Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Of Molehills and Mountains

The last few weeks, I have found myself in a very reflective state which also seems to coincide with the inability to look at things with any sort of detachment or objectivity. Sometimes, this happens because I'm attempting to protect my reflective period and what comes from it, and other times it just seems to just be what it is - whether good or bad.

There is an ebb and flow to these feelings and while I am always aware of my emotions there are times when I find it impossible to write anything here that is in any way technical. These are the days when I find myself thinking on where I have been, where things are going, and how I intend to get to a given point.
What I have noticed during this time is that there is a correlation between my processing and how I face rides. When I'm focused and able to take on the particulars of a subject, I concentrate my energy while riding and feel confident in climbing and even pushing myself in regard to speed. I believe myself able to tackle anything that is put in my path and while I am aware that I'm not much faster than any other day, somehow I feel and think myself more capable.

The opposite is also true. When I'm not feeling mentally up-to-par, I find myself defeated before I've even started. In fact, sometimes I don't even bother to start because I'm convinced that I will just end up a quivering pile on the side of the road. Logically, I know this isn't true, but it's easy to convince myself otherwise when I've dug myself into a mental hole.

This has been a rough season in regard to cycling. Not only have I faced physical challenges that I didn't want to deal with, but I've had a lot of bike/mechanical/fit issues to contend with and it's created a mild amount of depression. Pulling out of those darker thoughts some days is challenging, but if I have learned anything from riding a bicycle it is that choosing to do nothing will in no way help matters.

As we near the end of August, I can feel my insides craving some sort of challenge. I can sense that doing nothing significant this year is eating at me, tearing at my self-worth.  I haven't climbed any ridiculous mountains, I haven't chased any sort of personally unattainable distance, and in fact, I haven't even scheduled or registered for any event at all this year.

Several days ago, I told Sam that I wanted to go and ride Rebecca's Private Idaho. It's an absolutely ludicrous thought because I haven't ridden more than 40 miles in a stretch at all this year, and those "longer" rides have felt like torture, having need to stop every 3-5 miles to work out pains and problem spots. More recently, a long ride is somewhere in the vicinity of about 20 miles. As stated, this definitely hasn't been an all-star year, and it is obvious that I am in no physical shape to take on a major challenge.

Still, I have this urge to attempt a ride that seems insurmountable. I haven't quite decided if the reasoning is simply because I believe I've missed out on too much and want to make up for it, or because I have some sort of sick desire to prove myself incapable of completing a big venture in my current state.

I've pretty well decided that Rebecca's Private Idaho isn't happening. It's too close in time to the Leadville extravaganza and there is much that needs attention here at home which doesn't really allow for several more days away so close to our last departure. Not to mention that there is a ridiculous amount of climbing involved for someone who hasn't pedaled uphill much at all this year.

With all of the pondering though, I realize my great capacity to turn little things into big, and vice versa, depending on my frame of mind.

On one hand, I try to allow myself some leeway, some kindness in dealing with persistent injuries. It's the part of me that understands that healing takes time and pushing things physically isn't always the right option.

On the other side, I question why I don't push harder and simply deal with the pain. After all, there are those in far worse situations than me. I cannot help but feel somewhat like a failure for not being able to drive myself to do the things that are more challenging at present.

In spite of the mental battles that often take place, I am so thankful to still be riding. I may not be taking on the challenges I'd hoped to face this year, but there is time enough for all of these things. My body is slowly healing and I'm finding ways to stretch distance on the bike when things aren't quite so painful. Who knows? I may still get to one of those ambitious goals yet this year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A 2015 Leadville Trail 100 MTB Experience

As promised, Sam has written up his thoughts on the recently finished 2015 Leadville Trail 100 MTB. It's always an interesting place to be - on the other side of an event like this - as a spectator, having opinions and experiences of my own. But, I've definitely given my side as an observer on events like this in the past, so this will mostly focus on Sam's experience as a racer in the event (though I'm sure I'll put in my two cents occasionally).

I will share though that this is now my second year of silently and (honestly) unintentionally stalking the Hammer (aka Fatty's wife, Lisa) in Leadville. It happens so innocently in such a small community -- really. I just find myself standing at a tent behind her and then I just happen to be standing in front of another display where she is also present. I'll admit, it does sound stalker-ish.
There is slight fear in me that there will be a restraining order filed at some point, which does cause some concern - especially because my quick snaps seem to be getting closer, but maybe one of these days I'll actually try speaking to her instead of just silently observing. Truly, I am harmless though.
This was a three-for: Purple Arrow (hard to make out, so you'll just have to take my word for it): the Queen of Pain herself, Rebecca Rusch; Blue Arrow (even more challenging to identify as he's behind someone): Fatty; Red Arrow: the Hammer
There's just that part of me that doesn't know what to say to someone I admire or look up to; so instead, I just look like some goofball, quietly taking photos (how does one have the reserves to stay calm when a crazy person standing five feet away is giggling and snapping pictures??). I've just never been that person to walk up to someone and disturb what they're doing, and so, instead, I watch and figure maybe somehow being near her will cause her amazingness to rub off on me? Maybe?

But, anyway, it wasn't all Hammer sightings for this trip (I was actually very close to Rebecca Rusch at one point too - so close I could've taken a moment to say something, but I didn't). In fact, we were there for a purpose. Sam was trying to crush his finish time from last year and complete the race for the first time on a single speed. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was worth a shot.

So, without further delay, here is Sam's replay of the happenings on race day in Leadville this year.
In 2014, who knew where I was headed. It was a dramatic year, quite busy with moving, renovating, and changing jobs - and then coming back to the previously left employment position. I'd also completed the early qualifier for Leadville by racing the Barn Burner in Flagstaff. Which, brings us to the present: the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.

Very early in the year I had decided to do this race on a single speed - 104 miles, one speed, and no suspension. It didn't sound like a bad idea, so I figured, why not?

The weeks leading up to the race itself were highly dramatic and stressful. I swear I had the flu 4 times, then a cold. I had also started a new job the week before the race and had a family member fly in who was supposed to be coming to watch our dogs while we were gone, which ended up blowing up in our faces just hours before we left. [G.E. note: Yes, it was a bit stressful trying to figure out what to do with our pups, but thankfully we have awesome friends who volunteered to help us out.]

August 15: Oddly enough, on the big day I felt pretty damn good.  I had trained like crazy since winter, riding fast, fast, fast road rides, chasing faster riders, lots of single speed, but per usual not much actual mountain biking. [G.E. note: True story. I will attest that Sam did lots of riding this year, but oddly didn't seem to be on the mountain bike much.]

This being my second year riding Leadville, I did not have the same nerves I did last year, so the morning rolled around, and I was pretty calm. The bike was setup well, and I even tarped it the night before so moisture would not collect on the metal bits. [G.E. note: And, because it tends to rain in spurts in the mountains without much notice.]

