Thursday, July 8, 2010

My LIfe on a Bike

Two posts ago, I wrote about Bike Snob NYC's book Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling and said, near the end, that the direction that post took was not where I thought the post would go, which sounds an awful lot like what life is like in general these days. I need to say as an addendum to that post, and before I get into writing what I originally intended to write about, that in a moment of courage, or perhaps insanity, and with no expectations, I emailed that post to the Bike Snob himself and he REPLIED... and this is what he had to say:

From: BikeSnobNYC
To: Kim
Sent: Monday, June 14, 2010 7:32 AM
Subject: Re: book review...


RE: this:

Given that I know that publishing a book, unless you are Stephen King or Dan Brown or Tom Clancy and have gained a little power, is little more than indentured servitude to the "chain ring" of a publishing editor's wishes and some marketing agent's crystal-ball like prediction of what "the people" want to buy, some of that edginess of the blog is lost in the book.

Just to clarify, Chronicle were great and there was absolutely no pressure on me to "tone anything down." I approached the book much differently than the blog because a blog can be ultra-topical and full of inside, self-referencing jokes ("memes"). That doesn't really work for a book though. Reading (and writing) a book is a more intimate, solitary experience, and it was especially important to me that the book work for someone not only unfamiliar with the blog but unfamiliar with cycling.

Thanks again!

Critiquing the entire culture of cycling one ill-conceived bike at a time.

So needless to say I was impressed, even if it was a reply to correct a perception I had. I sent the email a day or two before he was set to embark on his nationwide book tour, or what he affectionately referred to as his BRAs (Book Related Appearances -- but you MUST see the innuendo) and I figured a minor book review written by a minion such as myself with (???) little following would barely catch his attention now that he was famous and had a face.

But as I said in that post, my favorite section of the whole book which left me howling with my flashlight under the covers, was his parody of the Footprints in the Sand parable. In the words of the Snob himself, "if I looked at my life as footprints on a beach there would be a lot of bicycle tire tracks." (p. 89) And he then proceeds to scold the Great Obvious Bicycle Metaphor for all the times he was failed on the road, like when he hit a tree and broke body parts, or when his bike was stolen.

It made me think about my life on a bike, which to be honest, was sporadic and, during big chunks of my life, nonexistent. I do remember losing the training wheels, riding up and down my driveway determined to stay upright. I remember this as a solo self-motivated activity and do not recall a parent chasing me with a hand on the back of my seat. And I don't know if this is an accurate memory or not, but I swear I was 4 years old -- although it is more likely that I learnt this skill in the spring that I was 4, mere weeks before I turned 5. But there is no video record of this momentous event in my biking life and the photographic evidence is sporadic and my parents memories would be less reliable. It is significant in that my daughter was at least 7 before I got her to shed the training wheels and my son who is currently 6 won't even try. But I remember my first moments of freedom clearly, so I must have been pretty proud.

I remember spending huge chunks of my childhood riding back and forth around our bay in a horseshoe arc, avoiding the busy bus route at the entrance. We crashed into cars, we crashed into each other, and we got our front tires caught in the storm drainage grates, and me and my street friends, we learned to love to ride. .

This must have been a brand new bike. There is still a label on the "top tube." I would guess I was about 6 or 7 in this photo. And now you all know the truth. I am not a real red head.

Around the time I was old enough to ride to (and crash on) the bike trails behind the local swimming pool and ride my bike to school with my trumpet on the handlebars and no hands, would have also been around the time that I was pretending I was a real girl in gym class and did things like allow myself to be hit out in dodge ball early in the game so I could sit on the bleachers and giggle with the other cool girls. If I tried, I could always be one of the last girls standing. I was paper thin and as agile as a striking snake. It was hard to hit me, even if they targeted in on me, which they sometimes did because I wasn't one of the really cool girls. I was just one of the middle-class socially-acceptable girls.

In high school it was cooler to walk to school and these were also the years that I was cocky about my natural agility and athletic ability and I would show up to track practice two weeks before the meet and win my heat and make Provincials with no training. What did I need to train for? But I had no endurance. I was all power and sprint and short effort. Good enough.

But in that summer between grade 9 and 10 I met Dean and he got me interested in bikes and Dean and I kept in touch for the next few years until we lost touch as inevitably happens as lives move on during an era when technology is lacking. Dean lovingly showed me his bikes back then. He tells me now that he rode a Bianchi and a Concorde in the 80s and still has an 18 year old Pinerello Gavia with Campagnolo Record in his possession and if I don't know what that is, I am supposed to ask -- Gavia with TSX tubing, is apparently really stiff. That tubing had ridges on the inside of the tubes and they spiral, hence the stiffness. Oh and its steel. And it cost him $5000 in the early 90s.  And I have no idea what I'm talking about, can you tell? He let me drive his truck once but I doubt he would have let me ride his bike. He used to be able to pull off a 54 minute 40k Time Trial (but couldn't walk after, let alone run, like we do in triathlon) and could do 200 km in 6 hours, by himself.

I am sure it is because of Dean that I went out and spent about $450 in 1989 on a brand new mountain bike made by Mariah, which was a subsidiary company of Bianchi kinda, I assume, like Gary Fisher is to Trek. I thought that bike was sooooo light in 1989. I gave it away to the son of a friend last year and it weighs a TON compared to what I ride now. But it was lighter than my old 10 speed and it was my first exposure to a quick release front wheel. I rode that bike on a road trip through the Whiteshell when I was 19 and was hired as a lifeguard for a group of grade 9 students on a spring camping and cycling trip. The ride was from Beausejour to Falcon Lake (on highway 44, I presume) and I'm sure we did it in 3 days which means, by today's standards, we didn't ride very far every day before setting up camp. Maybe 25 or 30 km.

