I learned how to ride a bike at 3 to keep up with my older sisters. But I really learned how to ride from my Dad, a lifelong cyclist who has covered 300 miles in a day.
My Dad’s motto on the bike is “never stop pedaling.” I started riding with him because my public high school offered six classes a day. To squeeze in symphonic band, I skipped P.E. and made up the credits by cycling with him on weekends.
It wasn’t easy to keep up with him and on most rides I did not. Oh, who am I kidding? I never once kept up with him.
But yesterday, I was pretty sure, he would not be able to keep up with me. I was in near-peak shape and he was recovering from a sore back. Rain had prevented him from riding in weeks.
Mid-morning we set out for a hilly 38-mile ride and right away he started complaining that his legs were tired. On the first set of hills he begged off our original route and suggested an easier, shorter ride.
“I’m afraid I won’t make it,” he said.
“If it’s just fear, we should try it,” I replied.
“I don’t want to walk up the hills.”
So we agreed on the shorter ride, and I took off. A few miles down the road I stopped to wait for him because I did not know all the turns. He rolled by and sized me up.
Red flag No. 1
“I may be up for the longer ride,” he said. “It’s such a nice day.”
On the next set of hills I leave him behind. At one meeting point he tells me to wait at the next peak in case he doesn’t makes it and needs to turn around. He makes it.
On the flats and rolling terrain he tucks in behind me and stays out of the wind, saving enough energy to keep up. On the hills, however, I pull away. Then we come to a T.
Turn right for the easy way home. Turn left for one last monster 2-mile hill.
“I could go either way,” I said.
“Well I suppose I could try the hill,” he said.
Red flag No. 2
At the bottom of the hill he tells me to start without him.
“My quads are dead,” he said. “But wait for me at Inspiration Point.”
Ten minutes after I summit Inspiration Point he rolls up. We stretch for a minute before beginning the final leg of our ride, a twisty 3.5-mile stretch with a few bumps and a fast finish.
The whole ride I have been thinking about the finish. It is where my Dad always – always – sprints past me. But today, I think, he won’t even be close enough to make a move.
I am dead wrong. He stays about 30 feet behind me until we approach the final half mile. Then he latches onto my back wheel.
Red flag No. 3
On the down slope where he usually makes his move, I glance back three times. He doesn’t budge.
So I sprint. My bike computer reads 29.6 miles an hour. My legs are killing me but I take a deep breath and tell myself I only have a quarter mile to go.
Just then, a flash of red zips by. My Dad.
I forget my legs and peddle harder until I begin to gain on him. But by the time I catch him he is already coasting. I finish ahead but the real race is already over. My Dad, who turns 64 later this month, is still faster than me.
Going into the ride I thought it would be an emotional milestone to finally surpass him on the bike. But as I choked back a sob, I realized it was crushing to still be No. 2.
I recover as we zip downhill together through the twisty Berkeley neighborhoods that rise above the San Francisco Bay.
“I thought your legs were dead,” I said.
“I guess I had a little more left.”
My Dad is still a faster sprinter, but I am the better climber. Next time I’ll chose a ride that ends on a hill.