By John Yoder
The summer I retired, our office hired a young intern named Roseabeth who was interested in cycling and, like me, lived in the same town 15 miles from our work. When she heard that I commuted to work by bike, she asked if she could ride with me some morning and learn the route I used. I said that I’d be happy to show her the route – and so, my mentoring began. This experience was a lot of fun, and it taught me how important being a cycling mentor can be for less-experienced riders.
Since Roseabeth lived near my commuting route, it was easy for me to swing by her house the next morning and start our adventure. I guided us through two miles of low-traffic residential streets before we did four miles on a four-lane highway with a 55-mph speed limit. Six miles from the start, we switched to a bike path for four miles. Then we had two miles on a bike lane in our destination town, before three miles of weaving through the streets of the downtown’s business district to our office.
The ride with a young person was a welcome change from my solitary commute. While it was challenging to ride with someone 40 year my junior, it was enjoyable to have someone to talk with on the way. As a bonus, we made better time than I normally did, just because a group tends to ride faster than a person does alone. (And no, trying to impress an attractive, young woman with my fitness had nothing to do with that extra speed on my part. I know that because I was still able to walk when we finished the ride.)
Due to the numerous one-way streets in the town where our office was, I took a different route through town going home, and so I invited Roseabeth to follow me home in the afternoon. She gladly agreed. When we arrived at her house, I said, “Well, that was fun. Now that you know the way, I’ll let you go on your own tomorrow,” thinking that it would be simpler for both of us if we had the freedom to start whenever we wanted to.
She immediately said that she’d like to ride with me again, because the route was still rather vague in her mind, and she needed to go over it several times to get it memorized. I said that I could do that, and so we rode together the next day – and for several weeks thereafter until I retired.
Any Lessons for Fellow Roadies/Mentors?
- It demonstrates how easy it is for an experienced cyclist to underestimate the complexity of following a route. Because I had ridden these streets hundreds of times, I no longer had the beginner’s perspective and thought Roseabeth could easily learn them in one trip.
- It also may indicate the difference between how an older man and young woman approach the uncertainty of a route in an urban setting. Perhaps she did not want to be alone and get lost. (I never asked her that question.) But, if a 65-year-old man like me gets lost in the city, it’s not a big deal; if a young woman riding along gets lost, that’s different.
- The similar flawed perspective can happen on the mechanical side of cycling as well. We can assume it’s easy to change a flat tire, true a wheel or fix a broken chain, but these skills require repetition and often a patient teacher to learn. I admire the non-profit bike shop in our town that makes bike stands available for customers to use, with the understanding that if they get stuck doing arepair, an experienced mechanic will help them.
- Once we recognize the value of being a cycling mentor, other possibilities become more obvious, like showing a person new to the neighborhood your favorite cycling routes, bike shops, places for a snack, or roads to avoid.
- Mentoring another cyclist is an opportunity to show best practices. As we rode together, I could show her lane positioning on various road widths, how to deal with dogs, how to cross railroad tracks at a right angle and the basics of a riding in a pace line. You can read about these cycling tips in numerous cycling books, magazines or online, but by seeing them in action you are more likely to remember them and thereby enjoy riding more, and be a safer, more confident rider on the road or a city street.
Share your comments about being a mentor/mentee below.
John D. Yoder is a recreational cyclist, former cycling commuter and League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor. He has been active for over 25 years establishing the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana (www.pumpkinvine.org).