I can remember when I was a kid, riding my mountain bike everywhere. At twelve and thirteen years-old I was riding my bike seven miles each way to middle school (alone). I’d ride eight to ten miles each way to friend’s houses at twelve (all dirt roads). Now, I could have ridden the bus to school, heck it took my little brother and I 45 minutes to ride that seven miles but there was freedom in those late spring, late summer, early fall rides to school.
Once my dad bought me my first car though, the bike was hung up… 24 years later and cycling became more than just a fun way to get around, simply because I grew bored with running and decided I wanted to get into triathlons. Within a month, cycling became a way to enjoy life.
I started with a mountain bike first because they’re so much more versatile than a road bike. I also had a running friend who was also big into mountain biking and we began talking about it every once in a while after we ran. I did my first two Olympic distance tri’s on a Trek 3700 with road tires and a set of aero bars… Seriously, aero bars on a mountain bike. Ah, if I only knew then, eh?
I was geared out within a few weeks so I started looking into road bikes. I went cheap first, purchasing a 20 year-old aluminum Cannondale off of a guy advertising it on Craigslist for $300 or something… $30 for a saddle and $55 for pedals and I was off and running, err, riding – and it was instant gear happiness. I had more than enough. In fact, I had so much I didn’t have a hill anywhere near me that required coasting.
That Cannondale was my main bike for all of three months. While I was infatuated with the speed, the Cannondale was an insanely uncomfortable bike. I could feel every imperfection in the road and the frame was a full 6 cm too small. The owner of our local bike shop took pity on my lack of expendable cash and sold me one of his customer backup bikes (he offers customers a loaner when their bike is going for an extended stay at the shop):
This bike changed everything for me. Once I got it dialed in and comfortable, it was “Katie bar the door”. Speed was finally comfortable. The Trek, even though it’s now 15 years-old, is a full carbon fiber frame so it’s excellently comfortable on rough roads. Beyond that, it’s a 58 cm frame – it’s the right size and in a sport where a millimeter or two matters… So 6 centimeters is a pretty big deal. Now, I wasn’t any faster on the Trek over the Cannondale but I could maintain my 20-21 mph average over a much greater distance – I went from 13-16 miles to 30-40 miles, then 40-100. In fact, just last year three friends of mine and I guy I’d never met managed a 20-1/2 mph average over a full century. Just two months later, with a larger group, I managed another sub five hour century: 4:36, 21.7 mph average on that bike.
At the end of last season, came this (and I was completely, hopelessly hooked):
Fast became even more accessible and comfortable – it’s amazing what 14 years of technological advances do to a bicycle. That ride is so much more comfortable than the Trek that it almost seems unfair. Not only that, at speeds above 40 mph, rather than feeling squirrely and just on the edge of control, my Venge is smooth and steady beyond 55 mph.
Cycling is one of those funny sports – given a bike with a decent set up, anyone can be fast if they’re willing to put the effort into it. That’s really the trick – the effort. There’s a diet involved because fat and fast don’t work together. Then there are countless hours on the bike, maybe a little weight training, hill repeats and a lot of pushing to the point of nausea… So why go through everything it takes to be fast?
Everyone has their limit – a point beyond which they’re not willing to go – otherwise we’d all be pros. That said, speed is everything that slow isn’t. Speed is exciting, it’s a little dangerous, it’s work, it’s hard – and because riding fast is so hard, it’s only for a select few who want it bad enough to work for it. If that weren’t enough, speed takes nerve and for those who choose to attain it, we find that speed is one thing above all:
Speed is fun.
Now go out and get yours.
If you’re into cycling art, be sure to check this out…
I’m going to have to disagree with Mr Gump. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. They come with a guide so you can avoid the fillings you don’t like – and there’s plenty I don’t like. No, the wonderful thing about life is that we never really know what’s around the corner. When I gave up my job in the City over 10 years’ ago now, I didn’t know what I would do but was excited by the prospect of getting well out of my comfort zone. I feel I’ve finally arrived.
working having great fun on a newish project. Earlier this year, while skimming my Twitter timeline, I caught sight of a delightful painting. It was by an artist called Greig Leach, based in Richmond Virginia, the official artist for next year’s World Road Race Championships. I contacted him and asked if I could interview him for VeloVoices where we’re mightily…
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