Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Frustration of Bicycles

The first time I really started riding a bicycle in adulthood was about 8 years ago. I was looking for some cross-training ideas and Sam tossed out the idea of riding a bike. I kind of laughed because most of my memories of riding a bike involved something heavy and unable to get up overpasses in my youth (though I had a lot of fond memories as well). After borrowing one of his mountain bikes to commute on and ride just about anywhere, I became a bit addicted to seeing how far I could go. Even though his bikes were incredibly painful for my hands and wrists, I couldn't seem to stop riding. When I decided I didn't want to be in pain anymore while riding, things kind of shifted. It started with a cruiser bike (which I adored!) and blossomed into what has, in essence, become this blog.
Electra Daisy 3i, AKA "Stuart" - the bike that started it all
Fast forward to today. I still love riding, but my frustration with bicycles still remain - in a different form. I don't know if it's something innately human, or if it is a strange quirk of my own, but I have tried for several years to limit the number of bikes in the household and to try to find that "one perfect bike." Along the way, I have learned that it just isn't possible for me to have that singular bike that does everything, and I've accepted that as long as I want to engage in different types of riding, one bike isn't going to cut it. The one bike that seems to elude me repeatedly is THE road bike. For many years, I resisted the idea of a road bike at all. Even when I got the Hillborne, I didn't think of it as a "road bike" because I didn't think of myself as a roadie by any stretch. Although I still don't think of myself as a road cyclist, I do want to engage in faster road rides and the reality of the Hillborne is that it's just not able to keep up with the speed of others. I can ride it alone just fine, knowing that it's heavier and will be a bit slower, but if I have any hope of keeping up with others, it needs to be lighter weight. However, the Hillborne is an awesomely perfect all-around bike. I can take it on the road, I can take it to the grocery store, and anywhere else I desire. I can load him up and make him heavy and he still handles well.  Best of all, it's comfortable for long distances. I've pondered the idea of stripping him down, but he still wouldn't be as light as other typical road bikes, and additionally, it wouldn't be as functional as my every day bike.
Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen
Enter the Homer. When purchasing the Homer, I had high hopes that it would become the road bike for faster rides. It is lighter than the Hillborne, handles well, and is quite comfortable... however, the trouble I still have with this bike is its slowness - or rather my inability to get it to speeds I want to see. Downhill rides are fabulous and I can easily pass just about anyone; but, on level ground or climbs, it's still too heavy to keep up.
Torelli Express
Over the last several months there have been a few attempts to find that perfect fit. The Torelli is a fabulous bike and I love how zippy I feel on it. Even if I am not as fast as others, it feels faster and I know that my averages were higher even on lone rides. The problem with this bike is that the top tube is too long and even with a shorter stem, I return from rides with a strained neck that lasts for several days up to a week. Again, I'm not looking to be in that sort of pain. I don't mind soreness, but pain due to improper size or set up isn't okay.
Whitcomb frame/fork from 1981 - I should know better; I have the "red bike curse" to contend with
A Whitcomb (which I still haven't wrote about - but I will get there, I promise) frame and fork was purchased with the hopes that this vintage ride could be the answer. However, even after setting it up with lightweight parts, it seemed to weigh more than the Homer and just doesn't have the peppiness I was hoping for in a road bike. I do, however, think this could make a fabulous bike for other purposes that I will be writing about in the future.

The more recent purchase was a Mercier that Sam purchased online, believing that it could be the perfect fit. Using the lightweight parts from the other failed builds, he set this one up and took it for a spin. He thought it seemed great and sent me out to give it a whirl. On my first ride out, however, it felt, well, odd, and as though I was going to be sent over the handlebars at any moment. It still didn't seem to have that feel I was looking for and had the added "bonus" of fitting strangely.

I've looked at a slew of bikes and thought, "maybe this one," but I can't spend (nor do I have it to spend) endless money on bicycles.  In many ways, I need to take my own past advice and realize that if one cannot test ride a bicycle before buying, this is, unfortunately, what often happens. It's a huge trial and error process and getting frustrated helps no one. That, however, doesn't stop the frustration from taking place. Figuring out the next move is even more aggravating. Sam thinks that spending a smaller amount and continuing to try out frames is a good way to go. Some days I agree with him; other days, I have varying thoughts. I think about the idea of selling off everything except the Hillborne to fund a titanium road bike or something that I can find locally and actually try it before buying. However, even those test rides are often short and don't always provide the best insight into what will actually work over longer distances. I've considered renting a road bike for a longer term testing period at one of the local bike shops and moving forward from there, but that has its own costs associated with it, and it could end up being more expensive than the buying-and-selling merry-go-round process currently taking place.

