Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Giving up bicycles

I am through with bicycles.

That was the brief and only contents of an email sent recently. I was, without mincing words, pissed off. I despise the fact that I go through so many emotions when it comes to bikes, but there reaches a point at which all of the seemingly little things - the ill-fitting equipment, the too-often moronic motorists, the non-compliant weather, etcetera - come together in a brief span of time and I arrive home wanting to literally throw my bicycle in the trash. So, as I returned home after an extremely brief ride one day, I could feel the anger boiling inside. I was shaking visibly, and since no one was around for me to take out my hostilities, I sent the five-word email and decided that I'd had enough of dealing with bicycles and their "drama."
*Image here
Just days before, I had been in conversation about the prospect of building a custom frame. While not in love with the costs involved in such an endeavor, I was excited about the possibility of having a frame that might actually fit properly. I had been wavering back and forth about whether or not this would be the thing to do, but those from whom I'd sought advice thought it seemed a good idea. Heading to a local shop, I said the magic words... "Okay, let me know what I need to do to move forward." After which, I immediately felt ill. I want a bicycle that fits properly, but I definitely don't want to spend the money. I have a bike that's close to a good fit, but I still experience pains and numbness and was hopeful that a custom frame would be the answer. Now, as I sat reviewing the 5-mile ride I'd just returned from, I wasn't sure I wanted a custom bike, nor any bike for that matter.

The morning had been chilly, so I worked for several hours, thinking that a ride later in the day might be a better choice. I made the mistake of eating just before I set out, and unfortunately, I was feeling it a little more than I'd prefer. The heat of the day had also arrived quicker than I'd anticipated and the air seemed far warmer and thicker than the actual temperature would indicate. Additionally, I had opted to try out a different pair of shoes this day. I'd been experimenting with shoes/pedals/etc in an attempt to resolve some foot issues while riding. Pollen was flying through the air all around me as I stood over the bike preparing to set out. Despite my head already throbbing with an allergy-induced pounding, I wanted to ride. I had a route in mind - something rarely tackled by my brain before venturing out. So, I was going whether the circumstances seemed in my favor or not.

As I rolled down the hill from home, I realized I'd left my gloves sitting in the bike storage. I had decided it would be a good idea to check the air in the tires before rolling out and could picture exactly where I'd left them. Ah, well... I would continue on. As I rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill, I realized there was an incredible strain taking place in my shoulders and neck. I tried wiggling a bit and stretching to see if it would work itself out to no avail. Then suddenly, I was instantly aware of all the issues taking place on the bike: the saddle was tipped up way too high, the handlebars had a reach that suddenly seemed to grow many inches in just seconds, the bars were tipped too far forward, and so on.

Over the prior weekend, Sam and I had taken the bike out to make adjustments in an attempt to improve the fit. We were convinced that minor changes could make a huge difference, so if we went together, Sam could see how my position might appear off, and I could describe what exactly was taking place physically. We'd made so many changes by the end of that ride, I was numb to everything. I had decided after our second hour on the bikes that we should just leave it alone and I would take the bike out later to make another round of adjustments, if needed.

And, oh boy, were adjustments needed. Stopping the bike after a few miles, I decided I was going to make the fixes because I wanted to ride. I frequently struggle with adjusting the tipping of the saddle, so I decided to focus on the handlebars. I loosened the bottom screw on the handlebar stem and then went after the top screw. Except, it wouldn't budge. With all of my might, I sat on the side of the road attempting to release the screw. I grunted and groaned, and muttered to myself about Sam making everything so tight that vice grips are needed to release them. "How am I supposed to make changes if I can't even get the damn screw loose!" I yelled to no one, as I stood in a small patch of dusty pea gravel beside the road. Perhaps another cyclist would ride by, I thought. It's a frequently ridden road for many in the area and there was a chance someone would be kind enough to help me get the screw loose. But, I had ventured out after lunch time and the odds of a cyclist pedaling by were unlikely.

For fifteen minutes I tried different methods to release the screw, but it was no use. My hands were in so much pain at this point that I had no grip left. The indentations left on my hands by the wrenches on my bike tool were getting worse, and I was aware that I wasn't going to be able to continue riding. I didn't really want to ride at this point, so I walked across the road, about faced, got back on the bike, and feeling defeated, started pedaling home. I had quickly gone from happy and determined to angry and discouraged, and there didn't seem to be any turning back.

