Humility On a Bicycle
About 2 years ago the wife and I decided to take up cycling. We thought it would be a fun way to spend some time to gether and a way to get some exercise. We previously had some old, cheap mountain bikes that we occasionally rode but not regularly. We never actually took them on a mountain and they weren't very well suited for riding round the neighborhood. Mine was too small and I looked like an adult trying to ride a kids bike. So, we headed to the local bike shop to check out the bikes.
This shop was huge with an overwhelming variety of types of bicycles and manufacturers. Not knowing exactly what we wanted we enlisted the help of one of the staff who was very knowledgeable.(Just about everyone who works in this store is a bike nerd.) With his help we elected to get hybrid bikes which are kind of a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. S went for the comfort model and I went for a performance model which was very close to a road bike. We took our new bikes home and went for a ride.
It was fun. At first. We'd ride around the neighborhoods. We did a night ride around downtown Indy with about 5 thousand other people. We took our bikes to Chicago and road along the lake. We only had one problem. I wanted to ride fast and S wanted to ride slower. It became painful for me to have to pedal slowly or ride ahead and then wait for her to catch up. Apparently this is a common problem with couples who ride. Their riding abilities are different (the man usually being stronger and faster of course). How do you solve this problem? Why, get a tandem bike! We rented one and tried it out and it was fun. I could pedal as hard or as fast as I wanted and S didn't have to worry about falling behind. Sometimes I wasn't sure if she was actually pedalling but just enjoying the ride. It does take a little coordination and getting used to. You have to develop signals and the Captain (the one in front) has to warn the Stoker (the one in back) of upcoming hazards and such.
The other solution to the problem is to just not ride together. We do that more often than not. I would go out on long, hard training rides in the country a few times a week. The more I did it the more I got into it and it gradually became an obsession. I was riding all the time, by myself. I wanted to find some others at my ability level to ride with. A few of my neighbors rode and some of the guys I work with rode so I thought I might ride with them. The problem was, I couldn't keep up with them and the main reason was my bicycle. You see, there's a big difference between a hybrid bike and a high end road bike and I just couldn't hang with the roadies on my hybrid. I needed a new bike!
One of the things about cycling is this: You can never go fast enough. No matter how strong you are or how great your bike is, there's always someone out there who is stronger and faster. And you want to catch them. That takes training and that takes a fast bike.
Back to the bike shop. This time, however, I did a lot of research first so I new all about road bikes and new exactly what I wanted before I went in. I told the clerk which bike I wanted and he said " We don't have that bike in stock and we can't get anymore in. The manufacturer is sold out and won't make anymore until next years models come out". "When will that be" I asked. "About 3 months" he replied.
3 months? I couldn't believe it. There was no way I could wait 3 months for a road bike. I needed it now. I was not going to leave that shop without a new bike. So, I spent the next hour test riding about every road bike they had in the shop. I finally settled on one which was way more money than I'd planned to spend but felt like the perfect fit for me.
This is my bike:
Isn't it beautiful?
It's one of my favorite things. I
can ride pretty fast on this bike. I look good on this bike. I'm such a geek.
One of the other things about cycling is this: It can get very expensive. Not only do the bikes cost a lot of money but then you have to get all the gear. The helmet, the gloves, the bike shoes and socks. The padded spandex shorts, a myriad of bike jerseys for both hot and cold weather. Tools, pumps, glasses, heart rate monitor, bike computers, bike racks for the car. And none of this gear is cheap. As the obsession builds you find yourself making up excuses to visit the bike store. I need to get a spare tube in case I get a flat on the road. You go to the store for a 5 dollar innertube and walk out with a 75 dollar jersey, 3 new pairs of socks and a new multitool that fits perfectly in your saddle bag. And there's always components for your bike that may make it go a little bit faster. New gears. A new crank. Lighter pedals. Carbon fiber everything. It never ends.
So now I've got my new bike, I've been training hard and I'm ready to ride with the big boys. I ride with my neighbors. I ride with my partners. And I can keep up. I can hang (barely, at times). I'm even stronger than one of my partners whose been riding for years and has always made out like he was this great rider. But as strong as I've gotten there's lots of riders out there who are a lot stronger than I. I learned that lesson again this last weekend.
Saturday I went out for a 50 mile CIBA ride. There were about 200 riders. As is typical for these rides, the group starts in a pack but then quickly stretches out. There's always a group of about 25-30 riders who take off fast at the front. At the end of last summer I was in pretty good shape and could hang with this group for about 30 miles before I got dropped from the pack. On this occasion I lasted about 8 miles before I had to slow. It didn't get much better. At one point I was riding along and this girl (I say girl but she was probably about 35) pedalled right by me like she was hardly working. Just out for a leisurely ride. She was about 5'2" and couldn't have weighed more than about 100lbs. I told myself that's why she could pass me. She's got an advantage because she's so much lighter!
At about mile 17 I was riding by myself into a strong headwind only doing about 15mph when a group of 3 guys goes riding by. I quickly jump in behind them to get a break from the wind. Drafting really makes a big difference when cycling. I was able to catch my breath and get a second wind. I thought I'd try and ride with these guys as long as I could. It was a struggle. They pushed me to my limits. Two of them were clearly stronger than I and pushed the pace relentlessly. We would take turns pulling (leading),then rotate to the back. This lasted for about 12 miles till we made a turn and were no longer riding into the wind. At this point we all slowed down to get a drink and recover somewhat. It was then that I got a good look at the guys I was riding with. Two of them were older gentlemen and after talking to them a while I learned that they were each 62 years old. The third guy looked like he was about 10 years younger than me. I was chagrined. Here I was struggling to keep up with two guys who were 20 years my senior! It turns out they'd been riding bikes for longer than I'd been alive, but that was no consolation to me. One guy said he rode 7000 miles last year! I think I did about 2000.
Claerly this had turned into a macho thing for me. This was a test of my manhood. No way was I going to let 2 old guys ride away from me. I was determined to hang with them till the end of the ride and you know what? I did it. We rode hard, averaged about 21mph for the last 20 miles and I felt great afterwards. And both men said they enjoyed riding with me. That was a real compliment coming from such experienced and accomplished riders.
And another consolation: We dropped the 30 year old at mile 40. He just couldn't hang with us old guys.