THE MONAHANS’ CYCLING ADVENTURE
By Roberta Beckers DVM
At the last Peaks Fall development camp in Boiling Springs, Pa. I was asked how many bikes we owned as a family. When I said 60 bikes of various ages, vintages, types some operating and non-operating; my coach Kathy had to learn more about my family. So, this is how my family’s bicycling adventure (obsession) began!
My name is Roberta Beckers and my husband of 20 years is Robert Monahan. Since we have different last names we figured we would get as close as we could to first names. Through the years we have had one girl, Madison, who is now sweet sixteen and three boys: Robert 15, Joey 12 and Jake 10 years old.
My husband went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and used bikes to commute to class on a daily basis. I went to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and used a car to commute to class. When Bob and I meet one of the first things he made me get was a bike. It was a red Giant 10 speed. We lived in New Orleans, La and I remember that it was tough cycling! I had a bad crash on a railroad track something about the wheel catching the track OUCH!….but our adventure as a cycling family truly didn’t begin until our eldest son, Robert decided to complete a Cycling Merit badge for Boy Scouts. The merit badge required you to complete 2- ten mile rides, 2- twenty mile rides and one- 50 mile ride. Well the ten mile rides were not bad on our old ten speed bikes and mountain bikes. Then things changed when we did the twenty mile ride. It became very clear to my husband that what we were riding was not going to cut the mustard if we were going to successfully complete a 50 mile ride. Then I started to hear words like clip pedals, road bikes and the dreaded skinny seat. So, off to the Bike Zone we ran; our local bike store who we now have a very intimate relationship. Brad and Graham were our first bike advisors. They were the two guys who showed us the ropes. We soon had in our collection 5 new bikes. (Everything we do in cycling is in multiples of 5). Why 5 when there are 6 in our family? Well, as much as we tried and as many bikes as we have bought our daughter, including a light-blue cruiser with handpainted clouds and running boards..she despises cycling! So we know she is destined to fall in love with a bike racer.
The merit badge rides progressed so smoothly we were soon signed up for the MS tour which is a 150 mile charity ride that benefits the multiple scelrosis society. Well that means we had to practice and ride farther. Soon, we signed up for a local club ride. Then I started hearing words like pace line, bonking and the all too familiar car back. This introduced us too more positive influences. People like Jim Turner who was a seasoned rider. A retired old guy, who could ride hard and keep up with the younger men on the group rides. He rode with this funny thing on his back tire called a power tap. We made many friends and best yet they let me, Bob and the kids tag along. The kids were a particular stand out among group rides since they were quite young. If you supplied them with enough snickers bars they would make it for miles. Robert, our oldest son found a particular love for the sport and seemed to pick up on the techniques easily. He would always ride with the “A” group for as long as he could and leave Bob and I far behind.
Group rides became very regular and our son Robert, 12, at the time and myself completed the MS tour without a hitch. We watched in awe as groups of men all in funny colored biking clothes rode together at great rates of speed and skill. We got to meet some of them and started hearing words like Lambra (Louisiana-Mississippi bicycle racing association), road racing, crits and Time trials. Robert did his first race as a junior when he was 13 and won and he was hooked. He did a couple more races that year and we hired his first coach, Keith Duet, a local racer and coach.
It was then necessary to join the local racing club New Orleans Bicycle Club- NOBC. My self, husband and eldest son decided to try our hand at one of their Tuesday rides. Well it went well for my son, but I rapidly watched as they rode off into the sunset. Since Robert junior was only 13 at the time safety was a big concern. This is when we met Jason Miller and Jorge Peira, both were Master racers. They showed Robert how to ride in these large packs of men and when dropped would hang back and pull him back in and in general along with many other riders made sure he stayed safe. My husband or I would ride the course backwards so if Junior were dropped one of us would be there to help him home.
The next year the racing increased and Robert graduated to a new bike. He had been riding my 10 speed which never did fit me too well. Junior did well in our little region with small junior fields so he decided to do the Tour of Tuscaloosa, the McMinnville cycling classic and River Gorge. These races were an eye opener for Robert; he was a little fish in a big pond in those races. That summer we attended a bike skills camp run by Frazier Cycling. It was a great camp from many perspectives: he made some great friends, we meet Ralph and Cathy Frazier who are great people and run a top notch junior program out of Atlanta and Robert learned a ton of new skills.
That year racing at the junior level he earned the honor of winning the Lambra Championship jersey for the junior division. (The jersey should have gone to my husband who drove the 1,000 of miles and spent many hours taking him to the races). And the size of the racing members of our family grew as Joey, 12 and Jacob, 11, our other two sons completed their first race. Though they had been doing many group rides.
The recreational club we belong to is called the Crescent City Cyclists and the aforementioned Jim Turner, taught a winter training session which I attended during my first year cycling and in the club. Jim taught me many skills and tried to explain the nuances of the power meter and training and diet and a lot more. But most of all I rode and meet a lot of great folks who are our cycling friends still. So my brain was full of words: power, cadence and aerodynamics. Jim told me that if I lost 25 pounds I could get up those hills faster. Bob said if he had told me that I would have clocked him upside his head. Since, I was still riding the club rides and more times than not getting dropped off the back. I started wondering about this thing they call the power tap and all the stuff Jim talked about. It seemed like a good way to measure what you were doing right and wrong. IF only one could understand all those graphs and numbers. Or actually could afford to buy one! I kept hinting to my husband that I wanted one. Then on my birthday my husband surprised me with a power tap! He had the guys at the Bike Zone install it on my bike and did not tell me. He tricked me into going to the store and of course I did not notice it right away but once I did I was very happy. My husband, Bob, loves that I would want a power tap instead of diamonds!
So I had the power tap. Now what? I tried an online Hunter Allen six week program but still I did not know what all those numbers and graphs meant. I had no clue. That is when it happened. My husband saw an ad for a fall power camp with the one and only Hunter Allen. It was perfect I had to go! It was my ticket to learn and understand this scientific toy I had received a few months before.
I met my mentor and coach Kathy Watts at the camp. Kathy was one of the instructors who rode and stayed with me during the group rides. Since I was one of the slower members she often had to pull me in and we got to know each other quite well. I learned how to read and interpret those funny graphs and actually make sense of all that data. I went home with the power of knowledge to improve. But that wasn’t all; I got a call from Kathy asking me if I wanted a coach. Yes! But did I know what I was getting into? I didn’t care, my goal was to become a better rider and I knew this would be the key.
Now, close to 8 months into the training I am also participating in the Lambra racing circuit along with Robert, Joey and Jacob. I don’t get dropped in the group rides and at 48 years young I am in the best shape I have ever been. My husband says my legs look awesome. I may not win the races but I am not always last! My two youngest boys also got the racing bug and already train with power. They are doing very well with Joey currently second in the standings for the Lambra junior division and Jacob third. Bob does his best to coach them, but like most athletes it is hard to motivate them!
Junior, has a new coach, Dave Brown, and is progressing in his racing career. He currently is racing Category 4 races and is competitive at that level. This past June, he competed in the USAC Nationals Junior Time Trial and did well. I believe he was the only kid there with his mom’s old carbon bike converted into a pseudo time trial bike! I know for a fact that he was the only one running a triple and with a 50 mm front wheel with bunnies painted on it from his moms’ bike. Another eye opener for him; as he was able to see some of the best junior racers in the country.
Right now, I am looking at him bent over that robin’s egg blue pseudo time trial bike with the rear wheel aero cover. He has on his pointed aero helmet; He kind of looks like a rocket man from a 1940’s b movie. It is a great adventure that is only just beginning.