New Adventures Ahead

I rode 42 miles yesterday.  It was a perfect Iowa day with lots of sunshine, a light breeze and temperatures hovering around seventy degrees.   It was absolutely as good as it gets.

I’m still training for the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile unsupported gravel grinder that  will take place on October 13 in the wilds of eastern Nebraska.  My cycling of late has been all about that and so I’ve been dividing my rides into four equal segments and trying to do each segment a little faster than the previous one.   I go out at about 6 hour century pace and turn it up from there.  Some days I turn it up a lot.  Other days, just a little.  It depends on how I feel.  So how’d I do yesterday?

  • 1st 10 miles: 36:21, 16.5 mph
  • 2nd 10 miles: 34:14, 17.5 mph
  • 3rd 10 miles: 31:19, 19.2 mph
  • 4th 10 miles: 28:55, 20.7 mph

Not too shabby…  I’ve found that there’s no better way to learn to be a disciplined cyclist than by doing this.  I used to do two segments, but using four completely changes the dynamic.  It’s much more about riding under control and it is much harder to pull off.  You have to be engaged the entire ride.  This may sound like drudgery, but I find it to be anything but.  It felt like I was back home in no time at all.

It has been fun, this magical bicycle journey.  I have learned so much…about myself…about the world around me.  When I first got back on the bike in 2013, I never dreamed I’d get to the point where I would be doing the miles I am doing today.  I never expected to go here.

Going forward, I’ll be doing less.  I gave my employer notice this morning.  I’m leaving my corporate home for the last four years and the new job is going to require a lot more time out of me.   That means there will be less time for cycling.  I’m going to have to travel, too…as soon as early October.  That means the end of my continuous day streak. It’s all good.  It really is.

Going forward, I still plan to ride most days, but instead of averaging 40 miles a day, I’m probably going to be closer to 20.  I’m okay with this.  I think I’ve proven to myself whatever it was that took me down this road.  I love cycling more today than I ever have.  I plan to continue doing it until they put me in the ground.   It’s just going to be a little different for the next little while.

I have been vaguely uncomfortable with what I was becoming for some time now anyway.  I justified it because I wanted to complete Seattle-to-Portland.  It was so far out of my comfort zone that I had to treat it seriously.  That’s what I told myself.  Maybe I went further than I needed to.  I don’t know.

In hindsight, it was all merely justification for riding more miles because more miles was where I was getting my validation and sense of worth from.   I think I finally got clarity a few weeks ago in Omaha when some nice person snapped this picture of me. Add big hair and a red nose and you have Bozo the bicycle clown.  You can even see my beer belly right there between the Space Needle and Mount Rainier.  How truly mortifying.

Cycle Dork. Not my best look.
Cycle Chic, Copenhagen.  The normalization of the bicycle commute.

But I’m never going to get rid of this picture because it will remind me of what I don’t want to be.  That said, I am slowly getting rid of most of my cycling specific clothing.  This week alone I tossed two jerseys and a pair of lycra shorts.  I will be replacing them with loose fitting hoodies and cargo shorts.  I’ll keep one or two pairs for really long rides but the rest has got to go.  My helmet (because we Americans wear helmets) is designed to be as inconspicuous as possible.

So what does my future as a cyclist look like?  I’m not really sure and I don’t think it’s all that important.  I’ll still cycle most days, but I think it will be more relaxed and spontaneous.  I’ll be slower than I am now.  I might leave the Garmin at home and not worry about how far I go.   I think my around town bike might be more upright and have only one speed…something that doesn’t need to be locked.   It might even be clunky.  There’s something about those bikes I really like.   I’ll also have to eat better because I won’t have those 40 mile calorie burners every day to bail me out.

Regardless of what it looks like, my primary objective won’t change.  I want to have fun and feel the wind in what’s left of my hair.  I want to smile spontaneously and see the deer run and the birds fly along with me just like they do now.   I’m not interested in changing the world.   I plan to explore and will keep the blog to share thoughts and pictures of the places I go by bike, but I’m dropping my League membership and will no longer be a League Certified Instructor.

In hindsight, I never was any of that.  I guess I felt like I needed it to prove that I was a cyclist.   Now that just seems silly.   Now I know I’m a cyclist.  I don’t need the clothes or the titles or the miles or any of that.  All I need is a bike.  New adventures await and I will share them as they unfold.  Until then, roll on.

 

 

 

 

Does North American Cycling Culture Discourage Newbies?

“The main problem is that in North America cycling is seen as an extreme sport.” -Mikael Colville-Andersen

I stood before the wall of helmets at the local bike shop in Omaha Nebraska USA but I was thinking about Europe.  Way back in the 1990s while I was working for TetraPak AB, I was lucky enough to visit three of the world’s top ten cycling cities in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Malmö.  I went over eight times in all, and if I was still there now I wouldn’t be shopping for helmets. They don’t do helmets in Europe.

The typical Copenhagen cyclist. No helmet.  There’s never a helmet in Denmark.  Photo by https://www.flickr.com/people/56380734@N05/

There are a lot of reasons for this but in the end it doesn’t really matter.   Here in North America, we cyclists are expected to gear up and a big part of gearing up is choosing a helmet that sends a powerful message and tells the world we are a force to be reckoned with.  For most people, that means a colorful aero race design that says “Look at me…I am training for the Tour of France!”   

Or maybe it’s the Ironman.  There was a time when that’s what I would have chosen, too.  Not this time, though.  This time I went with the understated flat black helmet in the box that said Nutcase.  How appropriate, I thought.  That’s the helmet for me.

Cycling helmet. Cycling shoes.

It has been a long time coming, this epiphany.  I’ve been feeling a bit uncomfortable in lycra for awhile now.  It’s not that I want to be European.  I like being American just fine.   It’s just that it has gotten to the point of absurdity.  I’m not a competitive cyclist.  I’ve ridden as far as 200 miles in a day and I’ve climbed mountains on my bike but I’ve never done it all at once and if we’re being honest here,  competitive cyclists do that pretty much every day…before lunch.

So I don’t feel like dressing up like that any longer.  Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed that I ever did.   I’m an adult for crying out loud.  I have a real job and  a house and a family.  I don’t need to dress up like it’s Halloween every time I ride my bicycle.

Maybe Colville-Andersen is on to something here. Maybe part of the reason we can’t get more people on bikes in North America has something to do with what we communicate to the rest of the world by how we act and dress.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that we’re all different..  I also understand that a lot of people like this sort of thing, but I also understand that it can be a little intimidating to people on the outside looking in.  It certainly looks and feels more extreme when compared to folks in those other countries where everybody cycles around like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Of course, it’s always possible and maybe even likely that I don’t know the first thing about what I’m talking about here.  If so, it won’t be the first time. That said, this time feels different.  I like this new, relaxed form of cycling better than the old extreme sport version.     I no longer need padded shorts or expensive, silly looking beer jerseys that accentuate my beer belly.  Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?  I’ll wear the ones I have until they wear out and then I’ll replace them with something else like loose fitting prAna shirts from REI or whatever’s on the 80% off rack at Kohl’s.  I realize that might be a Cleveland Browns hoodie, but if one person looks at me, feels totally un-impressed and un-threatened and gets on a bike as a result, it will have been worth the sacrifice.  Go Brownies.