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Cycling is an Experiment in Happiness, Shrouded behind Fitness and Health, Under the Cover of Lycra Shorts and Cycling Jerseys (what little cover there may be).
I bought a bike to keep from getting fat when I was 41 after growing bored with running. I knew I had to do something so I figured I’d see if triathlon floated my boat…
I’ve been off of nicotine for some time now, and off of cigarettes for more than a decade, probably going on two but I didn’t pay attention to my quit date or even the year. The point is, quitting smoking made food taste good and I went from a guy who ate to live to a guy who loves to eat. This, and being sedentary, thin and fit, do not go hand-in-hand. Nor does smoking go with being fit, but let’s not get too lost in the woods, here.
A week-and-a-half into cycling and I was absolutely hooked. Before long, I realized that the run and swim were messing up a perfectly good bike ride (or eating into more time on the bike, however you want to look at it), so I hung up the trunks and the running shoes.
I rode solo most of the time for almost two years before finding a normal group to ride with. Once I started riding with friends, cycling evolved. It became less about a way to stay fit than a way to enjoy myself. The fact that I’m able to stay fit and relatively thin, in addition to being exceptionally healthy, is now just a bonus.
Cycling has entirely changed how I look at fitness. Fitness changed from a chore to a way of life.
While there’s no escaping the fact that Lycra shorts and cycling jerseys are a part of the deal, I’ve come to find a greater understanding about cycling as I’ve continued to grow in the sport. I had no idea what I was getting into, but buying a used Huffy for $20 at a garage sale turned out to be an experiment in happiness.
Before that, all I knew about cycling came from a cheap $150 big box bicycle and from riding as a kid. Now it’s about expensive toys, good friends, good food, and seeing the country from the saddle. I can’t wait to see where I visit next with my bicycle; if the next eight years are anywhere near as good as the first, it’s gonna be good.
Road Cycling and the One Tip Every New Cyclist needs to Ride as Safely as is Possible on the Open Road
First things first. I’m not going to tell you how to dress whilst pedaling a bike, especially not in this post. I choose bright and visible, but I shy away from the overused “hi-viz” offerings. I’m not going to tell you to use a rear blinkie in this post, even if I use one because I find that the local traffic treats me a little better if I do. I’m definitely not going to tell anyone to use a headlight during daylight hours because I don’t myself – if you feel a headlight makes you safer, please be my guest. I’m also not going to tell you to wear a helmet, even if I’d never throw a leg over a top tube without one on my melon.
None of those are the top tip, anyway.
A top triathlete in a town just an hour from my house was training for an upcoming triathlon. I’d guess she was deep in the pain cave because she didn’t see the car in the opposing lane dart into her lane to pass the car in front. The driver hit her head on. She didn’t make it.
If I had a dollar for every accident I’ve avoided, I’d have a nice set of carbon fiber wheels for both my wife and I. With the added bonus of not being stuck in a hospital bed, or worse.
The key to keeping the rubber side down on a bike at all times is paying attention. At all times.
This isn’t, of course, to say that we catch everything if we pay attention. I don’t. I can’t. But I come pretty close, and the important thing is that I’m paying attention for the big stuff. As was the case with the triathlete above, one little lapse – running in the red just a little too hard with your head down at the wrong second can be the difference between coming home and not.
Head on a swivel is how I ride. That’s my number one safety tip.
Number two would probably be “safety in numbers”, but I only mentioned the number one tip in the Title.
Last night’s club ride was comical as they get. Jonathan texted me after, at 9pm to warn me not to look at my bike till I have time to clean it. I hadn’t planned on it. The bike is sitting in the living room as I type this, drying out…
There was a Zero percent chance of rain from 4pm to 8pm. Perfect, as we were riding from 5:30 to 7. Zero percent. Not five or ten percent. Not fifteen or twenty. Zero.
Our six mile warm-up was relatively dry if the road was a bit damp. It wasn’t like we had to watch out for rooster-tails. We’d had rain earlier in the day but that was all over, according to two weather service apps.
