Saturday was the third time, and the third weekend in a row, that John and I have gone to Ray’s MTB park in Cleveland. He’s progressing in rapid fashion. I’m doing okay, as well. I managed to clear the first nine jumps of the “Profile World” section in a row; there are two jumps after that but I’m too God-dammed tired to get over them. After years of putting up pretty good numbers on elliptical machines and treadmills I’d fooled myself into thinking that I was in good cardiovascular shape despite being overweight. Lifting 275 pounds of bike and rider into the air nine times in quick succession will cure you of those delusions. Even the teenagers are panting when they finish. Only my son can ride “Profile World” three or four times in a row without stopping; as pretty much the only seven-year-old to wander outside the easy stuff, his energy amazes everyone.
We warm up at the novice section, as you can see from John’s handlebar-mounted GoPro footage above — watch it in 1080p! Periodically, a group of twentysomething-to-thirtysomething mountain bikers will leave the dedicated cross-country trails and arrive to try their hand at the short drop-in and small box jumps. They show up, and they leave, in packs. Very few of them, it has to be said, can ride for shit despite their $5,000 bikes and carefully-chosen sporting-wear ensembles. John’s faster through the boxes than the vast majority of the “grownups”; John’s father, despite his sallow complexion, labored breathing, and unflattering sweat stains, is on another planet entirely.
The novice section can also be ridden backwards, if you want to use the roll-in as a vert launch. Some of the teenaged BMX riders like to do it that way so they can practice fly-out stuff like 360s and tire-grabs. They’re very careful around John and nothing even remotely worrisome has happened, so I don’t care that they aren’t “following the arrows”. This past Saturday, as I sat there catching my breath, one of those kids happened to be riding in the wrong direction out of the roll-in when a group of brightly-colored mountain bikers showed up, moving fast in a tightly-bunched single-file line.
It was five adults — and I use that phrase sarcastically, because they were all in their twenties. They had brand-new bikes from the high-dollar Chinese-crap makers, aerodynamic helmets, spandex shirts advertising various kinds of craft beer so you knew that they were cool people who like craft beer. They were in a hurry. I think their plan was to just ride straight into the novice section, blast through as quickly as they could (see previous note about not being as fast as a 45-year-old man with two linear feet of staple scars) and return to the main trail. I can’t stand people who do this; it endangers the genuine novice riders and the kids who use the novice trail to learn skills.
The lead rider saw the BMX kid coming the other way and panic-braked. The line behind him collapsed in a chorus of agitated yells and mechanical squeaks. To his credit, the BMX rider aborted his plan to try a 360 and just somehow rode a line through all of these stopped mountain bikers. The first thing I did was check to see where my son was; to my relief, he was actually finishing up the novice section and was on the other side of the room from all of the drama. Then I made an internal prediction that we’d see some passive-aggressive behavior on the part of the MTBers, said prediction being immediately rewarded.
As long as everybody was stopped, nothing got said. Once the train got moving, however, a few of the adults decided to yell over their shoulders at the BMX kid.
“Save it for Sunday!”
Sunday afternoon is “BMX Time” at Ray’s. But all bikes are welcome at all times and if Ray’s had to rely on the business of the craft-beer crowd they’d have closed a long time ago. At any given time, between a third and half of the riders in the building are on twenty-inch BMX variants of some kind.
As the mountain bikers left, the BMX kid gave me a can-you-believe-that-shit look and I rolled my eyes sympathetically. Then he rode over to me and said, “Old people, you know?” There was a long moment where my brain was unable to process the precise meaning of what he’d just said. Then it percolated through. I wasn’t the old person. I had my helmet on and I’d just been to see my hairdresser, so I didn’t have a single grey hair visible. And I do have kind of a baby face, even in my forties. So I was in the clear. They, the jerkoffs on the mountain bikes, were the old people. Not that any of them were anything other than toddlers, fetuses, or possibly spermatozoa when I started racing BMX in the fall of 1986. But they were old. And quite lame, too, I would add.
“So lame,” I responded. Then we shared a companionable moment, just two young bloods out there doing the ride-or-die thing, you know? I could easily see us going out street riding, listening to some rap music by the likes of Future or Drake or someone like that, maybe slashing the tires on the grownups’ cars. Then John had to spoil it by rolling up and calling me “Dad”. But my new friend was already gone, back up to the middle section of the novice trail so he could try a 360, which he pulled clean on the next attempt.
Later on, John and I went back to the “Profile World” section. There was a group of millennial mountain bikers there, but they were nice guys. There was a member of the group that wanted to try jumping the three red boxes at the beginning of the “flow line”. His friends were egging him on to try it.
“Follow me,” I said, knowing that I would drop him immediately, which I did. When he caught up, he was panting.
“Man,” he said, “that was killer! How do you make it through that fast?”
“Well,” I replied, “I don’t know if I’ll still be able to do it when I’m your age.”
“That makes sense,” he nodded.
“It does. But it will be a while till I gotta worry about it. I’m only forty-five,” I winked, and rode off to find my son.