Recently I passed over the 100 mile mark for miles ridden outside on my road bike. In honor of this milestone, I thought it would be fun to chronicle some of the lessons I have learned about bike riding.
One of the first things that struck me about road biking was the gears. My bike has gears in the front and the back, with the left hand controlling the front and the right hand controlling the rear. Yes, I do remember this by thinking “right in the rear” and make myself giggle. Unlike an internal hub, with a derailleur you can’t change gears while you’re stopped, otherwise very bad things happen. You also can’t change gears when a lot of weight is on the pedals, so you have to think ahead. Thinking ahead can’t happen when you make a turn and find a steep hill, so then you find yourself muscling your way up a 4% grade hill as though it were a proper mountain. As an aside, people who helpfully try to tell me to downshift and spin up the hills are under the impression that I have more leg strength than I actually do. There are never enough gears!
Did you know that you’re supposed to pump your tires before each ride? Well, now I do. Also, the tire pressure you pump your tires up to is conveniently written on the side wall. Convenient if you don’t suffer from terrible eyesight, that is. Bike tires have inner tubes inside of them, so if you get a puncture, you actually change the tube, not the tire. If you need to change your tire, you’re having a really bad day. Bikes also need to be cleaned, to include de-greasing the chain and re-lubing it. Pro tip: when hosing down your bike, remove the electronics first, so you don’t fry an otherwise perfectly good cadence sensor and then get a bit of a lecture about why you can never have nice things.
We’re not talking apparel here. I’ll save that for another day. This is the stuff it turns out every cyclist should never leave home without. I have lights, a multi tool, levers, spare tube, patch kit, money, ID, my cell phone, and a pump. My pump fastens right next to my water bottle cage. The lights go on the frame, with the white in the front and the red in the back. Everything else fits into a little bag that goes under my saddle. Also, you call the seat a saddle. No one knows why, but when you do, it's like a secret password to the cyclist club. Okay, actually one thing about apparel. Sunglasses, as it turns out, are not just for the sun. They also keep out bugs and dust and stuff. Very handy!
Even for someone like me, who rides predominantly on a multi use trail, you have to get there. While I’ve seen some people in my neighborhood put their bike on the car and drive to the trail, I think that seems like a hassle, so I just ride the 4ish miles there. Naturally, that means I ride with the drivers for 8 miles out of every ride. Drivers in Northern Virginia do not understand traditional cyclist hand signals, so you should instead point emphatically in the direction you want to go. Drivers will also pass a road cyclist wearing Spandex much closer and faster than they pass a city cyclist wearing street clothes Setting your lights to flashing during the daytime makes you stand out, and drivers will give you a bit more clearance and courtesy. The first time a driver honked at me for no reason, I was so scared I peed my pants. I understand many seasoned triathletes struggle with peeing on the bike in long course racing, so I’m happy to be excelling in that area.
While I imagine some people, my future self included, will look on this list of “lessons” with a bit of a smile at my ignorance, I think it is important to accept how little I know. There’s something comforting about being on the march toward middle age and continuing to learn new things and take on new adventures. I still know so little about bikes, but these are the things I have learned in the last 100 miles. Here’s to adventure, and many hundreds of miles more.