I had an oddly unbalanced breakfast of half a bagel, some fruit, and a small blueberry muffin. Meh, I wasn't overly concerned because I'd be pounding a GU pack every 30 mins for the next 10+ hours, so who cares?
By 6 am, I was nicely settled next to the containment rail in the orange corral [G.E. note: riders are separated into corrals based on prior series finish times], already needing to pee, but not wanting to break the seal (I would wait at least 30 miles to do that).  G.E. was there, camera in hand, having eaten half a banana, and ready to go. It was oddly warm this year, already in the 40's near start time, so it was looking good (seriously, why was I not nervous?).

Around 6:15, Dave Wiens kid sings the national anthem [G.E. note: Ben Wiens], some rhetoric bellows out of the speakers, then some music, and at 6:30 we are off!  Slowly.
It was highly uneventful at the beginning, as it's a rolling start out of town and it was impossible for me to be too frantic with only one gear. It's probably the most demoralizing thing when everyone initially blows past because you spin out at about 16mph/25kph.  Needless to say, we made it to the base of Saint Kevins (pronounced: key-vins).

The march had begun and I was feeling good with my 33x17 gearing, my carbon, rigid fork, and custom G.E. painted frame. [G.E. note: The paint job was not great considering the time/tools used, but it was colorful.]  About 100 yards into an early climb, I spotted a fellow rider, frantic on the side with his chain in hand and yelling for help.

Ugh. I stop. I don't want to stop because I know that I need to keep moving, but how could I ignore someone asking for help?

This guy is shaking as he tells me that he "chain sucked," and then proceeded to break a solid link in the chain with his tool instead of using the king link that is there for this exact reason. He is now attempting to re-insert the pin he took out, which is NOT intended for re-insertion.

Sadly, I have done exactly what he was attempting to do in the past myself [G.E. note: Yes, and I was the "benefactor" of that mistake - but that is all in the distant past and a tale for another time and place.], and here I was riding this huge event and knowing that I had to try to help him.

As I started to hold the chain for him, a couple of nice women near the end of the passing riders offered an extra king link they had with them. I was grateful that one of the riders had a link because neither he nor I were prepared for this sort of fix.

It took about 10-15 minutes, but we got him back riding again, despite his concerns that he was now not going to be able to finish the race. He continued to talk about how much training he had done and was quite upset, but I told him he just didn't have the luxury of stopping or screwing around. He would have to ride hard to finish. I wished him luck, and pushed him on his way.
This crew members shirt said it all.
This was a dark moment. A moment of realization. I was now in last place - literally. The sweep crew were on their 4-wheelers, sitting behind me in silence.  I knew the chase was on - just me and my one gear!

I proceeded to hammer up Kevins, and for about one mile I did not see anyone. Then, pay dirt. I started swallowing up riders - one, two, ten, 100 - until we peaked Kevins.  I knew at this point that I would not stop much at all. I no longer had that right to stop, just as I had preached to my broken-chain friend.

After Kevins, I rolled down hill, which for a single speed really is a roll because once in the 20 mph/32 kph range, there's no point in even trying to pedal.  This would also roll me up the Sugarloaf climb a bit.

At this point, I had realized my sweet spot on a single speed seems to be in the range of a 2-4% grade, at which point it's easy to feel like superman compared to other riders. It's just the reality of being on a single speed though - when there's only one gear, I have no choice but to push, so I would pass riders as though they were still.  I hammered up the climb, then carefully flew down the Powerline as best I could without suspension or a reasonable gear to get some speed.

After descending Powerline, the path leads into Pipeline and then Twin Lakes. I saw G.E. at the Pipeline aid station, snapping pics. We had already agreed that I would not stop here unless it was absolutely necessary. She yelled out, asking if I was okay, I nodded and proceeded on through. [G.E. note: Sam was smiling here as he rolled through, but it's always a little interesting as someone waiting. You wait and you look and you hope for your rider to be coming around the bend or over the hill, and then suddenly it's over in a flash.]
Pipeline is its own challenge as it is totally different from other areas of the race.  It's nearly all flat pavement, and jeep road all the way to the dam. Then at the base of the Columbine climb we've hit about mile 40.  Last year I was able to hook up with some other riders and make a small peloton so we could break each other. This time was different because of my gearing. I tried to latch onto a couple of riders, but they were maintaining more in the mid 20mph range, and I could not force myself above 19-20mph, so it was tough all the way to the base of the big climb.

At the bottom of Columbine, I did not stop. I had kept going through the Twin lakes aid station, knowing I had enough food to hit the 52 mile crest on top of Columbine at about 12,500 feet.  To this point, I was physically feeling great compared to last year, and the bike was doing great.

[G.E. note: We had discussed me being at the base of Columbine before Sam went up in case he needed anything. Last year, I'd thought it had taken me so long to get here because I'd been waiting for other crew for another rider; but this year, even after rushing to get there, I still missed him. I've determined that the ride for racers between these two spots is too short and the travel for crew members too long to be able to connect here it seems - at least on the way out. I kept waiting to see Sam coming around the corner, only to soon find that there were no more racers coming - as time had been called at the check point.]

My upcoming struggle became sitting behind people who had the ability to spin at about 2.5 mph. My gear ratio would not allow this, so instead I stood and pedaled in slow motion. There was a lot of this happening the entire Columbine climb, as it isn't always easy to pass.

I was doing better though than last year. I was faster and passed when I needed to and was able. I also didn't get the sick altitude feeling until about three quarters of the way up (which was an improvement from last year).

There are a couple of sections during which, for regular folk like me, we walk. I walked them just like the rest of the riders around me. When I rolled into the turn around at the top of the climb, I spent one minute getting water refilled, and grabbed all the GU that people were handing out.  I was on my way home!
I love seeing all the different types of bikes and riders during races. These "chicken helmet" tandem riders seemed to be smiling a lot during the race.
The descent was pretty fast for me, but I'm a really, really bad descender. Compounded with that is my rigid front fork, which began to destroy my hands as the day was wearing on and I continued to drop down the mountain.  It went as smooth and as fast as I could have imagined, and I had caught and passed two other single speeders that I had briefly spoke to on the way up.  My goal at that point was to keep them behind me, by continually moving.

[G.E. note: At this point, Sam's mom had been emailing me nearly constantly, asking if I'd seen him. Then, she said that she saw he had just crossed Pipeline via a Twitter update. I was so confused because I hadn't seen Sam come off of Columbine yet and I knew he didn't have any GU left. Eventually, we figured out that she was receiving late notifications and that it had been from his first pass through on the outbound trip. Argh.]

At the end of the Columbine descent, I met up with G.E., who was standing across from a Specialized tent. The guys were there, offering quick fixes for anyone in need. G.E. hooked me up with my second half of the GU ration, more water, and some very quick photos. [G.E. note: It is not easy to be single-person crew and single-person photographer for the same rider, I have to say. Thank goodness for the help of the Specialized guy across the way!]