Done with the warm-up, we gathered in the parking lot to wait for the start. The crowd was sparse at best, no doubt because of the damp (not wet), cool, cloudy weather. A quick decision was made to combine the A and B groups.
We rolled out as one…
The first mile and some change was wonderful. The pace was calm and serene. I almost expected to see a prancing unicorn fart a rainbow.
We made a right, into the breeze, and that unicorn took a $#!+ and got on it. The pace definitely wasn’t outrageous but it was fast. That’s the glorious nature of a headwind on a really fast group – those at the front are having a tough time keeping the pace while those at the back are having a nice chat. We did have a nice few miles.
I can’t recall exactly when it started misting – technically not rain – but before long, we were climbing hills while trying to duck away from rooster-tail spray. The first set of hills were miraculously reasonable, but after a long, shallow descent we were back to the hills again and I was up front. My legs were cold and they weren’t quite working as I would normally expect so I was way into the red trying to muscle up a fairly simple hill. I made it to the crest and tapped out, drifting to the back making a lot of noise I normally wouldn’t for the labored breathing.
I held on, though. I got to the back and mustered a push to latch on and took the next mile to calm my breathing down.
Then there was a decision to make. Either split the B group off or stay with the A’s. They’d said they would keep it reasonable if we wanted to stay with them and they’d done a fair job of that to the 18 mile mark (we were only at 23-mph for an average, normally they’d be at 25+). Several of us decided to take our toys and head for home at a more reasonable pace and cutting three miles off. I was disappointed that I wanted to head back early but I was tired of chewing on road grit and I was quite cold (knee warmers, arm warmers, jersey & shorts – it was in the mid-50’s [14C] and wet). We rolled well that last ten miles and the pace was slightly more reasonable.
I skipped the intermediate sprint because it didn’t seem quite right to blow the energy when we were plowing through the wet roads. We just kept the line rolling. The next eight miles was just doing my part and hanging with the group. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary.
Coming up to the final sprint, Chuck was up front pulling at about 20-mph when he arm-flicked out to a new kid on an old, steel Specialized Allez. He immediately got on the gas and started cranking it up. I waited till he got up to what I thought was a good speed and went, pushing my cold legs for all they were worth. I’d almost gone too early but managed to keep the push on at 31-mph just long enough to take the sprint. I think it was Jonathan in second and Chucker pipped the new guy for third.
We soft pedaled after that, and took it back to base, soggy, cold, and in need of some heat. It was tired fist bumps and laughs that last half-mile.
My friends, it was an ugly night, but dinner sure did taste good. Thankfully I’d put a fleece pullover in my truck as an afterthought, just in case I wanted something to change into after the ride so I wouldn’t be chilly during the club board meeting.
Good thing I had because that was likely the only thing between me and pneumonia. It was one of those nights that puts hair on your chest. If I needed anymore hair on my chest at 48-years-old. Which I don’t (especially no more gray… where did they come from!).
Stats for the ride:
28.28 miles in 1h:15m:51s for an average speed of 22.4-mph (my buddy Chuck got 22.6 on his Garmin). 503 feet of elevation gain with an estimated average power of 234w. I had a high wattage of 804 and a max speed of 31.1-mph (50 km/h)
A special thanks to the A Group for the exceptional pace – it was just right [insert “gentlemanly bow” emoji here]. And a personal thank you to Todd… Big fella, riding behind you is like drafting a battleship. Thanks, brother.
You’re out on a ride and you walk into some wet grass to get to a porta-john. You hit the snack stand at the rest area, refill your water bottles and head for your bike. You throw your leg over the top tube, clip your first foot into the pedal and wait for the call to roll…
“Let’s roll”, you hear, and push off. You clip your second foot in and pedal for the road. You hit 17-1/2-mph and hear, “squeak, squeak, squeak….” every time your right foot hits the bottom of the pedal stroke. Within three-quarters of a mile, you’re mental over the squeaky cleat.
