, and that was eventually fixed by a move to Southern California and help from Glendale Harley-Davidson, a Buell XB9R, and the Angeles Crest Highway. Weekend trips up to Newcomb's Ranch were a regular experience, and places like Death Valley or Palomar or Malibu were thrown in for fun. Things were right with the world again, and annual visits to Laguna Seca, Willow Springs, and Fontana to watch world-class road racing made sure I was smiling all across that state.

When it came time to grow up, I found myself back in Kentucky. Now fun comes in the form of a KTM Super Duke R that logged more Laguna Seca miles (1900) than I ever did (0). That's a different story told elsewhere around here, and I'm sure I've posted plenty of bike pictures on other pages so I'm not digging any out for this one. This was supposed to be about teaching the kids to ride so let's get back to that, because that's where the smiles are...

Bubba learning to ride.
And smiling.

First up was Bubba [on a bike that might have been a bit big for him]. He had a rough first day without training wheels, but even after all those crashes he was smiling.

Crashes? What crashes?

Bubba's first motorcycle launch.

The first day on a motorcycle [that he had probably outgrown] went a lot better, even though I forgot to stress the most important thing -- look where you're going! Other than that, no crashes. And after at least 50 laps -- some that ventured into other yards, but never involved a tree collision -- he was definitely smiling. The reaction from grandparents didn't make it sound like they were smiling, but they don't ride.

The thing about Bubba is that he's a baller and riding just hasn't appealed to him as much as basketball and football do. He certainly doesn't like it enough to invest in a bigger bike at this point, but I have a feeling that will change with time and I hope we have some two-wheeled road trips in our future. Either way these memories were priceless.

Little Man seems to know he'll be riding Bubba's bike soon..

New bikes.
Super Duke & Luke [Duke] in his first Superman Cape, with his matching KTM Strider.

Little Man and I got our KTMs at the same time thanks to Scuderia West, KTMtwins.com, and a nice girl named Abby. Mine is a little heavier and has about six hundred horsepower, while his doesn't have any horsepower. Neither has pedals. More importantly, no silly training wheels!

After a few years of mostly just looking at the little Strider or sitting on it in front of the TV, it was finally time to take it outside and see what happens on the street last month. He started doing his excited dance in the driveway as he watched me adjust his seat height. When we got the seat right he hugged me and said his version of, "Thank you, Dadda!" That was a first, and it was pretty much the best moment ever. Then he promptly hit some loose dirt and had his first awesome crash. It took him a few minutes to realize he wasn't hurt and he was back on that bike an hour later.

The scene of the crash.

Finally riding. Or striding?

Getting there...

Feet up!

Super concentration on his longest balance run so far.
That's like Michael Jordan-level concentration.

Pure, unbridled, two-wheeled fun.

He may never slide sideways into a dirt-track corner with one hand on the bars and one foot on the floor. He may never drag a knee across the tarmac at triple digit speeds. He may never win national or world road racing championships like our Hayden neighbors up the road tend to do. But if he ever does, he'll have that same smile on his face underneath the helmet. That's the gravity-defying smile of freedom generated by bending a two-wheeler through a nice curve, pulling a long wheelie, or landing a sweet jump... at any speed.

That smile is why we ride.

UPDATE [9/5/13]:  I know, I know... where's the helmet? When we got past walking speed, we put the helmet on. Bubba's helmet, of course.

Helmet speed.

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