It's amusing that when one thing goes wrong, it all seems to domino from that point. Even the littlest of happenings seems to add exponentially to the internal turmoil, and it's easy to think back on the start and believe that everything that was taking place, all of the "signs" that it wasn't my day, all of these moments were a means of telling me not to leave the house. Normally, I can let things go, but on days like this, the world seems to be against me. I turn into a bratty child, throwing internal tantrums and believing that I am "not meant to ride a bike." I convince myself that it is too difficult to get things set up properly and that it's not worth the pain.

As I continued home, muttering to myself, I am shook from my internal world of thoughts by a car that has stopped dead in front of me. "Seriously?" I state aloud. I'm on a hill - the hill home - and definitely don't want to lose what little momentum I have. The grade is steep, and stopping and re-starting is unpleasant to say the least even when I'm not in a foul mood; but today - today, I really don't need this. The driver, who is on her cell phone, motions for me to go behind her. "I can't... you're blocking the path," I say. Not that she can hear me as she is quite obviously caught up in her (I'm sure, highly important - [insert sarcastic eye roll]) phone call. She sits, continuing to talk, as I shake my head and feel the anger rising inside. "Are you blind? There is a sign right there (I motion to the sign clearly posted) to watch for cyclists!" Again, she has no interest in me and isn't even aware of my mouth moving, nor my frustration level. I call her a choice name and she finally moves so I am able to continue on.

Arriving home, I am beat. I have traveled just over 5 miles and feel as though I've ridden 60+ miles. I sulk into the house, truly believing that I am never, ever, riding a bicycle again. "Cancel my frame order, shut down the blog," I tell the dogs as I pout my way through the house, dropping pieces of cycling paraphernalia as I go. "I'm done." Then, a quick stop to send the e-mail to Sam... "I am through with bicycles."

Sam responds wanting to know what happened. I don't bother to reply. When I don't send a message back, he calls, but I don't pick up. I have no interest in engaging in conversation or discussion about my feelings. I am simply done. I don't want to be in pain, I don't want to struggle with bikes, and I don't want someone attempting to talk me out of my (entirely reasonable... at least in that moment) desire to sell every bicycle I own. Instead, I sit in my stupor, wondering why I ever learned to ride a bike and why on earth I returned to riding them more and more frequently over the last several years.

Lost in heated, resentful thought, I stew in my self-made concoction of three-year old child outbursts and contempt. Slowly, however, I become aware that I am telling myself, "Well, perhaps I'll keep just the Hillborne. I may actually ride that one." Those little slivers of truth keep sneaking into my thoughts. "I can't sell the Soma," is the next one to find its way into my consciousness, followed by, "I need the Trek. It's the road bike that fits the best at the moment."

I try to fight the thoughts. I want to hate my bikes right now and I never want to ride again. Bicycles are stupid. There are other activities to engage in without riding a bike. Think about the agony of trying to find one that fits properly, think about the near-death experiences with drivers, and think about the pain of trying to build on mileage each spring and summer... all for what?

But it's too late. The positive moments are already flooding my mind. The memories of seeing that cruiser bike for my birthday and riding all over, no matter what anyone said was a reasonable distance to cover on it. The casual rides to nowhere that were fun just because there was absolutely no purpose in them other than enjoying being outside. The rides with friends who are just getting on bikes again as adults and sharing their new experiences. The first road bike and the realization that I could cover more territory so much faster. My first century ride, despite believing it was impossible to complete.

What would I do without a bicycle? It's become more than I ever thought it could be. I use it for transportation, to clear my head when it's full of thoughts that need to be released, for exercise, for training, for adventure, to challenge what I think is possible. Bicycles are simple, yet beautiful. They are reminders that even as technology changes, a bicycle remains relatively consistent. Our two-wheeled device is capable of giving so much and asks so little in return.

By the time evening hit, it was kickboxing time. Without even thinking, I move toward bike storage to retrieve the Hillborne and head to class. Rolling down the same hill I'd ridden just hours before, I smile. Riding around is always fun, and being with Sam on a bike is the best. I love this bike, I think as we roll over bumps and rocks. "Maybe we can try again this weekend with the adjustments on the other one?" I ask Sam as we ride side by side. He nods in response and I realize there is no giving up something I think about almost constantly. I'm hooked for life.