The Specialized guy pulled trash from my back pocket and tried to help G.E. who was a bit flustered in the moment. I told G.E. that I had lost one of my water bottles going up Columbine.  I'm so damn short that my frame won't allow two water bottles inside the diamond, but I do have a lower mount beneath my down tube which allows me to carry two. When I had pulled the bottom bottle at one point, I skimmed my hand on the front tire, and  dropped it, so I was now down to only one bottle.
Sam's send off from Columbine. I thanked this guy again and again as he was super helpful in my moment of trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing for Sam.
A quick push off from the Specialized tent guy and I was moving again. [G.E. note: I feel badly that I didn't get his name. All three of the guys here were fantastic though!]  I had all the food I would need for the rest of the miles, so I was back on my way quickly.

I continued my travel back toward "home." All those road miles - something some wouldn't expect for a mountain bike race. This time it was different. Once again, I was doing a bit better and I came up on the back side of a large 30 person peloton and took refuge. About three minutes in, I could see the front guy trying to signal someone to come up and lead, but nobody would take it.  I lurched to the front with my one gear rolling at about 15mph, and decided I would lead.

Sadly, I was pulling away from this group, but I couldn't slow for them and many seemed to be dropping back. Another guy hooked up with me who was a self-professed terrible climber.  We worked together until we reached the single track area.

The single track became a track of frustration.  Once I reached this point, I got stuck behind some more Sunday pedalers, drifting along at their own fantastically slow pace, and I was nearly riding up them the whole way.  Somehow I still PR'ed this whole section, so I must have been really slow last year.
At the inbound/return to Pipeline. I could see Sam was getting tired, but he looked much better than last year at this same spot in the race.
Even though they aren't far apart from each other, G.E. managed to meet me back at Pipeline before I would head back up to Powerline. This would be our last meet up at about mile 72. She hooked me up with a water refill, and I had picked up a new water bottle from one of the aid people handing out GU/Roctane liquid about 100 ft. before I saw her. She is my "crew." One person crews don't get any credit. There is actually quite a bit of hiking in some spots and carrying lots of stuff around, sometimes worrying, and other times some photography. Sometimes I think it might be as challenging as the ride. [G.E. note: Um, I don't think crewing is anywhere near as challenging as the ride, but there's a decent amount of hauling stuff and walking for sure - especially when moving around to different locations.]

At this point, I'm now headed to Powerline.  I walked it last year, and I surely knew I would this year with no spinning gear to power me up it. It's a long, hot, frigging walk up to mile 80.

There wasn't much eventful to tell here. It's hard, hot walking, super dusty, and a few brave folks trying to ride very slowly up it, but it was generally failure.  I continued to walk, and walk some more.  Finally we crest and can get the hell out of there. With somewhere around 24 miles left to ride, I'm beat. When I hit the mid-70 mile marker, all the good feeling had gone out of me. The cramping had begun in my quads from the extreme single speed mashing effort, I was tired, full of GU, and all I wanted was water and to finish the race.

Finally, I reach the Sugarloaf downhill before climbing up the back side of Kevins. There's still some hike-a-bike here and there, but we are moving well, and I'm seeing a ton of my group that I had seen most of this half of the day. The climb was not too terrible, and we were finally starting to get out of there.

The last twelve miles includes the decent of Kevins. It is rocky, but as a rider, you simply don't care anymore. I went as fast as I could and got clear out into the plains, which lead me to the 100 mile mark (will this ever end?), then to a road crossing, where the route puts racers through one more single mile climb in the dirt.

This last dirt climb puts riders out onto the pavement for a couple of miles, after which we turn a few times and make that final right turn onto the boulevard. It's such a great feeling to be here, but it also inflicts one last CLIMB to the finish for a half mile. [G.E. note: Why does every race do this? It's as though you haven't been punished enough during the ride, so the organizers put that last climb right at the end, just for good measure.]
Sam approaches the finish line, after passing a couple of other racers.
I was determined to pass everyone in that last section on my pathetic single speed, and I did. [G.E. note: Waiting at the finish line is the most painful part of this race to me. Not only are crew tired themselves from the length of the day, but Sam had wanted to finish the race in sub-10 hours this year (last year, he finished just under 11 hours). It seemed a lofty goal, especially given that he was geared last year and went single this year, but I had high hopes too. As time kept ticking and we closed in on that 10 hour mark at the finish line, I still hadn't spotted him. It was almost as though I could feel the disappointment for him. However, I also realized that he may well have given up his sub:10 hour finish by stopping to help a racer in need. Honestly, I couldn't have been more proud that he chose to help a stranded rider and give up his own goal, rather than achieving his own objective and knowing he'd left someone who needed assistance.]
With a finishing time of 10:29 and some change, I was about 24 minutes faster than last year, and feeling a bit better all around. It leaves room for improvement too, so I suppose I can't be too disappointed in that.
Some additional notes that have no specific place within the tale of the ride itself:
- The bike was flawless, which is fantastic.
- Every other comment was about the frame paint job (kudos to G.E.!) [G.E. note: You asked for late 80s-early 90s inspired paint, and you got it. :O)]
- Most other comments were, "Single speed - Go single speed!"
- There were several mutterings of "Look at that little guy."
- I never saw my confused, broken chain friend again, but I hope he finished.
- No possible way that I could have done this without G.E.'s support, both throughout the year and during this event. [G.E. note: I'm not sure I actually did all that much this year. It's amazing how inept and entirely un-useful I started to feel toward the end.]

An aside:
We were discussing the let down in the aftermath of such a big event like this.  After coming home, we both felt as though everything is more dull. I think the reality is that we haven't really gone anywhere in a long while, and this was an exciting, stressful and fun 2 days of pseudo vacation for us. I honestly plan on going to this race forever if I can, and convincing G.E. to compete in the women's single speed (there was only 1 this year). [G.E. note: Good luck with that plan. I have to get over my terror of rocks first, then we can talk.] Will I do single speed again? I'm not sure.

Thank god I took Monday off!
Many thanks to Sam for sharing his experience again this year. It was easy to see as an observer both years that he was far better off physically this year than last. Even at the finish he was still smiling, when last year I knew he couldn't wait to just get over the finish line. I was aware that he was tired, but it was nice to see that he wasn't completely dead at the end.
One of my personal goals after this race is to try to figure out a way to get photos of riders I end up with on my camera to those who would appreciate them. I take so many as tests and to make sure I have a decent spot (usually this fails me anyway and I end up with horrible photos at the end), but I'd love to be able to share extra shots with the people who were racing and with their friends/family. I'm not entirely sure how I plan to do this, but the idea wheels are turning.

I think it's also important that crew members take care of themselves during the race. This is something I have not yet been successful doing. I get entirely focused on the rider and then realize toward the end of the day that I've not had water or food myself. Somehow, my half of a banana did not sustain me well through the late afternoon hours, and being at higher altitude, water is an important component too. One of these years, I'll have it all down. At least this year I remembered both sunblock and mosquito repellent.

