Friday, May 11, 2018

Another Hunt for Cycling Jerseys: Finding Sassy Cyclist

As a consumer, I have noticed that sometimes as a population we can ask for product(s) and then not follow up with support of businesses that try to address the issue by making items to fulfill our requests. Granted, some organizations attach to something because they think they can make an inferior product and turn a profit, but when companies (large or small) are making a good product, I think it's important to buy from them so that they can continue to grow and expand their offerings.

Over the winter, not only was I clearing out bicycles, but I also went on a cycling-clothing clean out. What I discovered is that most of what I own, I don't like to wear. I have a couple of older Ibex wool jerseys that still make their rounds into rotation (R.I.P. Ibex - I miss you! Though there's word on the street that you'll perhaps be making a comeback), and a couple of Terry jerseys that I also like to wear, but beyond that, I have a LOT of jerseys that simply don't fit right. The arms are too tight, the hip area is too snug, the jerseys roll at the hem, the chest and hips are too tight or ill-fitting in some manner, the material is scratchy and/or uncomfortable in some way, and on I could go with the ails in regard to various tops.

The thing is, I start to feel like some sort of oddity when I can't find cycling clothing that fits properly. Generally, I can find jerseys that "fit" but they don't really fit the way I would like them to. Why does everything have to be so tight? It's not just the tightness (I realize cycling gear shouldn't be flapping in the wind), but the inability to move the way I would like. Why are so many jerseys so short? I'm not even a tall person, so I can't begin imagine what taller ladies must go through. Why is every jersey made for a woman with slim arms and/or no hips? We're not all professional racers, bike-clothing companies. It's very frustrating, and I'm sure others find similar frustrations with lack of petite and tall sizes, or other needs.

So, when I went on a hunt this winter to find some new options, by mere happenstance I came across a company called Sassy Cyclist. The website stated that they carry ladies sizes XS through 2XL, which isn't entirely unheard of for a cycling clothing company, but what I did find unusual is that the jerseys are made to fit based on normal blouse sizes, not some weird, created size chart for the cycling world. Hallelujah!! I thought, but of course, I was still skeptical because I've seen these statements before, and then when I order there's a completely different experience.
*Image from sassycyclist.com
Still, I was feeling experimental and decided to go ahead and order a long sleeve jersey. We'd been riding on some pretty cold days and I thought that with some extra layers, if the sizing was as indicated, the jerseys I was seeing might be a good option. Typically, I wear an XL in tops, but can sometimes need a little larger (especially for my arms, and in the case of a jersey, my hips), and because I wanted to layer, I decided to go with the 2XL.

The jersey arrived very quickly - even quicker than I believe was indicated in the confirmation email. The product is made in Baltimore, Maryland and I'm in Boulder County, Colorado, so waiting just a couple of days for the arrival of the new jersey seemed very swift, but was welcomed because, as stated above, I have not been happy with most of jerseys crammed into my cycling drawer.
"In Pursuit of Peonies" from Sassy Cyclist
When it arrived, Sam said he wasn't fond of the print. Conversley, it was actually one of the things I loved about it - different, quirky, and not something I see everywhere. But, when I donned the jersey on our tandem ride he changed his mind. "I actually like it when I see it on you and on the bike," he stated, "So, maybe I've changed my mind." Good thing, since he's the one staring at my back for the entirety of the ride.

The real question/concern for me though was how it would fit and function while riding. So, we took it out for a test spin of about 30 miles (48km) to see how it would fair.

When initially putting on the jersey, I was surprised at how much stretch/give the fabric has. It's not that it's too thin or sloppy, nor is it too tight, but there is a lot of room for movement. I have thick arms both from lots of upper body work and from carrying extra meat around on my body, so cycling jerseys can be a complete disaster - both for my psyche and for my body. The fabric, however, seemed to allow complete freedom of movement, so I was excited to try it out on the bike.

The first day we rode, it was pretty cold out so I had two layers of wool under the jersey. It felt like an appropriate level of warmth for the day, and yet I didn't overheat while riding either. I should say, the interior of the jersey is lined with a very soft, brushed fabric too.  I'm not typically a fan of polyester fabric on my skin, but with the brushed fabric, it actually feels quite nice. In cool weather, the jersey works fine on its own without the extra layer(s), but for cold weather, I definitely felt as though I needed the extra pieces to stay warm enough. But, it was never claimed that this jersey was intended to keep me warm in cold temperatures, so I wasn't surprised by the need to layer.

The jersey was always comfortable while riding and it was one of the few occasions when I haven't constantly been fiddling with my jersey. Although the jersey did ride up a bit on me, I think it has more to do with 1) the layers I was wearing under it, 2) the fact that I am very lower body heavy and I've yet to find a jersey that doesn't ride up at some point due to movement on a bike, and 3) My cycling tights don't seem to be able to keep any jersey in place because of the fabric used to make them.
The collar on this jersey is particularly comfortable to me, both keeping the cold and/or sun off my body, but not causing me to choke either.
One of the best things about this jersey (in my humble opinion, of course) is the lack of elastic at the hem line. I have a lot of trouble with jerseys that have elastic or some other thick band at the waist/hip area, so discovering that this was not one of those jerseys was very exciting.  I can also appreciate the details such as the reflective strip down the back of the jersey to provide a little bit more visibility on roads, the roomy rear pockets, and a collar that doesn't choke me while riding. Personally, I prefer a full-zip jersey, but the somewhere between a 1/2 and 3/4 zip has been perfectly adequate.

