In the process of writing this post, I asked my mom to share a few of her thoughts and impressions of our ride together. She had so much fun recollecting the adventure that she wrote a full post of her own, and it’s brilliant. While neither of us read the other's account before writing our own, we highlighted many of the same moments and even used many of the same words (I am my mother's daughter). Below are my words, and the next post will feature hers: our different perspectives on the same special ride.
I took this photo on a training ride near Graz. I’d just crested a climb, and the play of sunlight across the alm just about stopped my heart in one of those holy there-is-nowhere-else-I-want-to-be-except-right-here-on-my-bicycle kinds of moments. I experience a lot of those moments and will never take them for granted.
However, I often wish I could share this feeling with my parents. Living overseas, I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, and they don’t ride bicycles. As parents, they worry about me, so they can’t help but think of the physical risks of racing, the frustrating politics and the financial insecurity of what I do. What they don’t get to experience is the kind of visceral and spiritual joy of riding bicycles that so inspires and captivates me (and countless others).
Well, wishes do come true.
Last week -- for the first time ever -- my mom and I pedaled together through a forested stretch of dirt road on part of my favorite training loop in Graz. She laughed and with equal parts glee and awe, declared, “This is just magical!" I could not have agreed more, but for me, it wasn’t just the exhilaration of flying beneath majestic forest canopy: it was finally having the chance to share this magic with my mom.
When my parents first began planning their visit to Austria, I began plotting a mission to share my favorite bike rides with them. Unfortunately, my Dad caught a cold. My mom, however, agreed to my crazy scheme.
To fully appreciate this story, you must understand a few things. First, my mom doesn’t ride bikes. She knows how to ride (naturally; she was a kid once, after all), but she hadn’t been on a bike for decades. Second, although the terrain around Graz is wonderfully varied with scenic options for flat routes as well as climbing routes, the most stunning views are those earned after some serious elevation gain. I wanted my mom to experience those stunners, and as any cyclist knows, such views are best savored having been earned through solid effort. Driving there in a car simply would not do. The key, then, was finding a way to keep the challenge, without making Mom suffer terribly, and without overwhelming her with things like clipless pedals or scary traffic.
I found the perfect solution a block from our apartment: electric bicycle rentals from Velo Vital. With hybrid-style frames, wide slicks and flat pedals and handlebars, they feature mountain bike gears and an adjustable electric motor, controlled by a throttle on the right grip. One must pedal to engage the motor, and the rider controls how much help she gets from the motor via the throttle. Hence, one can customize the level of effort real-time throughout the ride, adjusting for terrain or fatigue. At first I'd intended to ride my own Fuji Supreme but decided to ride the same machine as Mom, so I could better offer handling advice as we rode. Also, having never ridden an e-bike myself, I worried I might end up chewing handlebar just to avoid getting dropped like a hot potato. (It is the offseason, after all.)
Mom was a great sport. With waterbottles and matching Limar helmets in hand, off we marched to Velo Vital to begin our adventure. She seemed excited and confident (I would later discover that she was actually quite nervous and has an excellent poker face).
As we got on our bikes to pedal the first stretch of our ride through the Stadtpark, she wobbled a bit and even toppled over once, but laughed it off, no waver in her determination. Then we switched on the motors. She got a kick out of the extra speed, and quickly found her rhythm. I had originally thought we might need to do a few laps of the bike paths in the park to get her comfortable, but by the time we reached the far end of the park, she was ready to hit the streets.
Mom and I rode 30 kilometers with over 300 meters of vertical gain together, a remarkable feat in and of itself, but even more so considering how long it had been since Mom had pedaled a bike. She was pleased as punch as we pedaled back along the bike path at the end of our loop. I could tell by her carefree laugh and the ear-to-ear grin that she was having a blast.
It wasn't until she said, “ Amber, I don’t know how you get me into these crazy adventures , but I’m so glad you have more confidence in me than I do” - that I realized what a daunting challenge this must have seemed, and how good she felt at having accomplished it. Happy doesn’t even come close to how good it felt to see her grinning and pedaling through the fall leaves.
We packed a lot into those 30 kilometers: expansive views of the Schöckl and surrounding Schöckl-Land, sweeping descents, orchards bursting with ripe Styrian apples, our Buschenschank stop for coffee and Apfelstrudel, the satisfaction of a good workout, fresh air and laughs, but the best part? Mom got it. She got what everyone who has ever been hooked into riding bikes gets: the exhilaration of moving through the fresh air under your own power and empowerment of meeting a challenge, how the sweat of a good effort enhances every vista, and how your inner child dances with glee as the bike leans through a corner at speed.
Though she had wobbled a bit on her way out of the shop, Mom cruised back in with the ease and grace of a pro, triumphant and smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. She said the ride was the highlight of her trip, and considering we’d already toured a schnapps distillery and a chocolate factory, I figured that to be one heck of an endorsement.
Check back here soon to read Mom's account and see some video clips from our ride.
Thanks for reading,
[Neither my mom nor I have any association with Velo Vital or any other e-Bike company, beyond being very satisfied paying customers. Regardless, I would like to thank Velo Vital for providing this wonderful service, for making our adventure possible and for taking such good care of Mom and me. Please click here to check out their website, or click here to "Like" them on Facebook!]
Amber Pierce - An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.
Amber's path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.
Photos: Amber Pierce