Biking, take two

Last fall, I was planning to attempt a century (100-mile) bike ride. It was a way of distracting myself from all the unhappiness in my life: I’d been unable to run pain-free for a year, I’d had my heart broken, I’d failed at multiple things, and I was just generally feeling that life was a bummer. Two weeks before that planned century ride, I wrote here about a demoralizing “last long ride” and how much doubt I had. I got a lot of encouraging responses (many of them on Facebook, unfortunately, so they’re not preserved on that post).

Well, I never wrote a follow-up post, but I didn’t do the century ride. I couldn’t face the idea of failing yet another thing. I know that sounds so negative, and it is, but when the day of the ride came and I wasn’t out there, I felt fine with my decision. Yes, I probably would have finished the ride through sheer determination. But if I hadn’t been able to finish, nobody would have been there to pick me up off the ground and tell me it was OK. I’ve only ever dropped out of one running race, which was the right decision but I hated it so much and was so very upset at myself. Fortunately, I had my friend Katie there to pick me up off the ground. This time, I didn’t know anybody at the century ride, and it wasn’t near where any friends live.

So, yeah, I didn’t do the ride. But wait! This is not actually a negative blog post! Since I have a million photos, here are a few to hint at what’s to come (if you don’t already know, which you probably already do, since my readership is not exactly vast).

Let's make some tweaks.
Skinny road tires.
Many hills await...

You see, I did keep bicycling — certainly less than when I was trying to cram for a century ride on a hybrid bike, but I didn’t stop riding. Somewhere along the way, I’d discovered that I could eventually reach that mind-calming feeling I get when I run. Granted, it takes 30 miles on wheels instead of a few miles on foot, but it’s such a relief when I do reach that point.

Last fall, I’d also been road bike shopping but hadn’t found a bike in my price range that made me want to hand over my precious dollars. Meanwhile, do you have any idea how much there is to learn about bikes?! I knew more than the average bike newbie because I am surrounded by triathletes, and because I have ridden for fun since childhood, but I didn’t know how to shift gears on road handlebars. (I’m still not entirely sure that a “cassette” is anything more than the device by which I used to listen to Amy Grant. Oh wait, the device in this example would be the Sony Walkman, so the cassette would be, hmmm, yeah, I’ll stop there.) I remember being intimidated by running stores when I first took up running, but let me tell you, they are NOTHING compared to bike shops. Also, the shoes are funnier looking.

I won’t go into detail about all the shops I went to between September and December, or all the web articles I read more than once because they didn’t make sense until I started test riding bikes. Craig’s List and I became close pals, as I checked several times a week for bikes in my size. (If you’re bike shopping, factor in the cost of a tune-up and maybe having to replace tires, etc.) I reached a point where I was tired of shopping, and I concluded that I wouldn’t get everything I wanted in a bike. I wanted good components but I also wanted carbon, and the ideal combo was out of my price range.

Then the new year arrived. I did my taxes and saw that I’d be getting money back, and learned that I’d get a bonus, and I had gotten some money for Christmas and my birthday. I was thinking about the things I wanted out of the year, and bigger bicycle adventures were still on my wish list. So I went back to the bike stores and the internet research, looking a bit beyond my price range. If a few additional hundred dollars could make the difference, I knew it would be the smart choice. Like a car, once you buy a bike, you won’t be able to resell it for the same price, so it’s best to get something you’ll be happy with for a while. I went back to one bike shop and began thinking seriously about a bike in the higher price range, even though it wasn’t a women’s bike so the reach was kind of long. And then, while pondering, I went to another shop.

At that shop, I found The Bike.

The funny and possibly absurd thing is that I’m pretty sure I test rode that same bike last summer, in my second outing to a bike store. I vaguely remember them putting me on a couple bikes to test and then, “just to see the difference,” they put me on this full carbon bike with mostly Ultegra components. The ride was so smooth, and the shifting was so much better, and the angle of the hoods (the handlebar-things) fit my hands so much better. And it was out of my price range. So, if my memory is correct and it’s the same bike, those sneaky salespeople and this very bike are responsible for making me find fault with every other bike I tested for the next umpteen months.

Before the new helmet, new cages and new saddlebag. And when everything was still green.

Maybe because it’s not fully Ultegra components (brakes are Shimano 105, which is actually what I had decided to settle on for the whole bike), the bike dropped in price from last summer. It’s also a 2013 model, so by January 2015, the shop owners really needed to get that bike off the sales floor. The price drop plus my increased price range combined to make it within range. They dropped the price a bit more, I got them to put new handlebar tape on it, and we had a deal.

On February 20, my new bike came home. It was my most expensive purchase since I bought my car nearly 11 years ago, but I’m very glad I waited until I could increase my budget a little bit to get (almost) everything I wanted. I’ve since put almost 400 miles on the bike, I’ve gotten matching bottle cages, I bought a very-overdue new (yes, matching) helmet, and I finally bought new sunglasses that have lighter lenses (my $17 4-year-old ones were fine in bright sunlight, but they were downright risky in lower light because I couldn’t see — hooray for REI dividends and coupons).

I’ve also had my first-ever flat tire, despite putting 2,100 miles on my other bike’s original tires and tubes. I was by myself, at mile 48, five miles from home in a bad cell phone area where I couldn’t google “how to change a bike tube.” Remarkably, a failed tire-changing lesson from three years ago apparently sank into my subconsciousness, and I successfully changed my own tube without help. That was quite empowering, I must say.

Cruising around my old college campus on a visit. That building is where I spent most of my waking (and sleeping) hours. Ah, journalism life.
Sadly, I never biked when I was at school there.

This last weekend, six months after the ride I talked about at the beginning of this long-winded blog post, I rode 76.5 miles. Once again, I was gearing up for an attempt at a century ride. The ride got long, the weather got hot, and at one point I felt pretty low. But I was able to rally, and I finished the ride with a feeling of “I did that!” rather than “I don’t know if I can do it.”

The century ride is in 10 days and is harder than the one I’d planned to do last October. But I’ll have friends there. I’ll have a bike that weighs 17ish pounds instead of 28 pounds (though I have not lost the weight I was supposed to lose, so that kind of negates it). Since January 1, I’ve cycled 944 miles and I’ll cross the 1,000-mile point before the century ride. It’s not much compared to all the triathletes I know and I won’t be setting any speed records, but it’s more than I’ve ever done.

Plus, I want to go out and face scary things, which is a much different mental place than I was in last fall. That is probably the biggest difference, bike included.

The next time I mention my bike here, I hope it’s because we rode 100 miles in one day.

2 Responses to Biking, take two

  1. beautiful. simply beautiful. :)

  2. I’m so excited! I look at our upcoming ride as 100 miles of time spent with people I love. Which is a good thing, since I have a feeling you’ll be the one pulling Arvan and me through this — we’re completely unprepared!