As always, we enjoyed our time in Leadville and it was entirely too short, but we look forward to the possibility of going again to future races.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

To the Mountains (and back)

After my promises not to post for a couple of weeks, I find myself with a bit of a lull for a few hours today, and even though we've only been back from the mountains for less than half a day, I am already struggling with restlessness. Sam will be writing up a report (I'm sure) of the Leadville race soon from his perspective, but I'm fighting my own battle as we work back into life so quickly.

At heart, I am a gypsy who wants to roam the world freely and not be tied to any one location. It's difficult to have a nomadic spirit and be tied to one place. It's also a bit of an oxymoron because although my spirit wants my body to roam most of the time, I find that having a home base is something that brings a certain level of comfort and stability. The older I get, the more challenging I find the idea of giving up a permanent base, whereas a decade or more ago, I would have jumped at the opportunity to live out of a suitcase or on the road (and I did just that for a part of my early 20s).
When we returned from our trip to Leadville, Colorado just a bit ago, I couldn't help but identify with MG's recent thoughts on the sort of emptiness or longing one feels after a big event or travel excursion. It's not always easy to just return to life as it was before departure.

There was a lot of drama leading up to our trip to Leadville, so I was more than ready to get out of town, which I will admit may have played a larger role in my anxiousness to be away from everything for a couple of days. Generally though, when we return home I am prepared to sink back into the things I missed while we were gone.
With our return home, suddenly everything looks dull. Foliage is still green, but it seems less green than in the mountains. The sky appears smog filled, despite the reality of this state and our city having quite clear skies. Our home smells of unfamiliar odors I hadn't noticed before we left and I don't find them pleasant at all. Our streets seem dirty. People come off more rude than usual, as well as being overly ambitious with speed in vehicles. The entire city feels distantly familiar, but oddly unsettling after being away for just over 48 hours.

What struck me as so irregular about these feelings is that our travels were not for an event in which I raced, nor for any great length of time. Yes, I was present for the happenings and crewed, took photos, and chatted with others along the way, but I shouldn't feel such a strange emptiness upon return, I would think.

Still, I can't help but long for the endless hours of being outdoors. It reminds me of childhood camping trips and feeling the hot summer sun on my face all day long, sweating and just enjoying all that the outdoors offer. It was never fun to go back home.

Last year during our visit to Leadville my breathing felt labored and I struggled a bit more than I'd have liked to move about the city, but this year it seemed as though we both just fell right into life at higher altitude. Although I didn't bring proper shoes for hiking, I discovered myself longing for just a couple more days to walk the trails and explore more than I was able to during this short trip.

We are fortunate to live in such close proximity to amazing mountain communities, but it is incredible how different it feels so quickly when leaving the beauty and stillness of the mountains and traveling the relatively short distance back to the base. I've never considered myself a mountain sort of person, but I think I find a tranquility and yet a sense of adventure there that isn't quite as readily available at home.

Last year when we left Leadville, I swore that I would go back to the mountains before summers' end and hike with the dogs, if for no other reason than simply to enjoy what is virtually at our back door.

It never happened.

Life somehow seems to get in the way when we come back from time away to reality. Obligations and necessities that we very often place on ourselves come back into focus and that freedom and pure joy gets lost or forgotten. It seems easier to put it off for another day or another week, and those weeks turn into months in a blink of an eye.

I could promise myself the same thing today that I did about a year ago, but it is likely futile. I'm not such a dreamer to think that this year will be different, or that those same constraints aren't there that are always present.

Still, I can't help but believe that there is a way to find balance in time away and time at home. When routine takes over, it's easy to forget that love of travel, adventure, and seeing new surroundings. I find myself emotional over seemingly silly things until I realize that they aren't "silly" things at all. The little things are often the most important.

Life has begun its return to routine as I ponder ways to allow freedom within obligation. I remind myself that I have far more leeway to do as I like than many others, and daydream about the next time we escape for a short while. I also emphasize to myself that this is part of the beauty of a bicycle. Even within the confines of daily life, riding a bicycle presents opportunities to view life from another angle and to escape the mundane, even if just for a short while.

I hope you've been enjoying little getaways on a bicycle this week, and perhaps even enjoying a bit of time somewhere unexpected and fun as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bicycle Dreams

A quick note just want to say that the next 2 (ish) weeks may be (translation: will be) a bit sparse here. I have family coming into town and then we head to the mountains for Sam to race in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB again this year.

Among guests coming, packing for our own departure, trying to get our yard to a point that the neighbors don't give us that I-don't-think-for-one-second-you're-ever-doing-anything-with-that-mess-of-a-yard look, being injured myself, and trying to keep Sam from freaking out (he's trying to severely slaughter his last year finish time) things have been a little hectic/busy - and they won't be slowing down soon, so this is just forewarning that posts may disappear for a bit or be very short.

If I was a more prepared person, I'd have already written some stuff to publish while we're busy, but... well, if you think I'm that sort of person, you haven't hung out here long enough. Planning is not my forte - as is apparent with this note.

Anyway, I'm excited that we'll be able to get out of town, even if it's just for a couple of days and in-state. I'm having a difficult time remembering the last time we left our metro area (it may well have been last years Leadville race... or, I suppose just after Leadville), so being able to sneak off for a bit is a fantastic thought.

I've been trying to figure out what I'd like to chat about as we have already entered August and I realize summer is very quickly slipping out of reach. There were a few possible topics in mind, but as I was starting to drift off to sleep a few nights ago, Sam and I started a short dialogue that I found entertaining, and since it's freshly on my mind, it makes sense to bring it up here and now.
*Image found here
As we were both exhausted from the day, we weren't really intending to get into deep conversation, but I tend to start these sorts of conversations just as poor Sam wants to drift off. It started with an explanation that I hadn't been sleeping well for the couple of nights prior because of my dreams. I tend to be more of an active sleeper and if I have intense, scary, troubling, and so on type of dreams, I wake in the morning feeling as though I didn't sleep at all. Most of the time when these sorts of dreams happen, I feel more tired when I wake than when I first went to bed the night before. When they happen multiple nights in a row, I start to get quite cranky (to say the least).

I was explaining one of the dreams and trying to remember some of the details that had disturbed me so much, but often it's more a feeling in the sleep state than what is actually taking place that disrupts my senses.

As I continued to ramble on about the technicalities of the particular dream, I mentioned something about an argument over a bicycle.

Sam stopped me and said, "You know, I have never had a dream about a bicycle."

"Ever?" I asked.

"Nope," he replied.

"What about a bike ride, or some kind of connection to a wanted bicycle?" I couldn't help but ask.

"No. I have never had a dream about anything related to a bicycle."

I was flabbergasted by this. Surely he just couldn't recall and must have had a dream about something bicycle related, but he continued to insist that he hadn't.

"You have a lot of bicycle dreams though," he said. "Maybe too many."

I had to stop for a minute, but he was right. I would say that on average at least once a week I have a dream about something related to bicycles, a ride, a want, or some form of cycling-related event. Some are happy dreams, some are stressful, some cause confusion or frustration in my waking hours, but I definitely spend several sleep hours lost in varying forms of cycling-related activities.

