Every kid should ride a bike. Every kid should climb a mountain on a bike, do a criterium or a road race. Cycling is a hard sport. A young kid riding a bike in a race learns more about life in an hour than most kids in a year.

As my Rabbi Dennis Prager says (ok, I am not really Jewish and Dennis isn’t really my Rabbi. I may update my bio one day so more than my family and friends understand what I mean): “Life is relentless.” But as my good friend and Canadian Cycling Champion Gord Fraser tells me when I ride with him and I complain about the pace being too hard or when I get close to quitting: “Harden the fuck up.” In order words, life is relentless so suck it up buddy. That is the essence of bike racing too.

Most of my kids are in competitive sports (or have been in competitive sports at some point in their life). Contrary to most parents who claim their kids are in a sports team mainly to have fun, I want my kids to be part of sports teams to learn what life is all about. I want them to learn to lose, learn what if feels like to suffer, learn to deal with disappointement and learn the all too important lesson that if you want to win, you better work really hard.

My two youngest kids (Gabrielle 11 and Alexandre 13) joined our local bike racing team this year. They also do competitive downhill ski racing in the winter. After learning that Alex and Gaby are now sharing my passion for cycling, many people have told me something like: “You must be happy your kids picked up cycling as a sport”. I am not too sure what they mean exactly,  but my answer is yes. Yes, for three reasons: It will help them learn about life, it will help keep them fit and healthy and it will allow us to spend more time together.

There is something truly unique about watching your eleven year old daughter finishing a road race in great physical pain, giving everything she has and coming up short of a top 10 finish. There is something even more unique about seeing her get on her bike again the next day and try to get a top 10 finish in a criterium. That is what Gaby did last week end.

Gaby warming up for a road race.

What she discovered, or was reminded of, is that in order to get to her goal of a top 10 finish she needs to keep working hard. She will also need to continue to deal with pain and adversity, be ready to miss her goals initially but never lose sight of her objective. I don’t think she can learn this just by listening to her parents. She needs to experience it all and waiting until she graduates, enters the workforce or gets married and starts a family is not necessarily the best approach.

Gaby is ready to race!

Last Sunday while Gaby was racing in a criterium in Bromont I drove down to Whiteface Mountain, NY with my son Alex and my twenty two year old nephew Guillaume. We went on a training ride ahead of yesterday’s Whiteface Mountain Hill Climb Bike Race. The Whiteface Mountain Hill Climb Bike Race is an eleven mile race up a 8% grade course. The course climbs 3,500′ up scenic Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway. Whiteface Mountain is New York’s fifth highest peak with 360° panoramic views of the Adirondacks, New England, Vermont and Montreal. In prior years, we used to start the race right at the bottom of the climb (the climb itself is 8 miles) but this year the organizers added three miles of slightly descending road prior to the climb. (Why? I don’t have the faintess idea…)

The Whiteface ascent is a Hors Catégorie climb. Hors Catégorie is a French term used in cycle races (most notably, the Tour de France) to designate a climb that is “beyond categorization”–an incredibly tough climb. Most climbs in cycling are designated from Category 1 (hardest) to Category 4 (easiest), based on both steepness and length. A climb that is harder than Category 1 is designated as Hors Catégorie.

This is what a Hors Catégorie climb looks like from the top.

The start of the race this year was in the parking lot of the Whiteface Mountain Ski Hill where the Olympics were held in 1932 and 1980.

Alex ready for his first hill climb race.

The start was at 8:00 am. Alex and I started at the back of the mass start so we could set our own pace and stick to our game plan without being in anyone’s way. Alex’ goal was to do the climb in 1:10 hrs. In his training ride the week before Alex did the climb in 1:20 hrs.

Once we got out of the parking lot and onto Route 86 Alex pushed the pace a bit and I had to tell him to pace himself. He answered: “I don’t want to finish last.” Lesson #1: “Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point” – Jean De La Fontaine. Or as Bono would sing:”Baby slow down, the end is not as fun as the start.” – Original of the Species, 2004. If you want to do well in life you need a plan, you need to be patient and you need to stick to the plan.

When we got to the bottom of the climb I set the 1:10 hrs pace. Alex and I had agreed we would try this pace for the first 10 minutes and re-evaluate the pace after that. After the ten minute mark we agreed to slow down the pace a bit and use the two short “flatter” sections to recover. With about 1.5 kilometers to go we realized that Alex could possible beat KK’s 2010 race time of 1:12:06 hrs so we stepped it up a bit (KK is a good friend of mine). Alex finished in 1:12:33 hrs, an awesome time. This is what my (our) power file looks like for the race:

A great looking power file.