Despite some riding up of the jersey, I was pretty impressed overall with it and its performance during the ride. The more I wore this jersey, the more I found myself reaching for it because it was just that comfortable to wear.  So, of course as the seasons started to change, I thought it would be nice to try out a short sleeved or sleeveless option from Sassy Cyclist.

When I went to investigate availability, there were a few new prints in stock, but I noticed not all the sizes were offered. I sent a quick email off to inquire as to whether they'd be available in the near future and was told that the new prints wouldn't be offered in the largest size because they weren't selling.

After a short conversation via email, Becky, the owner of the company, stated that she just cannot seem to figure out how to reach the cyclists who need the 2XL size (though she did share that XL is her most commonly sold size).

So, I implore you, if you're reading this and you cycle (or kayak, hike, walk dogs, etc and can use this sort of jersey) or know someone who would use larger sizes, go and take a look at the offerings available and contact Becky to let her know if you'd like to see other sizes in her future stock. She was lovely to chat with and is open to the idea of selling larger sizes, but she also can't sit on stock because she is running a small company that's just getting its footing. Which is completely understandable. The company can also ship to Canada and the UK, so those of you reading in those locations shouldn't feel left out if you find a jersey you love (though keep in mind the size chart is in inches so that you don't end up with the wrong size).
My two selections in two sizes to try out on the bike.
I decided to move forward with an order and chose a jersey in both the XL and 2XL sizes so that I could compare to see how different the two would actually be on my body. I ordered the jerseys on a Wednesday and they arrived on Friday of that week. I'm still impressed with the ability to ship so quickly! Now, I just had to wait for some warmer days to test out the sleeveless options. Fortunately, that wouldn't take long.

When trying the two sizes on back to back, I have to admit that I didn't notice a whole lot of difference between the XL and the 2XL. The XL fit better through the chest and waist, but of course, I have my hips to contend with so I think the biggest difference in fit for me personally is this area. Since I didn't think I could live without the print in the XL size, I decided to keep them both and try out both options as a test to see if one rode up more than the other or if there were other bits I noticed between the two different sizes while the garment was in use.

I have several sleeveless jerseys and one of the nice things about the Sassy Cyclist options are that they actually cover everything that I want covered. Meaning, the arm holes aren't gaping and huge and the edge of the "sleeve" comes right to the bend in my shoulder. The body of the jersey fit identically to the long sleeved version that I already owned, so there were no surprises there either. That same brushed, soft fabric also lines the interior of the sleeveless jersey too - something I honestly didn't expect to find.

My first test was with the 2XL size on a 40 mile (64km) out-and-back ride with about 2200 feet (670m) of climbing all during the first half of the ride. I was incredibly whiny on this ride, but I think having a rotten attitude can be a good litmus for cycling clothing. If I'm already cranky, that typically means I'm unhappy in my gear too, but thankfully, that was not the case with the jersey. It still rode up mildly, just like the long sleeve version, but again, I can't fault the garment as I know my proportions are not typical.

What I really love about these sleeveless jerseys is the fact that they have the full zipper. I realize it's not a huge thing most of the time, but it really does make me happy (and makes putting the jersey on a bit easier, especially if I'm layering underneath, I've found). The day I rode in this jersey the temperatures ranged from bordering on hot all the way down to almost cold during descents off the mountain, and I was comfortable throughout the ride (perhaps a little chilly -given that it is a sleeveless jersey - during the downhill portion).
Apologies for the bad photos... you all know how much I love [insert sarcastic eye roll] putting pictures of myself up... but, I think it's valuable to see the jersey on an actual body. This is the XL version, and while it looks as though it's constrictive, there's actually quite a bit of movement and stretch in the fabric and it's not fitting as grotesquely tight as it appears, if that's helpful. Additionally, although I didn't take photos, the 2XL fits similarly, except that there's just a smidge more give all over (and a bit of extra fabric around the waist area).
The next test took place wearing the XL size during a solo ride. That ride was about half the distance of the first test, so it's not the best comparison necessarily, but I found it strange that the smaller size actually seemed to stay in place a bit better than the larger one. Perhaps it was my imagination (I was wearing different shorts, so that may have played a role as well), or the fact that the distance wasn't as far and lacked the climbing, but I was comfortable and content wearing this jersey throughout my time in the saddle just as I'd been with the other two versions.

All in all, I've been pleased with the purchase of these jerseys. With the exception of the riding up, I haven't found a jersey that was as all around easy to wear and move in, and the features absolutely meet any of the needs I may have while riding.

So, what are the down sides, if any? Well, cost is always a factor. At a price of $95-110 (USD), these are definitely not the least expensive jerseys I've encountered or purchased; however, given that the product is made in the USA (not entirely common these days) and that the company is more of a boutique seller, I don't think the prices are necessarily out of the range to be expected. Still, it's a decent chunk of change to plunk down for a piece of cycling gear.  I only splurged because I had a bit of money earmarked for this purpose. I have learned over the years though that sometimes it's worth it to spend a little more and have fewer items than to spend less and have items I'm unhappy wearing. Your mileage may vary.