There have been times when I've found clarity through these dreams, and others that offered only more questions. Even as a child I can recall having dreams about bicycles. Perhaps not as frequently as I do today, but I remember using them for transportation even in my dreams then.

So, our falling into slumber conversation has me wondering if anyone else dreams about bicycles or cycling events? I have a few that stand out specifically in my mind, and am curious if others have had this experience? If you're up to it, I'd be curious to read about others cycling-relevant dreams - if they happen for you. If you don't dream about bicycles or related matters, do you have any theories as to why these don't happen in your subconscious? Maybe I'm the only loony that dreams about bicycles after all! 

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Words We Use: Bicycle Type List/Descriptions

One day many months ago, I was walking through a bike shop, perusing and just listening to the conversations around me. As I meandered down the rows of bikes and products, I overheard a conversation between two women who were talking about all of the different terms that are used to describe a bike. From the sound of things, they did not ride much except for short purposes around town, but they'd been talked into a visit to the shop by their partners and were musing about all the different particularities of bikes and parts.

As they continued to speak, I started to think about how many different labels have been given to different types of bikes and how very confusing it would be to hear these terms and not really have a grasp on what these words truly mean.

Then I stopped and asked myself if I truly know what all of the labels mean. Sure, I can identify different sorts of bikes, but because we often use similar descriptors for differing bicycles, how confusing it could become to try to distinguish one from another.

It became an interesting idea to ponder, and soon I began to think about all of the different varieties and possibilities with bikes. I know that I have pretty specific ideas of what a particular bicycle is and what it does when a label is used, but then realized that this, of course, is formed by my exposure and experience with these types of bikes.
*Image found here
I have heard the term "touring bike," for example, used to refer to a bike that I would not label as such, and so I thought perhaps we could come together as blogger and readers to make up a list. I very much doubt that we'd all agree on the nitty gritty specifics for each category, but perhaps it would help someone who has wondered what exactly a specific bike type is and/or why it is separated into its own category.

With that idea in mind, I hope that as a reader you'll offer your experience, thoughts, and/or expertise in the comments so that if I have missed something or your definition differs from mine, we can help sort this out a bit. It really can be a confusing topic when I stop and think about it. Perhaps the basic categories are better understood, but as the labels continue to be created, I do think it can get overwhelming.

These are the categories that I hear frequently discussed, but if you have others, please do add them in the comments. The descriptions are brief and definitely not all-encompassing, so feel free to add your own observations at the end.

I've personally heard people use this category for any bike they typically ride on paved roads. But what is it really and how is it distinguishable as its own category? I think this type of bike is generally characterized by a couple of qualities. First, road bikes tend to be lighter in weight than other possibilities (though not always) and often have a more leaned-over-the-handlebars positioning. Usually, we see these types of bikes with drop handlebars, but the handlebar itself is not the defining characteristic of this type of bike and certainly is not a requirement to call a bike a "road bike."

This is also likely the category of bike one would use for racing or swift rides on paved roads. There are a whole slew of possibilities to fall into this category, and the specifics of each can be quite different from one another. Tires found on this type are often on the less-wide side of possibilities, ranging from 20-28mm, typically (Although, tires do not define a road bike either).

Within this category falls a variety of possible terms such as a performance bike, sport bike, competition bike, time trial, and others.

Mountain bikes are typically categorized by different handling than a road bike, as well as having much chubbier tires, often with deeper tread patterns. The term "knobby tires" is often associated with this type of bike. Tires are typically ridden at lower air pressure as well.

Those who opt for a mountain bike fall into a variety of categories. Some grew up knowing only Mountain bikes, and thus it is what they ride today. For others, they love the call of local hills and mountains and have purposely purchased a bike that handles rock, dirt, trails and so on more efficiently.

Some who use mountain bikes also race - but their races take place on unpaved roads (at least for the most part). Since these bikes tend to be heavier, it is more difficult to keep up with the speeds of those riding a road bike, but the sacrifices made allow for better handling and comfort over varying terrain.

Within this category there are also other sub-categories such as a downhill, trail, cross country, and race or trials bikes.

In my estimation, a city bike can truly be any bike. That bike you've had stored for years? It could be a city bike. That Craigslist find? It might be a perfect city bike too. I've seen all categories of bikes being used as a city bike, but I believe the quality that makes this type of bike functional as a city ride specifically is that it is easy to ride in traffic (possibly far more upright than other bikes, though not necessarily true of every city bike) and that it has the ability to carry goods such as a basket, a rack, panniers, and so on.

This type of bike is also frequently set up with some sort of platform pedal (meaning non-clipped pedals), but I've come in contact with those who prefer to always clip into his/her pedals, so it's not the defining quality of this particular type.

With the Dutch bike craze that took place here in the U.S. a few years back, I would say the city bike title is a good match for this type of bicycle, but it is not the only type of bicycle that can fall into this category. Typically, I think of a city bike as one that is ridden over shorter distances more as transportation and at slower speeds than many of the other categories of bikes.

Separating upright bikes into its own category may be a bit of a stretch, but I hear this terminology used frequently on its own, so how do we define it?

I often see upright and city used interchangeably, but as pointed out in the city definition, a person may choose to ride a bike that is more leaned over as a city bike, negating the term "upright" entirely. I believe an upright bike is just that - upright. It allows the rider to sit in a position to see all traffic with ease, and it relieves the pressures on arms and hands by placing the majority of weight distribution on the saddle. Of course, this is not an ideal riding position over long distances for most people, and thus this category of bike is often seen about town, running errands and the like.

Cross (Cyclo-Cross):
I was once described a cross bike as that of a love child between a road and mountain bike. Who am I to argue? In many ways, most cross bikes I've seen tend to resemble a road bike more so than a mountain, but it doesn't mean that there aren't those that lean more to the mountain side, certainly.

Late summer and early fall tends to be the time of year for cross racing season. If you like to get muddy, it could be a side of cycling to try out. But, of course, cross bikes can be ridden any time of year and allow the rider a kind of middle ground bike that is perhaps a bit swifter (lighter weight) than some mountain bikes, but often not quite as lightweight as a road bike. Tires tend to be a bit wider on a cross bike too, falling somewhere between the typical super-slim road tires and heftier mountain tires. The larger tires help with the mud and dirt accumulation on this type of bike.

This seems to be newer terminology used as the industry apparently wants to create a need for consumers to go out and purchase another bike, but I do think there are qualities to a good gravel bike, and it may very well be one already sitting in our bike fold. In my mind, a gravel bike can certainly double as a number of other possibilities such as a cross bike, a touring bike, a rando bike, a mountain bike, a hybrid, a single speed, and perhaps even other possibilities.

It seems the biggest definition for this type comes with handling and tires. While one could ride gravel roads with a skinny tired bicycle, there are options better suited to this type of riding. I know some people who use their road bike as a gravel bike by simply switching out brakes and tires. If it's comfortable for the rider, why not? If it can handle the roads, I see no reason not to use it as a gravel bike.