DO NOT DISPAIR!
At the next rest stop, after you’ve eaten your banana, rub the peel on your cleat and where it will contact the pedal. You don’t have to make a total mess of it, just a little goes a long way.
No more squeaky cleat.
It had been raining all morning long and I’d resigned myself to a day off. My daughter was diving in County’s so the rain day was probably for the best. Then it cleared up.
I headed home – immediately, if not sooner.
I prepped my bike and rolled, finding that I was going to have a tailwind heading out. The sun was shining between the clouds and it was mercifully mild in temperature.
A guy on a motorcycle passed opposite me so I gave him the international two-wheeled vehicle salute (peace sign, pointing with the left hand and down at about 20°). He saluted back.
I rolled up to an intersection and another fella on a motorcycle went straight through and I followed behind him.
I tucked down in the drops and enjoyed the sunshine and the crosswind. A right with a tailwind, another left and I was into city streets. 25-mph speed limits and relatively safe. Three-quarters of a mile later and I was on city neighborhood streets.
A quick trip through the subdivision and I was thinking about how good it was to be me. There are two banking lefthand corners that are only lefts (or rights coming the other way), so we always hit them fast and lean in hard. They’re why adults ride bicycles, not to put too fine a point on it. I hit the first corner at 25, leaning hard into the corner, looking left through to the straightaway. I felt like an older, slower, fatter Peter Sagan.
Don’t get too cocky on me, you know exactly what I mean.
The second was a carbon copy, only fueled by some tailwind. Through the subdivision to a protected right turn. The cool thing is, that turn banks a little on the inside so if you hit it right, you feel like you’re riding on a rail. I nailed it.
Next up is an ugly intersection. There’s no cheating it, no cutting it short, and no messing around. Traffic comes down that road blind and cars often turn trying to short the corner. I almost got drilled there last summer, a car tried to cheat the corner. If I’d been stopped, one foot down, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now.
The intersection was clear, so up the little hill I went. Into the wind.
Cresting the hill, I saw something on the side of the road that didn’t look right. A heap of something on the side of the road and a woman walking frantically in the street.
That’s when I recognized the motorcyclist from earlier. He was laying back down on the asphalt. I asked the woman if the police had been called as I put my bike in the ditch and kneeled down next to the man who’d beaten me through the intersection five miles before.
He was bleeding slighly from the back of his head and his melon lay unnaturally flat against the road. He was awake, but not what you could call “alert”. He was moving, but couldn’t talk. More of a mumble mixed with a moan.
There were pieces of his leather vest, buttons, and trinkets scattered on the road. His front fender was smashed, and his leg was laying over the seat. The other bent beneath the other. That’s when I heard the sirens. They were fairly close.
I touched the top of his hand and said to hold on, that help was on the way. His arm reached out a bit, but his wrist and fingers were bent in – not unnaturally, but as if he had mild arthritis. Then his other arm, but closer to his chest.
A State Police SUV pulled up and the trooper stepped out. He walked over, so I backed away. Another State Police cruiser, then an unmarked. Another officer came over, looked at the other trooper and said, “He’s posturing”.
I didn’t know what that was until I Googled it after I got home. It’s not good.
The guy who’d hit him, driving a pickup truck with a 16′ covered trailer, put his head in his hands and said, “I didn’t even see him”.
Isn’t that how it usually goes. That’s not a question.
I asked the trooper if he needed me to stick around. He asked if I actually saw the accident and said in could go when I indicated I hadn’t.
I got back on my bike and rolled on, trying to hold it together as I passed a fire truck rolling toward me. A mile later, on a main road again, I saw a cyclist coming at me, one of my friends. He turned around and rode back with me, having just been caught in the rain a couple of miles north of our current position.
I couldn’t shake the look on the guy’s face and the blood pooling up under his head. His praying mantis arms and hands… I said a prayer for him.
I told McMike the story at stop light because I just needed to share it.