I should also note that during the winter there was a sale on some of the older styles, so this may be something to keep in mind for those looking to try without quite stretching to the current price point. As with any brand, at some point discounts usually occur to be able to clear out older items and bring in the new - though I obviously cannot guarantee that discounts with the company will take place in the future.

The only other down side for me personally was the shifting of the jersey over my hips. I frankly cannot (as stated earlier) fault the garment for this though as I have never owned a jersey that doesn't move up while I ride - the curse of being disproportionately meaty on my lower half. Even with the jersey riding up, I find myself choosing this jersey over others, which I believe speaks to the level of comfort provided.

As for the goals of Sassy Cyclist, Becky writes:
The whole aim is to make garments women, regardless of size, love to wear. The jerseys are very comfortable and in my mind, very fun, stylish and very different from the run of mill stuff! They're also great for many other non-cycling related activities, such as running, hiking, dog walking (baggies in the back pockets), tennis, golf. In terms of the future, I've got plenty of ideas for new products, particularly tailored to women, but I've got to grow slowly and not try to move too fast. Besides the actual bike riding, designing is my favorite part. 

So, again, if you are a rider who has interest in a new jersey that doesn't fit like a sausage casing and that has unique prints/patterns, this could be a fantastic company to buy from; and if you are a cyclist who wears sizes XL or larger, I would strongly encourage you to get in contact with Sassy Cyclist and ask Becky to continue to offer, and perhaps even expand, the larger sizes available. I am always one to encourage companies that do offer larger sizes, but a solitary voice does not bring about change.

Monday, April 30, 2018

And here we are... rolling into May!

Whew! I feel like it's been an eternity since I've posted here, but I wouldn't want to break my "once per month" unintended rule that I've started for 2018, so I figured on this, the last day of April, I should continue that trend. Hopefully, it will be the end of that cycle and things will get a bit more regular... or at least frequent, but if you've hung around here long enough, you know that I often say that and then the opposite takes place, so we'll just leave it at the thought that I have hope for more writing, but won't promise that as reality.

In part, I've wondered if there's still purpose in the blog. So many have changed formats and are using more Twitter and Instagram, likely because it's easier and more convenient to busy life. I have to admit that even I find that media much easier in the sense that if something amuses me in the moment, I can snap a photo and share without having to sit and take the time to format more elaborate thoughts. But, the other part of me knows that I enjoy the longer process of forming ideas (whether they feel cohesive or not once finished) and/or coming to realizations as I write. It is often therapeutic to be able to rid my mind of thoughts and get them down on paper (or screen, as is the case here).

The truth is that life has been shifting. I've felt it for awhile and I have tried to fight it, but it's not always easy to do. Other priorities are taking up time and there's just a reality to how much time there is in an hour, a day, a week, and so on.
This morning's ride was shorter, but green is starting to appear, which means summer is on its way and the long sleeves will soon be a distant memory
Riding is always a priority, but sometimes it takes different forms. There are times when all I can do is transport myself by bicycle to the places I need to go, and there are other times when I can roam freely for hours and push physical limits. Sometimes I record the rides, and sometimes I don't. There is always an ebb and flow to the whole process and it is obvious to me today that inconsistency is just a reality.

Several months ago, I mentioned that a new bike had landed here. I have been riding it (somewhat inconsistently -- because, I wouldn't want to shake up the erratic flow of present life), but I've also discovered that I don't think it's quite the bike for me. I had high hopes for it and there are aspects to it that I really do like quite a bit, but as a whole, it's just not what I was hoping to get out of the build. So, while I do have a post started about the bike, it may be a bit before I can clearly synthesize what I want to share out of the experience and the bike itself.

Sam and I had also been pondering another tandem bicycle, as has been indicated as a possibility in past posts. The "pondering" became a reality though when we submitted a request for a custom about a month ago. We have enjoyed the tandem far more than I ever thought possible, and the reality of it being too large (specifically, for the captain) over longer distances has taken its toll. Not to mention that we've been attempting to use it for purposes never really intended by the manufacturer. While we tried to just be tough and suck it up, there is a reality to any bike being too large and in order to continue our new-found infatuation, it was deemed acceptable to spend a little money to hopefully find a lot of enjoyment.

So, while we wait for the outcome of this experiment (which shouldn't be too much longer, as we've been told the frame is in the painting processes as of a week ago), we have, of course, high expectations for riding together throughout the summer months. I'm anxious for climbing and exploring and the many adventures we will hopefully be able to take together over the next several months (and years).

Of course, there's also a certain level of anxiety. Custom builds have not exactly been the best experiences for me in the past, and unfortunately with a tandem and our vertical challenges, it's really the only way that is possible. There is fear, like any other unknown, but we also know there will be tweaks to any bike - single or tandem - but have faith that the overall product will be good and usable for us. Only time will tell with certainty though.

In the meantime, we continue to ride - both solo and tandem - enjoying whatever time we are able to be on two wheels. I hope that you continue to roll smoothly through this spring and right into summer too. Feel free to share your adventures here as well. It's always fun to read what others are up to.