Hybrids may perhaps be the most perplexing of all the categories to me personally. As the name implies, it is a bike that brings together two different categories of bikes into one. What I find most interesting about this category is that a hybrid could lean more to the ride qualities of a road bike, or more to a mountain bike. It may also be completely upright as is sometimes the case, or it may have more of a racier stance in the saddle.

While most of the hybrids I see on the roads tend to sit pretty upright, there are a number of these type that have more of an aggressive posture while riding.

Any bike that allows or maybe even necessitates a slower, cruising speed on two wheels could fall into this category, in my mind. Typically though, a Cruiser has 26" wheels and wider tires. They often have very upright handlebars and wider saddles as well. These bikes often have a more relaxed and upright riding position. They range from classic style conversions to those built new and found in bike shops all over the country.

The Touring bike category may be the one that causes the most confusion and debate among cyclists. I think the definition truly depends on what the individual defines as "touring." So as to not confuse the starting point, I define touring as a bicycle to pedal long distances while staying overnight away from home between the starting point and the destination.

As such, a Touring bike is typically able to handle the load of both the riders weight as well as all of the goods needed for travel. This bike is typically heavier (more stout tubing to allow for the extra load) and geared in a manner that allows the rider to spin while carrying the excess weight. These bikes are often seen with multiple bags and/or panniers attached to the rear and/or front of the bike via racks and other contraptions.

While there are touring-specific bikes available for purchase, many use other categories of bikes for touring activities such as mountain or cross bikes. I think what matters most is that it's comfortable to the rider over long distances and that it can carry the weight needed for such travel.

Folding/Brompton/Bike Friday:
These tiny bicycles are the ideal solution for those with tight spaces and no room for bike storage. Built on 16" or 20" wheels (and sometimes, though infrequently, 24" wheels), these small bikes fold up even smaller, allowing for easy storage and travel.

I once knew a woman who carried her folding bike with her in her car in case of emergencies or the desire to take off on a quick ride. She said she never worried as long as she had her folding bike with her.

Fat Bike:
Fat bikes seem to be a category that has come up in the relatively recent past. They get their name from the very wide tires found on this sort of bike. Sand bikes, mud bikes, snow bikes all fall into this category for me. These bikes are built around wide forks (to allow for the bigger-than-average tires) and can be used with very low tire pressure, making them a good choice for traveling places that other types of bikes may not fare as well. Often this type of bike resembles the stance of a mountain bike and on many models it's easy to see the reflection of mountain bike history.

Cargo/Box Bike:
I'm going to include in this category a couple of different types of bikes. Longtails and box bikes don't look very similar, but their purposes are often along the same lines. Allowing for easier transportation of larger goods (or even people), those falling into this category are definitely the working-type of bicycle. While weight capacity varies depending on the manufacturer, their commonality is being able to haul the items we like to get around.

A box bike typically has a large box in front of the rider to carry the load and come as a two-wheeled, three-wheeled, or even four-wheeled bike, while a longtail or cargo typically holds the load in an extended portion behind the rider using an extra long wheelbase/frame and an extended rear rack.

While some people ride these types of bikes over long distances, most I have come across use these as around-town type transportation, to get groceries, to get small children around town and the like. Longtails are a little easier to use over longer distances because they don't have the bulk of a box bike.

I don't hear as much as I used to in my youth about BMX bikes, but from my understanding they do still have a following and I do, on occasion, run into someone riding a BMX.

These bikes are recognized by their smaller size in relation to other adult-sized bikes on the market and sometimes resemble a small motorcycle (though not always). It makes sense though, since these bikes got their start as kids began emulating motocross racers by riding on dirt tracks. In the mid-70s and even into today, the BMX bike has had its own following. Within this category are a slew of different types of riding, but I won't get into that here.

Randonneuring (Rando)/Brevet:
Not to be confused with a touring bike, a rando bike is also ridden for long distances, and may at times include a stop over for sleep (depending on the distance), but the rando bicycle is one that carries far less weight (generally just a front bag or a rear bag) with the intention of finishing the ride sooner than later. In fact, on official brevets, there is a time limit so the rider must work to hit each check point in the allotted time frame.

Some people use their road bike as a rando bike, some people use their cross bike, and still others have very specific needs or desires in a randonneur bicycle and purchase or have one made specifically for these types of rides.

Fixed Gear (Fixie):
Ah, the fixed gear bike. It has a reputation of its own that conjures an image of the skinny pant wearing, beard-donning guy for some people. While the fixed gear may have been a hipsters dream, the bike has moved beyond that stereotype and different types of people are found riding fixed gear. Really, nearly any type of bike could be a fixed gear as it has to do with the hub and not the frame itself.

Single Speed:
Unlike a fixed gear, a single speed may very well have a freewheel, allowing the rider to spin the pedals backward without slowing the bike. However, a fixed gear could be categorized as a single speed as it has only one gear. Single speeds can also fall into other categories as there are many road and mountain bikers who like to ride single... and, there are many commuters who prefer this type of bike as well.

I would describe a single speed more as a sub-category or possibility within other categories and not necessarily a category of its own. However, since it is quite popular to refer to a bike as a single speed bike, it only makes sense to have an understanding of what we're discussing.

Recumbent ('Bent):
I will admit up front that I have little experience with this sort of ride, so I won't be horribly descriptive here because I realize there could be other sub-categories within this one as well. A recumbent though is a bicycle that sits low to the ground and has more of an automotive looking seat than a traditional saddle as found on most other bicycles. The rider sits toward the rear of the machine with legs extended out in front, sitting in more of a laid back position.

While it may seem like an odd position, those who ride recumbent praise the lack of strain on their hands and arms, and I've personally witnessed many of them kicking some booty on the roads. I've learned never to underestimate a person riding a recumbent. They can definitely haul when needed.

A bicycle that is set up on three wheels would be categorized as a trike. I realize that by having three wheels, it is not longer technically a "bi cycle" but since we're discussing this in general terms, I think it's a valid option to bring up.

Most frequently, trike's are set up with two wheels in the rear and one in the front, but they are also built with one in the rear and two in the front. For those with stability issues, trikes can be a fantastic option for riding.

Usually, this type of bike is heavier and slower, and often used for short-distance travel. However, I have also had the opportunity to see road bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes and others set up in a trike format, so they aren't all necessarily heavy and/or slower than other bikes.

If you don't have a headache yet from reading through all of this (how is that possible?!), I have great respect for you. It was a bit dizzying just typing it out and the descriptions are nowhere as detailed as they could be. As I thought I'd reached the end of my intended list, I would think of another to add and I have no doubt that I have still left off categories unintentionally. Even as I type, I realize I could probably categorize types like pedicabs and rickshaws as well, but for the time being, I'll leave those as a kind of sub-category of a cargo bike.