Unfortunately, I don't necessarily have the answer at this moment in time, but I know that if I want to pursue road rides, I have to keep on with this process in some form. For someone who just wants to go out and ride, it is an amazingly daunting and time-consuming process. So much so, that I've had thoughts of just giving up the idea of finding what I'm looking for and riding what I have in whatever way I am able. I don't give up quite that easily though, so I have no doubt there is more trial and error in the future. At least I can take some solace knowing that there are others who have endured their own frustrations with finding the right bike - in whatever form that is for the individual - and know that eventually, the right one will come along.

13 comments:

  1. Trying to find one bike that works for everything is like trying to own just one pair of shoes! Resign yourself to having several bikes. My road bike is used only for club rides and our daily training rides. It's a custom build carbon fiber, and it is a joy to ride. It's my third road bike, my second carbon fiber, and the best fit of all three. It's totally useless for anything other than what I use it for, but I wouldn't be without it!

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    1. Agreed, Marsha. I don't think there's any getting around the fact that a road bike needs to be a road bike. Hope you're enjoying some lovely spring ride time! :O)

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  2. I wouldn't have chosen the Hilsen as a road bike, primarily because Riv describes it as a country bike. Have you thought about the Roadeo?

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    1. When I bought the Homer, I wasn't particularly concerned about great speed, so it made sense. I figured it would be faster than the loaded up Hillborne (which it is - a small bit), and that would be sufficient. At the moment, I'm just trying to ride as many things as I can for reference purposes before making any decisions. It may mean I have to wait awhile, but the wait is worthwhile if it means I don't plunk down a ton of money only to be disappointed.

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    2. Fair enough. When I think how much money I've spent on bikes in the last 10 years as my needs have changed, I cringe.

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    3. I can certainly identify! Somehow, even when selling off the excess, I still seem to lose - and far more than I would like. Every time I think I'm set, something shifts. Perhaps it is not only the nature of bikes, but of life?

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  3. Maybe ride with people you can keep up with? Eff 'em if they won't let you set the pace.

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    1. :O) Well... it's not always the other people, unfortunately. I would like to be able to go faster - even on my own - and the bikes I have just aren't designed for that. I totally agree with you about riding with those who will allow everyone a chance to set the pace. There's a local group that actually does a ride in the middle of the week after work, and they've split it into two groups so that there's a group that pretty much hauls a$$ the entire ride, and a group that goes a more moderate pace, so that definitely helps too. They will also stop a couple of times to let the stragglers (usually me :O)) catch up.

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  4. Go to any bike shop and try out a stock aluminum/carbon Trek, Cannondale, Giant, Sprecialized, etc. and see the difference. They are not as pretty as your steel bikes, but you can get an entry level bike for around 21lbs. You can get really nice components for less when they come stock because the manufacturers get them cheap. Just try it. I started road biking on a second hand Trek 2.1 after having trouble keeping up on my Soma Buena Vista. The difference was immeasurable. I now ride a custom steel road bike, but the tubing and components we selected kept it light. (20 lbs.) Just go test ride. You will see.

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  5. I have been thinking about this post and my own *issues* about going faster and/or keeping up with others. I need to suss through things and put them up on Rubenesque Cyclist. Just wanted you to know that what you write here often gets stuck in my craw for days, even weeks! afterward.

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    1. :O) I'm glad I'm not alone. I think my own reality is that I know there are fast, light bikes that work. I've tested them out at shops, I've borrowed them, etc. My biggest problem is my pre-existing hand issues coupled with figuring out where the line is between cost and pain. I'm actually testing out a bike at the moment that I never, ever thought I would even get on for more than a ride around the block because of the frame material, but I wanted to keep options open, so we'll see where it takes me.

      I hope you are able to work through your thoughts, as I'd love to read what's been happening for you, too. :O) Misery loves company? Okay, not exactly... but I am always interested to know what's going on for others - particularly when they are able to find solutions that work.

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  6. OH! I've been meaning to ask you if your weight loss over the past 1+ year has made you any faster? The conventional wisdom (that I got from Grant Petersen!) is you gain one mph for every 12 lbs you lose. At this moment I weigh about ten pounds less than I did at the start of RAGBRAI 2011 & I'm working on losing some more in next six weeks, so I'm interested to see how things are different for me this year. I also know the route will be shorter, and maybe overall a bit less hilly (except for day #2).

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    1. That would be awesome! I am really anxious to read about your adventures at RAGBRAI. I really do want to do that ride one of these years.

      I, personally, have not noticed an immense increase in speed with the weight loss, but I suppose it's possible there has been a small amount of increase. I think in the past, I focused less on speed, whereas now I find myself actually wanting to go faster. I'm interested to see if you notice any difference. Definitely will be curious to see if you notice changes. :O)

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