Monday, March 12, 2018

All The Leaves Are Brown

I am tired. Exhausted, really. "Springing forward" likely didn't help matters, but I've found myself feeling as though there just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. All things in life have suffered. I've volunteered myself and taken on too many projects and have worn thin. It happens to us all at some point, I suppose. Some days, I just want to take a long, long nap, hoping that it will reinvigorate me. I feel spring coming and the panic of all the projects that need to get completed and I get overwhelmed. We've worked through winter to attempt to limit what needs to be accomplished in early to mid spring, but the tasks seem to keep multiplying.

We did manage to get out and ride yesterday for a short bit. Which was nice. This always clears my mind (at least for a short time) and makes me appreciate everything much more. What I realized while riding though is how very brown the world is here this time of year. I see photos of other locations and flowers are blooming, trees in some parts are even starting to turn green, but I know we are still two months out for any of that sort of happening (other than tulips, which I'm convinced are going to pop up any day now). Since we can get snow through mid-May quite commonly, it's not surprising that most of the green waits a bit longer to bud and bloom.
As we rode, I couldn't help but be struck by the immense dullness that covered our surroundings. The fields have all been plowed with nothing growing, no trees have bloomed, grasses are waiting to show signs of life. Even the asphalt on the roads seemed to blend with the empty fields. Everything is just kind of the same shade of drab. I've commented in the past that I don't find winter to be uninteresting as there can often be different shades and tones of tan, yellow, orange and brown, but at the very tail end of winter, I often find this very similar dustiness to take over all color variations, particularly when moisture hasn't been as plentiful as usual. I suppose it gets me that much more anxious for spring to arrive.

Riding this time of year also helps remove some of the panic that can take over knowing that the warm months seem to be short and the list of things to do quite long. We have plans to attempt longer distances on the tandem, races to ride and run, and personal goals to complete before we are sent back into the colder temperatures.

I have post plans for this space as well, if life will just cut me a bit of slack. I will say that our tandem rental adventure was quite the disaster. After a lot of chatting with the shop about our needs and our lack of height, we thought we had a possibility settled, but it turned out that it was still too large a bike for us to test. We were disappointed to not have an opportunity to test out a bike that could be more appropriate for road rides, but we realize (and did prior to the rental as well) that tandems are not made for those of shorter stature -- at least in standard production. So, we may have to jump in with both feet and try a custom purchase in order to truly test our theories. Time will tell on that front.

The "new" single bike for me has not seen much use yet. I have hopes to get out for a longer ride this week, assuming that the weather cooperates (and it appears it will). I'd love to have a better sense of that bike, but thus far it's been comfortable and a good ride given our limited time together thus far.

In the meantime, I am anxiously awaiting blooming flowers and green to have a break from the dreary colors of winter, and am thankful that we are able to get out and ride occasionally. I hope you're enjoying some good rides as we inch closer to spring. Feel free to share what you are up to in the comments as well.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Short February Catch-Up

The beginning of 2018 has not been horribly kind to me health-wise thus far. I have managed to contract the flu twice in the span of about 30 days, once from Sam bringing home a strain from work, and the second (I suspect) came from helping someone who was sick. It's not been the most conducive means of being able to start the new year riding. The first round knocked me out for about a week and a half, and the second round (that I'm still dealing with) has been quite intense and debilitating too. In between the two bouts though I have been able to find a small amount of time to ride, which has been nice.

Of the approximate 150 miles I've ridden thus far in 2018, about 85 of them were on the tandem and another 25 have been on a trainer. Which means, if my math skills are working in conjunction with my still cloudy head, I only have about 40 miles of solo riding on the roads thus far. Not exactly the stellar start to riding I had hoped for, but a start nonetheless.

Having so many down hours provides time for thinking and daydreaming about future rides though, which has its benefit too. I'm pondering an early season race to see if it will motivate me to push the miles a bit more than I have thus far, Sam and I are likely going to enter a fairly early-season ride on the tandem too, and there are several local rides I'm anxious to get to in the near future.

As far as bicycles go, the cleaning out process has gone fairly well. I'm still debating one more potential sell-off, but the new frame from the UK arrived (mostly) in tact, so that's been exciting to watch become a bike. I was able to even sneak in a couple of short rides on it before this round of illness took hold. I am very excited to get to ride it more and at some point report back here on details. Thus far, I've found it to be smooth rolling and comfortable, and those are my two highest priorities with any bike.
The new bike and me out testing the waters... or testing the ice? 
Several of the parts for this build were scavenged from other bikes that were sold or that no longer needed the parts. I did "splurge" on a new set of wheels (mostly because I had no choice), but didn't end up spending much on those. I'm interested to see how the wheelset does as part of this build too because the cost-to-value ratio seems to be a winner.