Through all of these descriptions, I realize that there is much in between or grey area. Not every category is absolute, and in fact depending on the person asked there could be a different answer given for particular categories. Some may feel quite strongly that a certain category should be defined other than the way it is described here, which is perfectly acceptable to me (and please, do share your thoughts in comments as I'm not attempting to be the absolute authority on such matters).

When a friend recently asked about what type of bicycle she should get, I couldn't help but pause for a long moment. This is truly a difficult question to answer when it comes to a person who hasn't ridden since his/her youth and who doesn't quite know yet what s/he will prefer. With so many categories and so many different possibilities for riding, how is one to offer up advice?

Of course, we start with questions about the intended use, but often a new rider isn't sure what they plan to do. When all else fails, most tend to recommend a mountain bike as it is capable, at least generally speaking, of being used anywhere a person wishes to go. After riding a mountain bike over long distances though, a rider may soon discover that they have need for something lighter and/or that allows them to get quicker speeds and into a more powerful position. S/he may also find that s/he prefers a different set up entirely. It is nearly impossible to get it right the first time, in my experience.

So, what is your favorite category of bike, or do you have a preferred style of riding? What other categories do you hear brought up that haven't been mentioned here? How do they differ and/or how are they similar to other categories? Who knew when we had our first banana seat or BMX that there would be so many choices to select from!

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Trekking/Butterfly Handlebar

When posting about the newer addition to the bike stable, the Velo Orange Campeur, I noted that I had opted to try out a set of handlebars that have awaited placement on a bike for some time. The right bike had not come along, but when the Campeur landed, the trekking handlebars seemed entirely appropriate.
*Image from Bike Touring News
While browsing, I've noted that there are a variety of manufacturers and retailers that sell their own sets of trekking handlebars. Nashbar, Dimension, NittoDajia Cycle Works, Modolo are just a handful of the companies that have a version available. Since I haven't tried every style of these, I will state up front that the version I have are the Dajia Cycle Works variety. I've been told that the same handlebar sells under a variety of manufacturer names, but I don't have much to prove this as a statement of absolute truth. Most of the handlebars I've seen appear to have very similar positioning and bends (the exception being the Nitto version which appear more squared at the corners), so I'm not entirely certain that the exact manufacturer is of great importance if the products themselves are so similar.
I still haven't settled on a bar tape color... but I will, eventually. 
These handlebars are made of an aluminium composition. The 25.4mm stem clamp diameter may make them a challenge for some setups, but I've found if the diameter is too small, using a shim is helpful (and necessary) to get them to work with a variety of stem diameters. Since the bike these are set on has a 26.0mm clamp diameter, the shim works perfectly to make them snug.

This particular set measures 57 cm at the widest point, providing a broad stance. However, there are also lots of positions on the bars that are much narrower. For a mountain biker, the distance may not seem very wide at all, but for someone used to drops or more standard upright bars, there is a definite difference.  If a rider prefers a narrow position in a handlebar, there are positions on this bar that fit that need, but the widest points of the handlebars would likely go unused perhaps making them not an ideal option.
I'll admit, at first I was a little put off by how wide the bars ride, but over a relatively short time, I came to appreciate this quality. It's nice to get some leverage once in awhile and I feel a bit more in control of steering as well. Whether this is the handlebars themselves or a quality of the bike is up for debate. There are many positioning options available on these bars though and a rider doesn't have to live at the extreme outreaches of the bar.

While there are technically four hand positions, I find that I use a broad spectrum of space in between each of these, depending on the day and/or task. It seems a natural place to put my hands at the sides (the widest point) of the bar, much as one would with a northroad style or albatross handlebar, and I do spend a fair amount of time here depending on where I'm riding.
In traffic, it's a little more difficult to rely on that position as the brakes have been placed at the furthest position on the bars directly in front of me. So, while riding in higher traffic areas, I have found it more comfortable to be in the most outstretched positions with my fingers at the ready when braking becomes necessary.

If I have a little more space in traffic or I'm out on back roads, I find that my hands naturally tend to want to move around the corners/bends of the bars. When I feel the need to sit more directly upright, I use the portion of the bar directly in front of and closest to me.

As someone who needs to move her hands frequently when riding, having so many possibilities is really ideal. Even for those who don't have injuries or ailments that require position changes, it's a good idea not to stay in one position for too long to prevent strain, injuries, and just simply pain.
When these handlebars were set up, I wasn't entirely sure how to place them. They can be flipped over to ride on either side (neither side is really considered upside down), and they can be changed so that the opening point is closest to the rider (as in the first photo above) or flipped so that the opening is at the farthest point in front of the rider. I have seen these set up in each of these possibilities and they appear to work well, regardless of set up for the individual riders. I think it's more a matter of preference or what feels natural to the rider more than anything else.

I will note that I have tried these bars on a couple of different road bikes too. Both of these bikes were quite stable using a drop bar set up, but I didn't necessarily appreciate the trekking bars on both of these bikes the way I do on the Campeur. More specifically, the set up with the trekking bars worked decently on one of the road bikes, but the other seemed to make the bikes' handling more squirrelly. This could be a result of different body positioning on each bike, however.

Sitting more upright on a bike intended for speed doesn't seem to be a good combination with these handlebars - at least during my limited testing.  Granted, these are handlebars meant for long distance, multi-day cycling, so using them on a bike meant for faster rides is perhaps not ideal, depending on the situation and again on the riders preferences.

There are a lot of handlebars on the market to choose from for a variety of riding purposes, so I often find myself wondering what the benefit is of one type over another. As pointed out earlier, I think the biggest asset with these is the number of hand position possibilities. Beyond that, it becomes a matter of likes and dislikes as well as aesthetics. If a drop bar set up is working well for the rider, I see no true advantage to these handlebars. However, if the rider struggles with utilizing all the positions available or if one additional position may do the trick, these may be a set to try out.
After several months of near-daily use, I am really appreciating the qualities of these handlebars and finding them to be quite useful. I have not been able to take them on trips of great distances (yet), but for commuter/errand purposes and rides under 40mi/64km, they have worked well. They may not be a handlebar that meets every riders needs, but they are a nice alternative for those looking for multiple hand positions and perhaps even a wider handlebar.

If you tried these on your own bike, I'd love to get your feedback in regard to what you've liked or haven't with this style of handlebar. Likewise, if you have questions, I will do my best to answer, or perhaps others can offer their expertise.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Taking Back the Bike

Several nights ago, as I was attempting to drift off to sleep, there were many things running through my mind. I suppose, the purpose of sleeping - or at least dreaming - is to work through the happenings of the day to come to some kind of resolution. It wasn't horribly surprising that a chunk of thought-filtering this particular evening centered on bicycles. It's not uncommon for me to go to bed pondering some type of bike topic, but on this day, I was particularly troubled. I am both watching and living as I try to sort out where I went awry.
*Image found here
First, I need to go back a short bit in time.

