Some Bike Milestones

You wouldn’t know if for what little training has been going on in my life the last couple weeks, but this month I’ve had some good cycling milestones.  Giving some thought to these milestones is just what I need right now.  After admitting to myself that I was feeling exceptionally blah, I thought that would be the kick start I needed to get back into the swing of things.  It wasn’t, and I actually spent four days last week doing absolutely nothing, save a bit of senseless crying.  Now I’m trying to head into the next two weeks before Reston with a renewed sense of vigor.  You know what goes really well with vigor?  Self-congratulatory reminiscing about bike stuff!  In the last month I had a bike birthday, the longest ride ever, and my first puncture.

Last August I bought a used Linus Dutchi 8 from a friend.  It was meant to be my safe and friendly introduction back into riding.  Swoopy and upright, with an internal hub and fitted for all my grocery getting needs, I named her Peggy, and she came through like a champ.  I remember being scared going downhill the first time, riding the brakes the entire way down.  I remember riding to the top of “the hill” and feeling like I’d conquered Everest.  Best of all, I remember how great it was when I really started enjoying my time on the bike.  I’m an anxious and nervous person, and being on a bike made me feel wobbly, out of control, and like I had a target on my back.  Lots of times I still feel that way on my road bike.  But one day, on Peggy, I realized I felt good.  No big deal, just me and my bike, out doing bike things.  While I haven’t put nearly as many miles in as I thought I would, I still look forward to spending time with my swoopy steed.  Happy Birthday, Peggy!

Dutch bikes are wonderful, but they aren’t going to get you far on the bike leg of a triathlon, so most of my time this year has been on my road bike.  Given my anxiety and wobbliness, it should come as no surprise that during the week I get most of my rides in on the trainer.  On the weekends, in the early morning when the sun is just coming up and the traffic is light, I hit the roads.  Earlier this month, I got in my longest ride ever: 30 miles!  In addition to this being a milestone ride, it also helped me get the monkey off my back with regard to covering the race distance, since I added in a 3 mile run to make it a brick workout.  I started out in a bad place for that ride, with some saddle pain less than an hour in, and aching shoulders for the last eight miles.  By the time I hit the red caboose in Herndon, I was feeling better, and I was in a more mentally positive place on the way home.  As I cruised into the apartment complex, I realized I had gone 29.8 miles, so naturally I did a quick loop around the complex to bring home in 30.

I've been working all year toward this picture!

I've been working all year toward this picture!

I had no idea when I finished up my milestone ride that I had picked up another– my first flat tire.  It had to have been a slow leak, as all systems were go as I parked that day.  My bike leaned against the dining table for the next two days, and it wasn’t until Tuesday night that I realized the front wheel was completely flat.  A quick inspection, and I discovered a teeny little sharp piece of rock wedged into the tire.  Thank goodness I got to practice changing the puncture at home instead of on the side of the road.  After a bit of back and forth online with people who know way more than me, it was determined that I needed a new tire, since the rock had sliced all the way through.  With my race just a few weeks away, did I really want to have the added anxiety of riding on a patched tire?  No, no I did not.

This is my confident face.  No, really.

This is my confident face.  No, really.

That’s when the mechanical shenanigans really got going.  With the replacement in hand, I settled down to get the tube changed and put the new tire on.  Friday night done right!  I am in complete awe of the people on youtube who can zip through a tire change in a couple minutes.  It took me quite a bit of time to muscle the tire off the rim.  And getting the tire back on after the tube is replaced?  Maybe practice makes perfect, but if that’s the case, I’m really good at swearing now.  So there I was, finally ready to pump up the tire.  I was getting some weird hard and soft spots, and then the tire popped off the rim.  Turned out that the tube had some kind of defect, with spots that ballooned up and others that wouldn’t inflate.  No worries, I had another spare tube…

Except I didn’t.  Well, I did, but it didn’t last.  J decided he wanted to give the tube changing a go.  He likes to mess with stuff like that, and I was crazy busy playing Sudoku on my phone.  Anyway, long story short, pinch flat and blowout.  Whoops!  A few hiccups and missteps, but before long I was the proud owner of 5 properly sized inner tubes.  Installation went well, the new tire was put on, and finally (finally!) I was good to go.

Which bring us to today.  August is almost over, and I feel like I’m walking around in a fog.  Sometimes each day can be a bit of a struggle.  You take things one day at a time, and suddenly its 10 weeks later and you don’t really know where the time went.  I’m going through a rough patch right now, so it’s nice to be able to put together some thoughts about things that are going right.  Not that a puncture is ever right, but I’m excited to celebrate every single milestone available to me.  One day I’m going to look back at this and laugh, because 30 miles will be a quick ride, and changing a flat will be easy!

Lessons Learned in 100 Miles

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.  

And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.
— Albus Dumbledore

Gearing

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!

 

Maintenance

Bath day for my steeds

Bath day for my steeds

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.

 

Accessories

Everything I need fits in this little bag.  I can even put my phone and keys in here!  Plus my lights fits on the back.  total win!

Everything I need fits in this little bag.  I can even put my phone and keys in here!  Plus my lights fits on the back.  total win!

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!

 

Drivers

I spend most of my time on the rail trail, not on the road

I spend most of my time on the rail trail, not on the road

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.