I shared it again with my wife when I got home. I Googled “posturing” related to traumatic accidents. It signifies severe brain damage.
Folks, if that motorist had turned in front of me, theres no knowing if I’d survive it. I just know I would have a better chance wearing a helmet. I saw what no helmet looks like, and I don’t want it. Not even a little bit.
I was down to my cruising weight about two months ago. Now I’m just having fun with it. I figure, why not get light going into Thanksgiving this year. Then I can simply watch what I eat the rest of the winter and I’ll be a lot happier, and lighter, next spring (I let this last winter get me a little bit).
I’ve been losing about a pound a week for the last five weeks since I had my yearly physical and I’ve decided to keep that up. The doctor’s assistant called a week after the appointment and said my bad cholesterol came back a little high. She also added that my ratio was good, I just had to watch what I was eating a little more closely.
I took that to heart, of course, and changed how I ate immediately. I didn’t completely cut the
crap tasty food out, I’m simply more mindful about what it is I’m eating most of the time. The way I see it, I’m way too active to be a saint all of the time.
The prescription was pretty simple. Eat smarter, more fast miles. Rinse and repeat. The results have been uplifting, if expected.
Keeping fit, active, healthy, and most important, out of the doctor’s office and the prescription medication trap, is a simple equation on any one of my bikes. (Eat well + get fit) x ride hard = smile more.
So that brings me to my Physician Avoidance and Sanity Stabilizing Unit for Order, Thankfulness and Levity… or P.A.S.S.U.O.T.L.
Or pass you on the left…
Ride hard, my friends. It’s cheaper than the doctor – and I’d rather cough up the funds for the McLaren* of race bikes than fund my doctor’s vacation home… if you know what I mean
*Or a Ford GT40 if we’re talking about the Trek – if you know your car and race bike history, you know putting the two together is quite accurate, historically speaking.
I own a large, commercial construction company. Before I was an owner I was a manager of a similar company as far back as my late 20’s. I was on the board of my church. Now I’m the president of our cycling club.
Being on the board of my church sucked. We got a new pastor and things went downhill fast. It went from a legit spiritual sanctuary to a ridiculous far left extremist parody. My wife and I quit the whole thing, or rather, we were run out. Lesson one.
Owning a construction company is a lot tougher than managing one. Lesson number two.
The cycling club is a labor of love. I was asked to be the president and I accepted. Everything was great for two years. Then the bureaucrats rolled in… Lesson number three.
Somehow I always manage to find my way to the top of whatever I do (my wife is so afflicted as well). This doesn’t have anything to do with an egotistical, “because we’re so awesome”, either. No, it’s more because we’re willing to take the job – because anyone who knows anything about being a leader of people, it’s not all that glamorous. You have to be willing to be the chief floor sweeper and the lead paperwork completer… as a bonus, everyone gets to point their finger at you when things get tough – and you, being at the top, have to figure that $#!+ out. Better, everyone above you is looking to pay you less and most below you are looking for ways to get the most money for the least amount of work (and then come up with excuses for why that’s your fault when they get caught). In other words, being at the top usually isn’t as “at the top” as you think, and it’s a lot less glamorous than you think.
I have been a fan of hotdogs for more than 42 years. I have ADD (or ADHD, take your pick), so when I was just five years-old, to get me to slow down long enough to eat lunch, my mom would cut up a hotdog and set the plate on the living room coffee table. I would do laps around the table, picking up a piece of glorious hotdog every two laps… and that’s how I ate lunch. Decades ago, people tried to turn me off to hotdogs because of “how they’re made”. Later it was the “processed food” crowd. I still love ’em. Grilled or nuked with my wife’s chili on them… I love those little tubes of goodness.
Running things is a lot like a hotdog. It only looks fun from the outside. Once you realize how those dogs are made, it takes a little of the tastiness away. And that’s a crying shame.
What’s the lesson, though?
I don’t give a f*** how hotdogs are made. Those bastards taste great.