Mike Williams is like most fathers, worrying about his son Tyler when he's out on the road. Not when Tyler is driving, but during training rides.
Tyler rides 80 to 100 miles each day on his racing bike, peddling up and down the streets of Shafter and northern Bakersfield, developing the skills that have led him to joining the BMC Developmental Team, a professional organization that competes in Europe as well as in the U.S.
"It's spooky sending him across the country to Chicago or New York (before going overseas)," Mike Williams said, "but I worry about him out here on these roads, out there doing his job. I know people get frustrated with cyclists.
"That's my biggest fear. I worry about him more on training rides than in races."
Though he's concerned about his 18-year-old athlete, Mike knows Tyler is doing what he loves, and doing it very well.
Tyler started cycling about four years ago, giving up another racing sport in the process.
"I raced go-karts at Buttonwillow Raceway from age 4 to 14," he said. "In January 2009, I bought a race bike -- a Felt Z100, a cheap road bike -- and I paid for it with winnings from car racing."
Tyler had been watching the Tour de France in 2005 and 2006 and that's when he found a passion for something certainly less common than auto racing in this country.
"We used to race quarter midgets and go-karts and micro-midgets in Visalia," Mike said. "He was very talented in racing cars and a lot of people in California thought he'd go far in that sport. Someone once told me that 14-year-olds like to change their interests a lot and I said, ‘Ok, I’ll support you in this the best I can.’
“My wife and I, we knew nothing about cycling.”
Once he started in cycling, Tyler couldn’t seem to stop. Through a series of introductions and invitations, Tyler found people to ride with and eventually joined a team out of Santa Rosa that helped his development.
The Williams family has received invaluable help from Action Sports owner Kerry Ryan, who has aided the young cyclist with parts, repairs and advice.
Eventually, Tyler had to pick a sport: Auto racing or cycling.
“He was doing both and it was getting dangerous,” Mike said of the long hours. “I always thought he’d stick with the car racing career. But this was his decision and we’ve obviously supported him in it.”
Not only was there a decision on sports, but one on academics, too. The time training and traveling made it difficult to stay in public school, so the family opted for home schooling.
“I was at Centennial High School for two years,” he said. “My junior year I’ve done school through Valley Oaks Charter School, a home school program. It helps to accommodate my training schedule and travel schedule.
“Public school was flexible with it,” Tyler added, “but to do it properly I had to make a change.”
At times, Mike can’t believe the time and effort his son puts into cycling. He thinks Tyler is crazy for going out as early as 4 a.m. during the summer to ride, sometimes braving 30-degree winter mornings.
Tyler has to watch what he eats and whatever else he puts into his body, thanks to cycling’s strict anti-doping rules. He can’t take as much as an aspirin or cold medicine: “It has to be taken care of with nutrition or naturally,” Mike said.
“It’s such a painful, stressful sport,” Tyler said. “I think you have to be mentally sick to do it. It’s different from anything else I’ve ever done.”
Starting this month, Tyler will join just three other Americans — out of 14 racers on the BMC roster — on the team sponsored by the Switzerland-based bicycle manufacturer. He signed a two-year deal to race for the team after impressing the cycling world as a part of the U.S. National Team since 2010. Tyler won two races in Belgium in the fall, surprising his competition.
“Yeah, I think they were shocked,” he said. “They’re certainly happy when you leave.”
Added Mike: “People ask me what (making the BMC team) is like. I tell them it’s like having your kid playing Triple-A baseball for the Yankees. This team is like the Yankees of cycling. Cycling isn’t huge (in Bakersfield), and I’m still learning from him. It’s pretty cool to see a kid from Bakersfield, California, racing for them and he has an opportunity to go to the Olympics.”
While proud of his son’s accomplishments thus far, Mike added that it’ll be hard to send Tyler to the other side of the world.
“It’s obviously pretty exciting,” he said, “but the worst thing is he’ll be out racing and we won’t get to see it. We’ll try to get over there at least once this year. We’re really excited. It’s a heck of an opportunity.”