Sam and I are scheduled to rent a different tandem soon too. We wanted a real-world test, even if it isn't long term, to see if a better fitting/lighter weight tandem can aid us in our quest for longer distances (How could it not?). A shop in Denver happened to have a workable sized tandem for us to try, so it made sense to ask to rent it for a few days.  Hopefully, we hold up health-wise so that we are able to thoroughly test this loaner out, but the shop has been very kind and told us if weather or other factors arise, we can postpone the rental. Winter can be a challenging time of year to plan rides, but thus far, it looks like we may have found a nearly ideal window. Keep fingers crossed for us.
This little lady separated and cracked pretty badly during firing, but I plan to try again (with some modifications) - hopefully, before the tour.
In non-bike related news, if you are local, I will be participating this year in the East Boulder County Artists Studio Tour at the end of April and hope you'll stop by and say hello. I've primarily focused the last couple of years on clay work, rather than painting, so I'd love to hear what others think about the work I've been doing. It should be fun to open up my work space to visitors as well, as spring will likely be well under way by then. Most of the pieces won't be related to bicycles but they are whimsical. Do stop by, if you can.

I hope winter has been kinder to all of you than it has to me and that you've been able to get out and ride as much as possible. If you have the time, I'd love to hear about any adventures taking place for you, so feel free to share in the comments or send me a note.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Of Bikes and (Wo)Men

As a person who tends to make decisions about selling and purchasing bikes from about mid-fall through winter, we are now smack dab in the center of bike chaos in our household. Maybe it's the colder weather (though we've had an incredibly mild season in Colorado) or perhaps it just tends to be a natural time of reflection, purging, and renewal, but I've already said goodbye to three bikes in the fold and have one on its merry way from the UK as I type.

In some sense, I don't enjoy having too many bikes (what too many is defined as is still up for debate, I suppose). Options are always nice and if there's a flat or mechanical to deal with at the last second, it's easier to put the fix off until a later time and just make another selection. The problem is, these troubles don't materialize as often as one might think and then bikes tend to sit around gathering dust and I forget why I own the superfluous bike(s). Usually, this means a round of rides to find out if I still enjoy the bike or not, whether it's a near-duplicate of another, and generally results in selling something off (and more often than not, also buying something else).
Definitely not an all-inclusive photo collage of the bikes that have come and gone, but a smattering nonetheless.
These rounds of purging and starting new have become a rather bad habit. If one has the means to do so, I suppose there's nothing wrong with the cycle, but it still feels rather wasteful of funds (and, we don't really have the funds to be wasted). The reality is, however, that there always seems to be a reason for the exchanges being made. The bike doesn't quite fit properly, it doesn't perform in the exact way we expected, it's a too-close duplicate of another bike, and on the list can go. They are perfectly valid reasons to sell or exchange a bike, but I can't help but wonder where it ends.

We have had conversations about the amount of money being invested in bikes and parts and discuss whether putting more into something could result in a better outcome, or in the possibility of finding that mythical one-bike-to-rule-them-all. However, we've both had frames from the very inexpensive to those that required a more substantial investment and there doesn't really seem to be a correlation between cost and enjoyment necessarily. Granted, our "expensive" frames are still not considered costly by many in the cycling industry, but most everyday people probably aren't forking out thousands for a frame, I'd guess, unless it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime, keep-it-forever sort of frame - and even then, I'd guess there's a lot of faith being put into the outcome of the build and a lot of crossed fingers.

While I do enjoy having the opportunity to ride different bikes, I don't know that I want to own a multitude of bikes that aren't being utilized. Evaluating what is actually usable seems to be more of a conundrum than one might think. How many different types of riding can a person truly do? And yet, I'll find myself perfectly ready to move forward with a similar bike purchase, despite having just rid one from the stable. Sometimes it is because I have need or want to replace a particular type of bike that just went wrong, and other times it feels more like a bout with insanity - repeating the same mistake and expecting different results.

I remember a time when I had one bicycle that was used for whatever type of riding I may have done. It was not suitable in theory for most of the rides I undertook, and yet, it was one of the happiest riding points in my life. There are times when I miss those days, but I also understand that I cannot turn back the hands of time and recapture the sort of innocence that existed then. Knowledge is power, but there is a sort of bliss in ignorance as well. While I don't wish to release information from my knowledge base, I do find myself longing for the simpleness that existed with having one bike to ride everywhere.

Realistically, I understand it is unlikely I will ever be a one-bike-only person in the future, but I do have hope to settle in to a small number that get used on a regular basis. The problem seems to come in finding that "right" number and the ideal combination, and so the cycle continues each fall/winter in which I reevaluate, purge, and restock. I know it's possible to have a bike long-term, but finding the right one(s) to keep around seems to be the portion of this puzzle that eludes me. Perhaps it's just in my nature to want fresh starts, or more truthfully, it is that there is always an aspect of each bicycle that doesn't quite suit me or my needs, and since needs and wants can change over time, maybe I'm trying to fix something that isn't repairable.

Still, I forge on, believing that one day the right tools for the right jobs will be apparent and will stabilize this madness that lingers and repeats. Hopefully, information and experience will settle the revolving door, and rides will become less about feeling out a particular bike for its workable/non-workable characteristics and more about enjoying my surroundings on a bike.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

All That Glitters

I freely admit that I have been more than a tad enamored with the tandem bicycle we picked up in the not-too-distant past. I spend a lot of free moments daydreaming about tandem rides, thinking about potentially picking up a race (or at least lighter weight) tandem at some point in the future, and smiling to myself about past rides we've shared together. It's a little sick - and not the good kind of sick.

