Drafting with Dad

“Let’s make a deal, Dad,” my daughter Skyler whispered. “My next birthday’s coming up, I’m almost 8, and I think I know what I want.”

The words hit from the blind side. For starts, my second grader’s “almost 8” was more like “barely seven;” we’d celebrated Skylerpalooza only a couple months earlier. Second, her “want” was an item most parents might find a bit exotic.

“This year – and I’m definitely ready – I’d like a road bike,” the fruit of my looms confided. “I know you’ll say no, so I’m gonna pay for it with my own money.” ($17.67 at last count and almost entirely in copper)

The truth is I’d expected something more in the 7-year-old girl department. And while I’m grateful that I won’t be splurging on a Malibu Barbie party pad – complete with roadster, poolside cabana and several models of Ken – I wanted to proceed cautiously.

But how could I resist? A love for expensive carbon-fiber bits happens to run in the family. She’s also been my most consistent riding partner for nearly a decade. I couldn’t just push her out of the peloton.

You see, Skyler’s been breathing in second-hand cycling since Day 1. My child left her mother’s womb and dropped directly into a Burley trailer. Back then, the recipe was relatively simple: Attach trailer to road bike and add one swaddled child. Mix in a relatively flat road, a slight headwind and a healthy dose of sympathy weight leftover from the pregnancy. Sift them all together and simmer over 15 to 25 miles, or until such a time as Dad is sweating blood and hallucinating.

When Skyler outgrew the Burley, I happily canned the trailer and eased her onto her first mountain bike. We broke each other in on short out-and-backs – river trail quests that always seemed to end at the milk shake stand. Her bike eventually grew gears (kaching!) and bigger wheels (kaching!), and our rides started straying from the concrete and onto the dirt (bling!). Through the years, Skyler and I wound up sharing singletrack in Utah’s Red Canyon; riding slickrock on Phoenix’s South Mountain; and dabbling in Crested Butte’s legendary ribbons.

But alas, my best efforts to raise a dirt bag came up short. I don’t know when or how, but skinny tires somehow snuck in and stole my daughter’s heart. Being a sensitive, new age roadie myself, I agreed to test drive the kiddie road bike concept. We would go out on a sample road ride, I told my aspiring domestique, get the feel of the pavement, push some wind and tickle the saddle sores. If she still wanted a road bike after chasing the white line, we’d pool our loot and make it happen in time for the big number 8.

And so we set out, me on my cyclocross steed and Skyler atop her faith

ful mountain bike.

After just a few turns of the cranks, my little Fausta was hooting and hollering, pumping around the corners and pushing for speed in all the right places. Visibly at home on that open road, she even indulged in a few dicey weaves and a blistering pass. After mere minutes, she’d contracted asphalt fever.

However, just as she tapped into the tarmac a most unusual hazard struck, and the velodream crumbled. After dodging a small pothole and rounding a blind corner, we found ourselves face-to-face with a very strange road-fellow. There, stretching completely across the shoulder and well into the lane was a 7-foot bullsnake (No joke. We’re talking 84-plus inches of thick, yellow-brown, super-scary snake). We were literally on top of the creature before we had time to react.

Dad managed a shaky bunny hop, nearly toppling on reentry and almost center-punching the giant reptile’s middle. Skyler was not so lucky. Blinded by my reckless move and paralyzed by the sight of the “cobra,” she screamed and plowed her knobbies right over the center of the slithering mass. Unfortunately, that exceptional specimen of pituophis catenifer deserticola didn’t take kindly to bicycle tires. And venom or no venom, the hapless creature struck.

“Punch it,” I yelled, as Skyler jumped on the pedals, barely eluding the snake’s open mouth. Stymied and now well off the back of our little pack, the serpent retreated – slightly bruised and seriously bitter after stumbling into our ride.

At that moment, I realized that I’ve been daunted numerous times on the road bike. There was that high speed flat on the steep side of Coal Bank; a passing kiss from the septic spout on a Winnebago Adventurer; and the fleeting moment when I actually considered deforesting my legs (with an economy razor to boot). But the run-in with the bullsnake definitely took top honors, and ranked as the only skinny-tire sojourn that’s officially peaked my scarometer. I assumed my younger half had also scored a big taste of terror.

“Dad,” my breathless babe implored me. “I just … want to … say …”

She pulled alongside, caught her breath and added, “I’m pretty sure that was the coolest thing that’s ever happened on a bike. Road riding’s definitely the awesomest.”

Somewhere, some place, not too far off, my billfold magically lightened. Nearly $700 (less Skyler’s $17.67 of course) started making a run for the till at the bike store and a mini road ride started pedaling toward Skylerpalooza VIII. Between you and me, I’m happily letting those greenbacks and copper go. Money may be money, but seeing an almost 8-year-old chase the velodream is priceless.

– Will Sands