I believe that 2013 was the pinnacle year of cycling for me. Not only did the summer bring more hours in the saddle, but I rode the entire year, regardless of weather, more than I had any year prior. It wasn't just time in the saddle that made me believe it was my peak though. I enjoyed every ride I took with rare exception throughout that year.

Sometimes enjoyment came from what I learned on the ride, other times it just permitted me an opportunity to understand something about myself. I took on longer distances than I ever had prior, I tried my legs at climbing rather than avoiding it like the plague, I intentionally traveled through snow storms, and I pedaled through what were arguably the most dramatic rains Colorado has seen. It was a fantastic year - warts, so to speak, and all.

As the year drew to a close, I started wondering if I could bring about even better results in 2014. Perhaps I could make a plan that would allow for fewer mistakes and greater returns. I started to plan and attempt to figure out what would make for progress in the year to follow.

Part of those plans included the possibility of a custom bicycle. It was something I'd considered for some time, and, as my presumptions went, if I'd had pretty decent results with something off the bike shop floor, surely creating something made just for my measurements and peculiarities would be even better. A true bike utopia, I imagined.

As you may recall, the results were far from the blissful ideal I'd thought they would be. I rode through the summer on the new custom, assuming that I was to blame for the problems. My body was not in the shape it had been in the summers prior, I hadn't been riding the same distances either, and I just felt off for lack of a better way of stating it.

While the failure of my attempt sunk in, I began trying to figure out how to get myself back on course. My thinking was that if I tried again with a custom and it ended up being a good fit, I could get myself righted and the good feelings and fitness would resume once again.

There were lots of reasons to try again with another custom, despite the fact that there were possibilities to be found without going through the unknowns a second time. Still, I wanted desperately for something I seemed unable to find, and as hindsight always seems to provide a much clearer view, I was determined to right a wrong.

During my second attempt, I was sure I knew what I was asking for in a bicycle. I had learned my lessons and was certain that after the not-so-great first round during which I had requested a fast, light road bike, perhaps I needed to take a step back. Maybe my request was part of what had steered the ship in a wrong direction and the best sort of road bike for me would combine some speed with the ability to do really long distances? So, as I moved forward, I kept these thoughts in mind as I planned to combine two separate needs into one. What could go wrong?

While riding during my "epic" year of cycling, I had come to the conclusion that multiple bikes (or at least as many multiples as I owned) were not the answer for me. I wanted to figure out a way to combine many types of riding into as few bicycles as possible. Throughout that year (and the year to follow) I sold off bikes as they seemed at the time superfluous.

For example, why would I need two road bikes? I had one that was a bit heavier but was perfect for carrying a little extra stuff and great at getting me over the really long distances in comfort. I also had one that was quite light and fast and though it caused a few physical issues when covering long distances, it was the right choice for speed.

As I started to sell off bikes, the heavier option was the first to go. In retrospect, it was a horrible decision because it was a fairly ideal choice for those days when I want to cover distance, but don't have it in me to deal with the fatigue of a light road bike. It was comfortable, it was (or I was) fast enough when needed, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect as I rode rather than being entirely focused on picking up the pace.

Eventually, the lighter bike was sold as well in an effort to trade up to something even better, or so I thought, which in turn provided the impetus to begin truly looking toward the possibility of a custom bike. I had a bit of the grass is always greener thought process going on and I believed that if one thing was good, something else, this fictitious creation I was making in my mind, could be even better.

Theoretically speaking, it would be better. It would combine the best worlds into one machine and I would have - finally - achieved the perfect bike.

The problem with theory is that it is just that. Sure, it is at least partially based on practice, but the entire premise of the theoretical is that one is supposing an outcome based on current knowledge, perhaps some research of others work or findings, and a bit of the unknown.

Ah, the unknown. The undiscovered is what motivates me to try out the ridiculousness that is often in my head. The lure of making something that seems unlikely or even impossible come to fruition. I cannot seem to help myself. There is something about the possibilities with the yet-to-be-discovered that is entirely seductive. Like a Siren calling to me, I seem to follow the hypnotic song, unaware that my demise is just around the corner.

So, as I planned out the second attempt at a custom road bike, I was sure that I knew where I was headed and while there is always the possibility of things going wrong, I felt confident and sure in trying out this new possibility. Two bikes in one; what could be be better?

While the bike itself is precisely what I asked for, I'm not sure I was in the right head space to make a proper decision or to truly understand what was needed in a second attempt. After first round faltering, I believed I was well aware of my needs, only to be smacked in the face with reality as I continued to ride. It's difficult to ignore a failure when it's entirely of my own doing.

This year has been an abysmal attempt at improvement. I thought things were headed down the right path when fairly early in the year we had a good stretch of somewhat clear weather and I was already out on the bike, racking up miles. Most of the rides were simply for transportation, but it was a good start, I thought, at heading in the direction I wished to go.  I was anxious for clear roads so that I could begin adding to my distances. I was ready, I thought, to start breaking personal records and setting new goals.

The thing is, riding never really picked up any sort of momentum. There are various reasons for it. I could blame injuries. I could find fault with bikes. I could look at situations, or work, or any number of possibilities for scapegoating. I ride, but it's not the sort of riding I'd hoped to do.

The amusing part is that it's not really lack of momentum that seems to be the trouble. It's relatively simple to keep propulsion going once getting started, but I've lost something along the way that has brought in self-doubt. All of the supposing and thinking and theorizing - it's all created a situation in which I hesitate with decisions. I vacillate with whether to ride because I know longer distances aren't possible. Instead of appreciating and savoring what is doable for now, I concern myself with the whys of being unable to accomplish an arbitrary goal that can easily wait; I think on the many things that have gone wrong instead of focusing on what is very right.

I believe part of the problem is that I feel the need to repair a situation that I myself started, when in reality, I believe everything that has transpired is part of a process of discovery. I've spent too many hours thinking if-only sort of thoughts, when in reality that time could've been spent utilizing what I have, riding whatever short distances are possible, and accepting that not every week, month, season, or year is going to provide the same outcome. As in life, if I never experience the lows how can I truly appreciate the highs? This may not be my greatest season of cycling, but it doesn't mean that everything needs to come to a screeching halt either.

With that idea, I know that I have to reclaim a piece of me that seems to have nearly vanished. I have to salvage something that was taken by another part of me. It's a strange situation to be in a tug-of-war with myself, but I have to accept that there are certain limitations on me at the present and little is ideal at the moment. However, it doesn't mean some things are not possible. I can enjoy the riding in moderation that is possible and understand that it is perfectly acceptable, perfectly imperfect.

We are passing the midway point in July and as much as I can feel summer fading away, all is not lost. Summer is not the end of riding and every day presents an opportunity and a choice. I can choose to wallow in failed theory and injury, or I can learn from mistakes and cut myself some slack, which seems the healthier - physically and mentally - option. I'm prepared to enjoy the time I do have on a bicycle, allowing my body, along with its two wheeled friend, to take me where it will, where it is able. I may have needed a bit of time to realize what I was doing to myself, but I'm ready now; I'm taking back the bike.