As my son has got more into cycling, I have grappled with the question: “Should he have the best equipment?”
On the one hand, I feel that we all need to make our own experiences. I learned how to jump a racing bike with skinny tires across streetcar tracks – after a few near-crashes when my rear tire got caught in the gap. I cobbled together a bike on a shoestring when I was in college. I now am glad about those experiences. I feel that riding inferior bikes has made me a better cyclist. It also made me more appreciative of what I have now.
However, when my son’s narrow tires got caught in a gap between two concrete road panels and he crashed on our first cross-town ride, I wondered how far you want to go in having your children make their own experiences. I recall many of my own lucky escapes during my youth, but there probably were others who weren’t as lucky…
When my son joined me for our first truly long ride, it started raining. His bike did not have fenders (above). He was a good sport as the spray ran down his nose and coated his back with grime. As I rode my fender-and-mudflap-equipped bike, I wondered: “Should I really introduce him to the suffering of cycling in this way?” Or should I just get him a 650B bike with supple tires, fenders and excellent brakes, so his cycling can be as enjoyable and safe as mine?
Where safety is concerned, the decision is easy. While I survived a childhood of riding a bike with steel rims that offered almost zero braking in the rain, I will make sure that my son has equipment that is safe to use. We are replacing the brake pads on his brakes with better ones. He obviously has a helmet, and he’ll also get fenders and good lights. No more narrow tires, either!
But what about things that enhance his cycling experience? Last autumn was my son’s first cyclocross season. He lined up against children who rode carbon bikes and were dressed in skinsuits full of sponsorship logos – “the pro kids,” as he called them. He was wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of hand-me-down cycling shorts. His shoes were spinning shoes found on close-out at REI. His bike was a nice test bike, but far from a professional-grade ‘cross racing machine. And yet he had a great time and did quite well, and I believe he learned that equipment alone does not determine success or enjoyment of a sport.
Now that he has shown a great love for the sport, I am tempted to get him the equipment that makes cycling more enjoyable … at least within reason. We don’t feed him bad food, so why should he ride on crummy tires? I needed somebody to test our new Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm tires anyhow, so that is what he is riding now. Next winter, he’ll have wool tights and a real jersey, so he can enjoy rides in all weather. And maybe, some day, he’ll even get the full 650B bike of his dreams.
What are your thoughts about cycling equipment for children?