I also rode that bike to and from the university on several occasions when I spent the summer working for Mini University. But for the most part that bike didn't see a whole lot of action and spent a lot of time gathering dust in the garage. I pulled the kids around in trailer for a couple summers and then finally, the summer I became a single woman again I pulled that bike out and cleaned it up well and did several "distance" rides up and down the Perimeter highway. (I used to go out and back for an hour.... which turned out to be about 25km, which isn't a bad average speed considering it was a fat stubby-tired mountain bike and the wind comes from all and every direction on the Perimeter, and the gears on that bike didn't work very well). I was in "training", you see. I had aspirations of joining some work folk on the MS bike tour through Riding Mountain National Park. Kid things and money and fear kept me away from the tour that year but it was in my head.

But really, if I have to blame anyone for my re-introduction to and current obsession with biking it is one of my work friends. He talked about biking all the time and I used to wistfully say: "Biking is cool. I find biking pretty easy actually." To which he used to say, "Well, get a bike and ride." And I made all the cliche excuses about being afraid of cars and not wanting to die.

I'd been at his house, I'd seen his bike -- in his basement -- and I remember thinking: Oh you are one of THOSE that keep your bike in the basement. He told me how much he paid for that bike, which he purchased before the birth of his first child who at that time was about 7, and I justified that a $3000 bike was an acceptable expense when you were child-free. He was the only person I knew who would do things like ride home from Victoria beach into a 30 km/hr headwind for 5 hours. He was only the second person I knew, after Dean, who'd spent more than $500 on a bike. That bike was in perfect condition and not a scratch on it and clearly loved and pampered. It still is.

The same work friend, the following spring --the BB spring -- before biking spring -- was heading out to Bird's Hill to compete in a triathlon one weekend. I was already running pretty consistently at that point and I could swim and, well, who CAN'T ride a bike, so I asked him what the distances were and he told me and I said..... "Yeah, I could do that." So come on out and do it.

Well I didn't that year. But it was in my  head and it fixated there until the following spring. My birthday treat to myself the following year was this:

Notice I still stand holding my bike the same way I did when I was six.

I had a price limit of $500. It was used and about 7 years old and I bought it from one of the triathlon officials.  I didn't want to spend more than that because looking back on my history with bikes, I wanted to be sure I was actually going to use it. After you factor in shoes and helmet and gloves and decent shorts, $500 quickly turns into a $1000. It was a good start. And my goals for that summer were, train for the MS bike tour (for real) and my first triathlon.

And biking feels so much different when you are riding a quality ride. It was hard not to let the addiction take over after that purchase.

I rode that bike to work shortly after I bought it. I barely knew how to clip. I fell off somewhere around the corner of Lindsay and Academy clipping in right in front of a big truck. My chain fell off. I called up my bike friend at work because I was planning on trying out my first duathlon that next week and I wasn't sure, after my ride experience, that things were working properly and he offered to tune the bike up for me which resulted in humiliating bike clipping incident number 2: where-in Kim falls off her bike for the second time but this time onto bike friend's front lawn and right into a thorn bush. I got up and tried to reassemble my pride, rode down his driveway only to look down and find blood streaming down my leg from multiple places. I likely trailed blood through his house as he and his wife dragged me to the bathroom and rinsed me off while I bled all over their bathtub. I looked like I had been attacked by 1000 cats.

Well they do say the course of true love never runs smoothly and such were my humble beginnings with the love of bikes. I didn't ride that Devinci for long, About 3 months later I upgraded to this Devinci (Sliverstone SL4):

But I was misled and ignorant when I bought that bike and it wasn't long before I was having problems related to bike fit. And so came the series of moves designed to make the bike fit me: A shorter stem, a bike fit session. They all failed to make me truly comfortable.

But that first summer on a bike was full of surprises. I did my first long group ride (although, I am sure I was never properly drafting), I did my first 100km at the old more pleasant version of  the Muddy Waters event. I had the 7th fastest bike time amongst all female sprint racers at the Riding Mountain Triathlon. I was about the 3rd woman in on the hard, steep-climbing day 1 of the MS bike tour. I had predicted I would do that segment of ride in 3 hours. I did it in 2:32. I was pretty good at this for a "girl" who'd been riding for only 4 months.

So I suffered for another summer and then came time for the Madone. I haven't earned the full suspension mountain bike but I felt I had earned the all carbon Ultegra-adorned Green Riding Machine.

I've spent the last two years floundering around with  my biking goals. Triathlon. Randonneur. Casual group rides. At some point I'll find some focus. But right now, I'm just happy to ride. I'm pretty strong. I could be stronger. When I got back from Tucson this spring I wrote laughingly, thinking I was being arrogant to even suggest it, about dreaming of pulling off a sub 1:20 bike (and two transitions) on an Olympic Distance Triathlon. And much to my surprise, I did just that at my first triathlon of the year: 1:18. Who would have thought it possible. But DAMN now I only have to be faster. I'm told, cyclists peak at 7 years on the bike. I don't know how that applies to riders who start late in life but it means I still have 5 more years to go before I can consider myself at my best.

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