I particularly like the strong finish.

While climbing, Alex and I must have passed at least 70 riders. I had told Alex:” You won’t finish last son.” I encouraged him all the way up and reminded him that “pain (adversity) is temporary, quitting lasts forever” – Lance Armstrong. I encouraged him to work through the pain and focus on the fact that as soon as he will get off the bike at the top the pain will go away and he will be pleased he did not stop working really hard the whole way up. I promised him that his legs and lungs would keep doing the job as long as he kept hydrating and eating well. I have heard many people talk about climbing through pain and saying: “Shut up legs.” I don’t get that, it isn’t the legs that want to quit it is the mind. So I kept reminding Alex not to listen to his brain and keep turning the pedals. He weakened a couple times but he quickly got back to the right pace as he knew full well that by doing so, he would “harden the fuck up.”

Alex at the finish, top of Whiteface Mountain.

Alex did a great job and learned invaluable lessons, just like Gaby did the week end before. Both of them feel pretty good about their accomplishments (and they should, they really earned it). If I had asked Alex or Gaby while they were in the middle of their race (experiencing pain) if the were “having fun” they would both have looked at me with the “you gotta be joking” look on their face. So why is it that they so look forward to their next race? Because they understand that the best things in life come at a certain price and that self esteem is not a birth right, it is something you earn. 

And for those who like life lessons for kids, this book is a must read: “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education by Charles J. Sykes“.

There is an urban legend that some of these rules come from Bill Gates. Well now you have the right source. Enjoy:

1. Life is not fair. Get used to it.

2. The real world won’t care as much as your school does about your self-esteem. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

3. Sorry, you won’t make sixty thousand dollars a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a company car. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a designer label.

4. You are not entitled…

5. No matter what your daddy says, you are not a princess…

6. No, you cannot be everything you dream…

7. If you think our teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He won’t have tenre, so he’ll tend to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you FEEL about it.

8. Your navel is not that interesting. Don’t spend your life gazing at it.

9. Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t.

10. Life is actually more like dodgeball than your gym teacher thinks.

11. After you graduate, you won’t be competing against rivals who were raised to be wimps on the playground.

12. Humiliation is a part of life. Deal with it.

13. You’re not going to the NBA, so hold off on the bling and spare us the attitude.

14. Looking like a slut does not empower you.

15. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity.

16. Your parents and your little brother are not as embarrassing as you think. What’s embarrassing is ingratitude, rudeness, and sulkiness.

17. Your parents weren’t as boring before as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, driving you around, saving for your education, cleaning up your room, and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are.

18. Life is not divided into semesters. And you don’t get summer off.

19. It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.

20. Smoking does not make you look cool….It makes you look moronic.

21. You’re offended? So what? No, really. So what?

22. You are not a victim. So stop whining.

23. Someday you will have to grow up and actually move out of your parents’ house.

24. Batman’s girlfriend is right: “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.”

25. Pi does not care what you think.

26. A moral compass does not come as standard equipment.

27. Your sexual organs were not meant to engage in higher-order thinking or decision making.

28. Somebody may be watching…

29. Learn to deal with hypocrisy.

30. Zero tolerance = zero common sense.

31. Naked people look different in real life.

32. Television is not real life.

33. Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.

34. Winners have a philosophy of life. So do losers.

35. If your butt has its own zip code, it’s not because McDonald’s forced you to eat all those Big Macs. If you smoke, it’s not Joe Camel’s fault.

36. You are not immortal.

37. Being connected does not mean you aren’t clueless.

38. Look people in the eye when you meet them…

39. People in black-and-white movies were in color in real life. And no, the world did not begin when you were born.

40. Despite the billion-dollar campaign to turn your brain into tapioca pudding, try to learn to think clearly and logically.

41. You are not the first and you are not the only one who has gone through what you are going through.

42. Change the oil.

43. Don’t let the successes of others depress you.

44. Your colleagues are not necessarily your friends, and your friends aren’t your family.

45. Grown-ups forget how scary it is to be your age. Just remember: this too shall pass.

46. Check on the guinea pig in the basement.

47. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be.

48. Tell yourself the story of your life. Have a point.

49. Don’t forget to say thank you.

50. Enjoy this while you can.