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. 


  1. Ah, the tyranny of goals. If we don't hold them lightly, our goals hound us with guilt and worry and turn what had been fun into joyless labor. I *have* to get in a certain number of miles, or hit a certain average mph, or ride a certain number of days, or whatever. The thing is that I love riding my bike. It makes me happy, the kind of unencumbered, uncomplicated happy that I feel when my dog does something especially goofy. I don't want to do anything to mess with that kind of happy. But I like my goals too!

    So, here's what I've learned to do. I set a modest, doable goal for myself. Then I set an aspirational "stretch" goal. It doesn't matter if I don't hit the mark; it's just a thing to aim for. The only real goal is to continue to enjoy the ride.

    Oh, and about finding the perfect bike: I'm right there with you. I search and plan and research and obsess over finding "the one," and when I get it, it's never exactly right. There's always something to tweak and some other bike I find on the internet that wags its finger at me with that "I would have been better" certainty.

    I also don't like redundancy. Why can't I find just one bike to do everything? How about a folding, daily commuter, fast, long distance touring bike with dynamo lighting, and an IGH, that weighs 20 pounds? Right. I'll get right on that. I'm learning to love what I have: A dutch-style daily commuter, a Bianchi Volpe for long distance and recreational rides, and a beater bike that I can't give up because I overhauled it myself and have formed a deep sentimental attachment to it.

    What it comes down to for me with both the goals and the bikes is this: On a good ride the bike and the goal disappear from my awareness. It's all about the love of pushing myself along a road to who knows where. Be easy with yourself. I hope in the days ahead you'll find ways to ride just because you love it.

    1. So true, Kendra. I think I've just spent so much time attempting to figure out why I don't feel a certain way that I forget to just ride and not worry about it. It seems insane (and I suppose it is). Getting out for a bit today was fantastic and even though it was warmer than I'd hoped, I just enjoyed.

      I'm not sure there is a perfect bike. I've spent so much time in pursuit of something as close to perfection as possible that I think there reaches a point that I have to give up. We had a conversation the other day here in our house about having a certain number of bikes that work well and having one that is constantly rotating. I'm not sure I'll ever reach a point that at least one bike isn't in near-constant rotation. I can hope though.

      I think the other challenge is not being able to test ride so many of the possibilities. I wish that there was the ability to try before committing, but I suppose that is unlikely to happen for most of us.

      I hope your training is coming along. Are you still planning your century? Are you enjoying the Volpe?

    2. I love the Volpe, but you were right that aiming for 15 mph might be too much of a stretch. This is largely because even when I intend to prioritize speed, I always get lost in the scenery or in my own thoughts and end up slowing down. Oh well!

      I think I'll follow your lead and do a solo century first. My longest ride so far has only been 50, but I felt really strong at the end -- like I could have gone for at least another 25 or so with no trouble. I'm riding at least 20 miles nearly every day. I haven't extended my mileage for two reasons. First, we've had a long spell of 95-100 degree days with super high humidity here. I really need to get off the bike by about 11:00 or it gets miserable and possibly even dangerous to be out there. Second, my spouse has started riding with me! I'm so, so happy about this. He's happy with rides of about 30 miles, and I'm happy to cut back on my mileage so that I can ride with him. Goodness all around!

    3. So awesome, Kendra! I miss riding with Sam... but he has become ridiculously fast, so keeping up with him is impossible. Even when we try, I get frustrated because I hear him coasting behind me, so our riding time together is generally relegated to stuff around town when I know he'll slow down. :O)

      As for average speed riding a century... I think an average of 15mph is doable, depending on training, the individual, and so on (I hope I didn't discourage that - I just recall thinking that would be a really swift pace for a first century). On that note, for me, 15mph average would be pushing my limits. I suppose much of it depends on terrain and geography. If it's mostly flat, the faster speeds aren't quite as taxing. But, as you've mentioned when heat and humidity come into the picture, that becomes a different story. I know that generally in the very hot months of summer, I tend to start rides early so that I can be done before noon as well (preferably even sooner). But, that does limit mileage, of course.

      I am so glad you're enjoying the Volpe, and hopefully you'll get to enjoy your first century soon too. It sounds like you've reached a great point of being able to ride 50 miles and not feel as though you're done. As I recall, I had done 60 miles before the first century. I started feeling the fatigue around 75-80 miles, and then it became a matter of just mentally pushing through because my body was fine, but my mind was not wanting to be in the saddle any longer. :O)

  2. In the end I think you may discover you made just one single miscalculation. If you had just spec'd your Rod for 650b wheels rather than 650c, your ride would be as light and agile, just as fast or faster, and a whole lot more comfortable on wide cushy tires. Running on good quality 38mm or 42mm width rubber at 50psi is soooo much more pleasurable than skinny 25s at 100+psi. You won't feel so beat up and hammered, even on "smooth" roads, and worse roads may be explored with confidence and adventure, rather than pain and dread. It sounds like you are getting back to putting comfort and pleasure and fun at the center of your bicycling experience, and that is super!

    1. I think I recall that she had the bike built to take either 650 b or c wheels. If so, it would be simple enough to get an extra set of wheels for it.

    2. The Rodriguez is quite comfortable and it was built to handle 650c or 26" wheels and tires, so I can do a thinner tire or wider with various pressure possibilities, depending on the need. The hiccup is not in its level of comfort, but simply that I requested something that was trying to combine too many things into one bike. It is exactly what I asked for, but I think what I asked for was unreasonable and it should likely have been two separate bikes.

      Yes... enjoyment is the most important thing, and I think that was something that went by the wayside along this journey. I'm ready to just have fun again and stop concerning myself with the less important matters... which doesn't mean I won't obsess occasionally, but that I hope to at least get back to just riding. :O)

  3. I will not delve into the mysteries of why one rides or not but I will quote a great philosopher when I say Get on your bikes and ride. Thank you Freddie.

  4. I'm facing a similar problem. I've been making drastic changes to my bike herd and I want to sell off the more of the replication. A well-respected local bike mechanic told me there is no perfect bike, just bikes for different jobs. I've found my utility bike, the Origin8 cx700 build to be a bit more heavy with it's triple butted frame but it's a multi-use bike and has 700 x 32c tires. Most of my machines now have wider tires and upright handlebars or mountain bars. It takes that for me to be comfortable right now on a bike. I may change some things again but I'm doing what I have to do to ride and enjoy myself. Distance doesn't matter.

    1. I need to add that I'd like to spend more time on my bikes but that will come in time as I heal.

    2. I agree that there is no one perfect bike for all things. It's difficult not to want it regardless. :O) I think what I'm finding is that, at least for me, there doesn't seem to be one perfect road category bike either. I find that I have times when I want to move more swiftly and push with a light bike and other times that I'd rather be a bit more comfortable and a little more weight and wider tires seems to help that side.

      What is amazing to me is that after all the bikes I've tested, owned, and/or borrowed, I would think I'd have a more precise sense of what works or what doesn't (though the what doesn't work seems easier to pinpoint than what does) and yet I still struggle, even when I think I know. I'm aware that injuries at the present don't help matters either.

      Best to you as you heal. Getting over injuries isn't fun - especially this time of year when all I want to do is ride.


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