I have no doubt much of it has to do with the newness of tandeming for us, but I feel as though everywhere I go I have to tell anyone who will listen about the awesome ride we had or how climbing a particular hill was so slow (still smiling though, because I can't help myself), or how the tandem is just sooooooo much fun. For those who have to hear it from me on a regular basis, I truly apologize. I'm not trying to be irritating, but I really have enjoyed this bike so much that it's hard not to want to share the excitement with others.

For those who keep wondering when I'm going to come down off of my tandem high, this is the story for you. Which isn't to say that I've come out of the euphoric bliss, but rather that this tale will be a brief respite from the annoyingly sugar-sweet, happy tales of riding tandem.

Sam and I had just finished our longest tandem ride to date. It was over 50 miles (80 km) and included a climb that I had never ridden, even on my own, so I was happily bouncing around, excited that we'd accomplished something that felt more significant and still arrived home feeling good about our tandem experience.

"Maybe we should try one of the club dirt rides sometime," I threw out as a suggestion later on that evening of our long ride. We both know that our tandem was not built for racing, fast rides, or anything of the sort, but the dirt rides tend to be slower with this group, so I thought that even if we couldn't keep up when climbing, we'd catch everyone on the flat and downhill portions.

As it happened, there was a ride taking place just two days later, so we decided to show up and hang with the single-bike dirt riders for the planned route. I was not personally aware of the specifics of the ride, but Sam had printed out turn-by-turn directions and had ridden this route with the group in the past, so we believed that when we fell behind we could be responsible for finding our way back to the rest of the group.

I have not ridden with this group in a number of years, so when we arrived at the meeting/starting location, I was surprised to see more all-road type bikes than I had in the past. I wasn't worried about keeping up with those on mountain bikes, but because the other riders were on road bikes with slightly wider tires, my concerns began to grow. Still, we had the power of two people, so I put my mild worries aside and chatted until everyone arrived. There were comments about the tandem and a couple of riders even wondered if we'd be able to complete the ride. I reassured all that we'd ridden on fire roads and dirt paths, so we should be just fine. We also informed the group that we had directions, so they needn't wait for us if, or likely when, we fell behind the pack.

As we started out, we dropped to the back as there were a couple of tight corners and I'm still not sure how to quite maneuver these gracefully (or often at all without stopping) on the tandem. But, we caught up to the back of the group fairly easily and were able to hold a few places behind for several miles as the paved path turned to dirt and then to gravel.

"They're riding awfully fast for the advertised speed, don't you think?" I asked of Sam. "We are going about 18-19 miles per hour and not quite catching them, and they said it would average 13-15."
Sam agreed that the speed was faster than either of us anticipated, but because Sam rides with this group more frequently than I do, he said this is just what tends to happen when one of the organizers isn't present to keep speed under control.

Sam and I chatted and noticed the last single rider in the pack would occasionally turn around to check on us and then assure the group that we were still within a reasonable distance. At times, we'd be right with them and at other moments we'd drop behind several lengths, but we were always within a catchable distance of the group.

Or, at least that's how things went for awhile.

As we rounded a corner, all of a sudden we were face-to-face with a steep hill. On a single bike, it would be more manageable, but hefting our 50(ish) pound tandem along with two bodies up it is more of a challenge. I started laughing and told Sam that this would be where we would lose everyone.

Still, despite our slow pace up the dirt climb, we weren't doing too badly. We reached a fork in the path at the top of the climb and Sam assured me that we should continue on to the portion of the path that led us straight ahead. So, we powered along, climbing a little more and eventually hitting the end of the trail.

Literally, there was no more path to continue on, so our choice was to cross the busy road or to turn around and go back the direction we'd just traveled. Sam believed that we were still going the right direction and assured me that we'd just be on the paved road for a short while, making a turn at a main intersection just ahead.

We rode on the paved surface for a couple of miles with Sam's assurance that we'd be turning back onto dirt in the near future. But, the more we rode, the more I worried. Where were we headed exactly? And how had we lost everyone so quickly? I knew they were pedaling at swift speeds, but this was perfectly open space on the road and I could see no other people on bicycles.

The biggest problem for me at this moment was that I was experiencing incredibly painful tailbone bruising from our longer ride just a couple of days prior. Because the tandem is on the large side for me and it sits quite upright (and, frankly, I haven't done a lot of longer distances on my own this year), I have found that I seem to experience tailbone issues over longer rides or during multiple days back-to-back. I'm sure it's something that can be sorted out with adjustments, but at the time, it was all I could focus on.

After a handful of miles, Sam and I agreed that we should make a turn at the next intersection if we did not cross the road we were looking for to continue on our path. Just as these words were uttered, the road appeared as if by some magical happening. We made our right turn and were confronted by a very large, locked gate to a neighborhood.

"I'm confused," I said aloud. "This is the correct road, right?"

Sam looked a bit perplexed as well. We dismounted the bike and decided to walk around to see if there was some sort of trailhead we may have missed.

"I guess we could just turn around and do our own thing?" I asked of Sam. "We could ride on the road and get back to a path we are familiar with."

We continued to look around and just as we turned and realized that there was in fact a trailhead just feet away from us, the rest of our riding group appeared.

I laughed out loud. "How did we end up in front of all of you?" I couldn't help but ask.

One of the riders said, "Didn't you hear us yelling for you at the fork in the path?"