  1. I enjoyed your story and can really relate.

    Today was a little warmer than many of the past few days. Matter of fact, the past two days had downpours descend just at the times I had available to go for a ride. However, today when I returned from my ride, I noticed I had that sweat you pick up when you ride in warm weather. Beads dripped off my nose as I let the dogs out of their kennel. The boys always so glad to see me! The first time I noticed that kind of sweat this year. Not a clammy, yucky feeling, but a feeling of real accomplishment.

    I did fall off the wagon with cycling for a period of time. It wasn't the two front tire blown outs that sent be helter skelter over the handlebars onto the pavement. It wasn't the truck that sideswiped me and drove merrily off oblivious. It was getting car-doored. That took a lot of the wind out of my sails. I actually went so far as to sell all of my bikes.

    That said, I have thousand of miles of pleasant times on my bikes and eventually the allure of cycling called to me. Back on the wagon I climbed. Yes, since then a woman sideswiped me in her SUV a few months ago. I still have the challenges of inattentive drivers to contend with. I do regularly have to remind myself if I yell expletives at some driver I might run into them at the annual block party - so maybe I should cool it. I have made adjustments - I now ride a line off the parked cars out of range of doors and the drivers coming up from behind can stuff it if they think I need to pull over.

    But there are those days, like today, where I feel so good about what I am doing. Glad to hear your bounced back - here here!

    1. I am always amazed at the inattentiveness of some motorists, but, I'm glad that you didn't permanently give up bikes. I know the experts will say that we have to get back on after being struck to not let the fear overtake us, but I'm sure it's challenging. I am thankful that I've only had very close encounters with cars and not physically been harmed, but I have no doubt that at some point my day will come. I hope I have it in me to actually keep riding after such an event.

      It's sometimes hard to remember those great moments in the middle of the not-so-great ones. Hopefully, they get us through those tougher moments though.

      As for current weather patterns... what is up with it? Holy cow! It seems like everyone is having strange weather... and we are used to odd weather here, but it's odd even for the normal oddness. Today was a 0% chance of rain, yet as I sit here typing, raindrops are pouring down on the roof. The parts of the country in desperate need of rain can't get any... it's all just a crazy round with weather it seems.

  2. I've had those moments too. And then, when I momentarily forget to focus on being frustrated, I find myself daydreaming about my next ride.

    1. I'm so glad others can relate. Sometimes I find myself wondering if I'm the only one who goes through this. :O)

  3. Oh man, I rode just 5 miles this morning and was nearly in tears of frustration afterward because my hands and feet are still numb even after my most recent fit and the saddle sore (I think) that I can't figure out the source of was making itself known again. And I've just bought and returned a bunch of plus size clothes that didn't work. So, I hear you about there being lows. I was definitely in that trough this morning, but it just makes me determined to keep trying. Cycling longer distances is new to me, so I just have to keep reminding myself that there will be this period of adjustment and there is nothing wrong with going back for more fits and changing out seats and handlegrips and bike shorts, etc. For me, at least, I have to fight a female tendency to think it's my fault when things go wrong. I'm feeling more optimistic this afternoon and then I come and read your post and I feel even better. We'll both figure it out!

    1. Sometimes the shortest rides can be the most painful. At the beginning of the riding season, I find myself wondering how I ever rode distances I had the prior summer, and then somehow find myself back at that mileage. It just takes time to build up, and unfortunately the frustrations come with it (especially when bikes aren't quite set up to their best for the individual quite yet).

      Hang in there, Megancita! The season is still young. :O)

    2. Megancita, you may be doing all of this already, but if not, try these:

      - Keep in mind that much of the cycling gear sold in the U.S. is racing or performance influenced for marketing purposes and not really that great for the average cyclist. Certainly not the kind of stuff that you see sold in cultures where cycling is broadly accepted as basic transportation. So don't be afraid to eschew American conventions.

      - Wear padded cycling gloves, with good padding where your hands rest on the handlebars. (Some gloves were apparently designed by someone that never road a bicycle. I find established companies like Pearl Izumi know what they are doing.) Half finger gloves are fine in warm weather. Gloves are also great protection if you ever fall.

      - Wear padded cycling shorts or the padded undergarment that is sold to wear under unpadded shorts or pants.

