Like most kids growing up in 90’s America, I had a bicycle. It was pink and white, sparkly with some sort of design – flowers, I think – and it probably had handle bar streamers, but I feel like that might be more wishful thinking than actual reality. I rode it as fast as the training wheels would permit, and when those fell off, I wheeled around our cul-de-sac with my brothers, and later down giant hills in our new neighborhood after moving when I was 6.
I loved it. We spent hours in the saddle, circling the neighborhood for what seemed like hours.
I should have known that cycling was in my future. I remember going to a shoe store that mostly offered athletic shoes of all kinds. I was probably 7 or 8. My brother was getting basketball shoes, and I asked my mom if they had bicycle shoes. I didn’t have any idea what bicycle shoes even looked like, much less that they could attach to the bike itself. I just thought they might have some Keds or something that would better fit the white rubber pedals on my pink bike.
Some of the earliest memories I have of my mom’s dad are of seeing him off on Freewheel rides. I remember standing in the dark of the early morning, watching him load some bags into a big charter bus (now that I think about it, I have no idea where he put his bike) and head to their starting point.
When he returned a week later, my grandma would always put together a feast and we would party at their house and listen to his stories of the road.
I also remember seeing his bicycles in their garage and wondering when I would be big enough to ride them. Probably a while, considering that my head came up to the top of his saddle.
My grandparents didn’t go by traditional names like “Grandma and Grandad.” My oldest brother had trouble saying those, and it turned into Grammie and Gringa.
Cyclists 20 and 30 years ago didn’t keep records of rides like they do now. It may have something to do with the advent of technology. Gringa didn’t keep track of how many rides he went on over the years, and all we have to go by is his Freewheel and BRAT in Tennessee t-shirts.
Also, check out those cycling pants and shoes. A world of difference from today’s gear.
Gringa stopped riding about 15 years ago when his vision began to decay. In the end, he suffered from severe macular degeneration and lost about 90 percent of his vision.
He and Grammie moved through retirement homes in Tulsa during the 2000s and finally landed in one in South Tulsa. During my time at the O’Colly at OSU, I gradually began writing more about cycling, and when I read my grandparents my first story about Stillwater’s first cyclocross race, I remember him listening intently and not saying a word for the rest of my visit. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I wish I had asked him about his time on the bike.
As it got harder for me to visit him and Grammie – living in Stillwater, working and taking classes took much of my time – my mom would tell him about my riding: my attempt at the 2014 Land Run 100, 50+miles of training rides, etc., and she told me that he always smiled when she told him.
My mom still thinks it’s odd that the only thing I picked up from Gringa was his love of cycling, but she laughs about it. It really speaks to the way generations pass on interests.
Grammie died in May 2013, and Gringa died a year and a half later on Sept. 6, 2014.
I think I will always regret not sitting down with him to talk about our greatest common interest. I’m learning so much about cycling these days, but there are so many things I want to ask him. I wish we could have sat down and talked about his adventures, misadventures, and everything in between, and I wish he could have seen the grip that cycling is taking on the nation.
But. It’s too late for that. Try as I might, I can’t bring him back for that conversation.
All I can do now is keep riding, and ride my ride for him.