Sam and I looked at each other. We hadn't heard anything during our own debate about which way to go, but apparently the group had been just a few yards away trying to get our attention. They assumed that we were trying to avoid the tight turns that were coming up and figured they'd meet up with us exactly where we did.

Feeling relieved that we were on the right path (and personally relieved that I hadn't had to navigate any sharp turns on the tandem), we prepared to follow the group again.

Everyone mounted and started off and we were close behind. For the first several yards, things went okay. The path was loose gravel which was tolerable, but it was also very worn in spots both of which were creating some traction issues. The tires we've been using work fine on paved surfaces or packed dirt and even a small amount of gravel, but when it gets too deep or loose with gravel or dirt, we tend to have problems. The path then quickly turned into deeply cut single-track and I began to panic.
I didn't have enough sense about me to take a photo of the actual trail, but this is a close approximate as far as the depth of what we were met with. From what I've been told, the trail typically isn't as bad as it was on this late-November day.
*Photo found here
My mind was telling me that we couldn't make it through and I continually worried about pedal strike against the packed sides. Combined with the feeling of responsibility for Sam's safety in the stoker position, I could feel my body tensing up quickly.

"We need to stop," I announced to Sam. I stuttered a bit, "I... I just don't think I'm comfortable with this."

We dismounted the tandem and looked at each other. The thought of continuing on was more than I could handle and I strongly implored Sam to agree to my request to turn around and head back. He concurred and we set back to find more navigable roads.

It seems simple enough - to turn around when the path was unsure - but I felt as though I had failed. We hadn't had a ride we couldn't complete together yet, and I was upset that I was unable to overcome my mental hesitation. My concern had been that the same type of path appeared to continue on endlessly (or at least as far as I could see) and the last thing I wanted was for either of us to end up injured. Still, it was disappointing to realize that there are limitations and that, at least for that moment, I was not comfortable proceeding on.

We continued our hike-a-bike back to the trailhead as my internal thoughts began to get the better of me. It was frustrating that I couldn't mentally force myself to continue on, but I had to remind myself that this is still a relatively new activity for us, and even on my own I would have been uneasy on this particular path.

As we reached paved roads again, my tailbone was really giving me trouble. I couldn't sit on the saddle any longer. Additionally, the wind had picked up and pedaling was taking more effort. We would stand for a bit and then get back into the saddle, but each time my backside hit the leather, pain would shoot through me. It felt as though we would never get home.

"I am NOT having fun," I announced (just in case it wasn't obvious). "This is the first ride we've been on with the tandem that I haven't enjoyed." I was tearing up. I couldn't help but wonder if this was going to be the end of riding tandem together. Maybe the newness of the tandem had been what kept us going and now we would start hating riding together? As we barreled down a hill to the highway that would lead us home, I let the tears freely fall. This felt like it could be our last ride. Between the tailbone pain that wouldn't stop and my inability to properly pilot the tandem through tougher terrain, I could already see the for sale sign gracing the side of this bike in the near future.

Sam suggested taking the most direct route home because of my physically obvious problems sitting. I just couldn't stop fidgeting in the saddle. We paused several times in order to give my tailbone a rest, but I knew that stopping was just prolonging the pain and the ride, so I did my best to power through the discomfort and make it home.

We had told the group of riders that we'd meet them back for coffee at the end of the ride, but it just wasn't in the stars. Sam suggested leaving a message for them later just to let them know that we were okay, as we did our best to get home swiftly.

When we arrived back home, Sam (ever with the quick wit) proclaimed with a smile, "Well, at least you didn't throw the tandem on the ground!"

He always knows how to make me laugh, even when I'm in pain. He was referring to a ride we'd gone on together (on single bikes) a few years ago that I believed I was unprepared physically to do. When I reached the point of exhaustion, I pulled off to the side, threw the bike into the dirt and announced that I never wanted to ride again (in fact, I even tried to give my bike away to passers-by on that ride). I have to say, it's nice to have a partner with a sense of humor in these situations!

Indeed, I hadn't tossed the tandem to the ground, but mentally I was concerned that this would be the end for me and riding tandem.

Fortunately, we had some time in between that day and our next ride which gave the soreness time to heal. We also didn't travel as far on our next outing which helped reinvigorate my enthusiasm and also illustrated that one bad ride, which we were ill-prepared to navigate on a tandem, didn't and doesn't mean that we won't continue to enjoy the bike.

Thankfully, we've had a handful of rides since then that have all gone well, so despite my belief that the demise of the tandem was imminent, I think my sickeningly-happy tales of riding the tandem will continue (I'll apologize now to those who have to hear these).

I'm grateful though for a more difficult ride - at least in some sense. In many ways, it forced me to look at the tandem more objectively and to realize that not every ride will be perfect, comfortable, happy, fast, enjoyable, and so on. Like any activity that is done repetitively, there are going to be bad moments, bad rides, or bad days. Those moments don't negate the positive, however, and they help me appreciate the good times just that much more.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

May all your days be bright!