      - Get a good bicycle seat. I find the wider the better. Not everyone has the skinny rear end of a bicycle messenger. I swear by Brooks, which do take a couple of hours of riding time to break in. I use their B67, which is wide, has a spring suspension, and is heavy. But I don't get numb anymore, except on very long rides. I don't care about the weight. I ride for exercise anyway.

      - Adjust your handlebars and seat for fit. A shorter or longer stem puts more or less weight on your hands. A longer stem shifts weight onto your hands and off your rear end. A shorter stem does the opposite. Sliding the seat fore and aft on the rails positions your knee over the pedal. (I follow the adage that a weighted string dropped from the side of the knee cap should go through the center of the front pedal axle when you have the pedals balanced horizontal.) Adjusting the angle of the seat shifts your weight onto different parts of your anatomy. I adjust the height of my seat to allow my legs to extend as much as possible when I pedal, while still being able to put a toe down when I stop.

      - Try large platform pedals. Mine are the large 100 mm x 100 mm (4" x 4"), which spreads out the pedaling forces and lets me wear a variety of shoes for cycling. I actually find riding with my PF Flyers sneakers as super comfortable now.

      Good luck, cycling does not have to be painful.

    3. Thanks, Augsburg, for sharing this helpful information. I'm sure there are others who will find it useful (and much more beneficial than my short reply to Megancita).

    4. Thanks for taking the time to reply! I find that it is quite easy to get swept up into gear-mania, and there really are so many things to choose from and so many expert opinions to hear that it can be quite overwhelming. I'm pretty sure my saddle sore is being caused by my shorts, so I will have to shop around a bit more to find out what works for me. Thanks again!

    5. Have you tried chamois butter, Megancita? I hadn't bothered in the past, but recently decided to give it a try. The verdict is still out for me, but it might help ease you into riding longer distances?

  4. Bikes are money pits - no doubt about it. Also, bike shops are busy and getting a proper fit can put more burden on you. It was trial and error before I realized exactly the right size frame and handlebars fit me best - and, what adjustments I needed to have made. Hang in there. It all comes down to having fun and bikes provide that.

  5. Its getting increasingly harder to find good padded bike gloves. I like Spenco Iron Man gloves. I got mine on Amazon. Some padding under your cycling pants helps, too. Most of all, make sure your handlebars are high enough and your reach feels comfortable. I like my handlebars seat level or higher. And I like my saddle level but move it forward or back, as needed. Saddle stem change can also help. I've gone through 3 handlebar changes on one bike.

  6. Bikes that fit me best aren't racing bike frames with short stems but frames with a taller geometry - meaning the top tube is maybe 1 inch longer than the seat tube and the stem is either threaded or an uncut threadless. I have long legs but a short reach, like most women. Surly Cross Check, Origin8 cx700 frame, Linus roadster are good geometry examples for me. My favorite saddles - C9, Greenbell Freedom, Terry Liberator X GEL [for road bike]. Handlebar height for me is level with the saddle or higher.

    1. I'm always interested to hear about what combinations or measurements work for individuals. It reinforces to me personally that we really are so different from person to person. I haven't found anything in particular (other than perhaps a taller headtube) that seems to be consistent from bike to bike as far as that goes. In theory, I should find most standard bikes comfortable because my proportions (torso vs legs) are more akin to men's proportions, but that hasn't been true. I do know that I cannot have my handlebars too low or I will experience numbness and pain quickly... but, I also think that's true for many riders.

  7. It's hard to imagine giving up a bicycle, especially when it offers all the gifts that you articulate. Even so, I think many of us who ride have days where cycling can be frustrating, be it due to traffic, aggressive drivers, mechanicals, or other things. That is one reason why I like to mix up riding with running and the occasional run-commute. On another note, I hope you find the perfect bike fit you seek.

    1. It's hard to know (without just going for it) if a perfect bike fit can be found, but I think the only way to know is to keep trying. It's interesting because I meet people who seem to fit easily on just about anything that's close to the right size, and then I meet others like myself who seem to struggle to get things set up so that pains aren't present throughout a ride. I don't truly expect that anything will be perfect, but close would be nice. :O) I agree, it's difficult to imagine giving up bicycles altogether, but I do have those thoughts occasionally.


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