If you've gotten a taste of BikeFest 2012, you might wonder if bicycling is an activity that can stay with you for life.
It hasn't been that way for me. When I was a kid, I rode my bike around our neighborhood, but my riding was supervised closely by parents and neighbors. We were not permitted to go on the streets.
That, I was told, was all about nice boys attending Catholic academies not needing to ride bicycles to get places. Their mothers would drive them. So I didn't develop much skill at it.
I came back to bicycling at age 40 but found that I just didn't have it—that intuitive mastery and confidence you get as a child. Though my parents' supervision kept me safe, it also kept me timid.
I still have my latest bicycle, a Specialized Rockhopper, bought new in 1988. And I still pedal around in my neighborhood, looking exactly like what I am—a timid old guy.
Skip a generation, though, and I'll tell you a good story about bicycling for life.
My son grew up literally inside South Park in an apartments complex near the Wave Pool. There weren't a lot of kids there for Jason to play with, but there was one—another raggedy little boy from across the parking lot, named Justin. Jason and Justin went to school together, played together and became inseparable.
Even though playmates and social opportunities were scarce for the boys, there was ... well, there was South Park!
Jason got his first bicycle when he turned 6, right at the time he met Justin. It was a 16-inch junior bike called a "Sears Free Spirit," and the deal was you could change the components around as the child grew.
I knew something special was going on with Jason when he told me very solemnly—when he was 6—that he didn't want the training wheels on his bike. Then, he proceeded to ride away across the parking lot with never a wobble or a swerve.
His pal Justin had a similar bike, and they rode the hell out of them all through the park when they were in early elementary school at ages 6, 7 and 8.
Now, those were the very things I missed out on as a child—a good buddy, a magical park, miles of trails and a chance for adventure.
Jason had serious asthma when he was little—that's also something that's "for life." And his bicycle riding in all weather through the pollen-rich woodlands of South Park, year-round, most certainly was not what the doctor ordered.
But he refused to give in to his breathing trouble or to let it keep him down. As his father, fretting over his health all these years, I can't help thinking that it was his bicycling that made him super-fit, resilient and brave.
His battered Free Spirit reached the limits of its expandability, and Jason needed a new bike before he turned 9. I wasn't doing too well in those days, but I managed to get him a 20-inch Huffy on-sale at Murphy's Mart on Route 88.
Eventually, high school and college led Justin and Jason in different directions, but they stay in touch. In adulthood, Jason has kept on riding—alone, in cycling clubs, commuting to work downtown. Nowadays, 100-mile trips, like from Pittsburgh to Erie, are something he knocks off for fun.
I've also kept up with Justin, who just turned 39. I've always liked and admired him for being a scrappy guy who persevered with some rough circumstances.
Justin never stopped riding, either. A champion competitive mountain biker in his teens, today he makes his living as a nature photographer—specializing in raptors—and as a professional bicycle builder. Seems you can take the boy out of South Park, but you can't take South Park out of the boy.
My son also will be 39 in just a few days. It's now 30-plus years since he got that first bike and took off riding without training wheels.
Maybe his bicycling isn't "for life," at least not yet. And I won't be around to see if it is ... but I'm betting on it.