It is truly amazing how swiftly a month can pass! I suppose during the holiday season, time seems to pick up a quicker pace anyway - though that was definitely not the case as a child. I can recall my parents talking about time moving faster or slower when I was young, and it made no sense at all. Everything seemed to take an eternity. If we were taking a trip to a location I was excited about or was anxiously awaiting a holiday, that, in fact, seemed to move time in reverse.
*Image found here
Of course, as is almost always the case, as we get older, we begin to realize that much of what our parents stated can often truly become our reality as well. I'm not certain I care for this process of figuring things out, but it is what it is and I suppose there isn't much to be done about it. Just as I cannot seem to stop the wrinkles from coming to my hands and face, time will do what it does, moving at exactly the same standard, even if I perceive or experience it at seemingly different rates.

Although I've never quite identified with trying to keep wrinkles at bay, I understand wanting to maintain a youthful appearance in some manner. To me, wrinkles have always signified wisdom (at least for some individuals), and what could be more wonderful than to have knowledge and experience under my belt? Growing older though also means we are coming ever-closer to the end of our physical existence and that can bring up a whole slew of thoughts and emotions too. Perhaps this is all a part of societal need to maintain a youthful appearance.

Oh, how I have digressed already and I haven't even begun! Apparently, age is not bringing me wisdom, it is simply having me ramble on sooner in conversation (and writing). My original point was that it has been a month since my last post and it seems as though it has been but a few days in my own mind.

This season brings with it interesting emotions. I am always a little anxious as holidays were not the best in my youth (though thankfully much of that has resolved now well into adulthood). I also feel a need to review the year, even if only in some small way, to remind myself what was (and wasn't) accomplished in the prior 365 days. But that, I suppose, in and of itself is arbitrary, as self-evaluation should truly be ongoing, I think. Although not really a resolution sort of person, I do enjoy reflection and possibilities.

As can happen, this space has taken a backseat to other priorities in life. I have accepted that I will have times when I feel the need (and have the time) to write more often than others and as long as I have some sort of desire to share bicycle-related items, I will continue to keep this space alive in some way. I am thankful for applications like Instagram and Twitter, where it is easier to make and read quick posts and share in-the-moment thoughts and experiences with others. I'm still not the best with regular check-ins to those places either, but I find it to be a much easier space to connect with others, so if you ever have the desire to check in without sending an e-mail, it's likely I've put a photo or some sort of communication up in one of those places.

I took a very part time job this year as a school crossing guard. It's provided more examples and perspective of both polite and completely unaware road users. Requiring relative stillness for a small stretch of time (meaning, I don't leave the corner during my shift), I've witnessed so many dangerous activities taking place in a residential area that has multiple schools within a couple of blocks of one another, so I can imagine it's far worse in higher density areas.

Despite my personal awareness that road users are often oblivious to pedestrians and cyclists, I find this little segment of time each day has reinforced and strengthened my belief that something needs to be done about distracted and dangerous drivers. These aren't intoxicated drivers; these are the people drinking coffee in their cars while driving to/from work each day, staring down at phones, speeding through areas at a velocity far exceeding the posted limit, most often highly unaware of their surroundings. I don't know how this gets resolved as more distractions seem to get added to automobiles regularly and few people put themselves in the position of pedestrian or cyclist on an everyday basis. Even injuries and deaths don't seem to rid our world of these tendencies toward distraction and inattention.

This year, a bike share system was added to our community. I tried it out myself and occasionally I see users around town, but it does not appear to be the most used service in our city. I am curious to see how this program evolves and whether or not it will remain a part of our area.

Participating in my first duathlon this year was a big milestone. When I signed up, I didn't believe it would be as difficult as it was, but I also didn't expect to be injured when starting the race. As with most challenging things in life, I learned my lessons and hope to find new ways to test myself in the coming year. Who knows? Maybe another duathlon is in my future.

Sharing some thoughts on my personal frustrations with they cycling industry was therapeutic, but didn't necessarily resolve much. Every year I hold out hope that one day it will no longer be a necessity for me to write about the shortcomings I see as a consumer. I know there are others who are frustrated as well, so I still hold out hope that things can and will change. Sometimes, it just takes enough voices willing to persist.
*Image found here, where you can purchase this card on Etsy.
Perhaps one of the most exciting activities/moments for me was when we received our tandem bicycle. I have become completely enamored of riding together to the point that it's all I seem to want to do (I still ride my own bikes, never fear, but often I find myself daydreaming about the tandem -- hello, infatuation!). The newness and excitement will no doubt wear at some point, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the together time and seeing what we are capable of accomplishing as a team.

On one hand, it's difficult to believe that an entire year has almost passed, but in the next breath I would say that much has also taken place in that same span of time. We have been presented with challenges both small and large, but these are the things that keep us interested in life and moving towards personal and societal betterment.

I am never quite able to predict what the coming year has in store, but I always look forward to it. I am grateful for those who read and comment here, whether or not we share the same opinions on a matter. Having some sort of connection with people just a few miles away, or across several hundreds or thousands of miles is truly amazing, and I do not for one moment take for granted our ability to have a small amount of space in each other's lives.

My wish for all who read here is that you have experienced a year full of all the best life has to offer, that you are able to spend the holiday season with those you love, and that the new year brings peace (though never at the expense of sacrificing morality or beliefs), success in whatever areas you choose to pursue, and of course, the most fantastic rides on a bicycle.

Happy Holidays and tailwinds to all, and a wish for a 2018 full of adventure!