Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Like Riding a Bike

I grew up in San Diego. Our house was (actually, is, my parents still live there) situated at the bottom of a very steep hill that was connected to other very steep hills (hill repeat Heaven now, but a terrible grind at the end of a long ride). My father did his due diligence and taught my sister and I how to ride a bike, but the topography of our neighborhood and the amount of time spent swimming left little time for riding.
My first bike was a pink Schwinn with a white seat speckled with pink flowers. It was adorable. It mostly collected dust and cobwebs in the garage. Now, if a bike collects dust in the garage, it offends the bike as it means it has been put out to pasture or had been relegated to the bottom of the pecking order of bikes being ridden.

My riding career began in Providence, RI. I borrowed a bike from my swim coach’s sister-in-law. She was much taller; hence, the bike was much too big. What did I know? I thought one was supposed to feel awkward on a bike. I assumed that the bike was supposed to rule the rider and that I had to tame it like a bucking bronco. Appropriately enough, the bike was a Giant, blue with downtube shifters (very hard to maneuver when you are afraid to take your hands off the bars). I was a fashion faux pas clothed in cheap black cycling shorts, huge t-shirts from various swim meets that billowed in the wind, a bucket shaped helmet that made my neck ache and white aerobic shoes (no clipless pedals on this antique). I figured the people racing along in their colorful, matching cycling kits were poseurs (the joke was on me, I soon found out the utility of well fitting bike clothes in nice materials); seriously, I thought to myself, this is not the Tour de France, who do they think they are?

It did not take me long to trade in the giant Giant, synthetic shorts and bucket helmet. I became the proud owner of shiny blue Cannondale, with huge round tubes. I found a properly fitting helmet that took the pressure off my neck. The aerobic shoes, which turned from white to a dicey shade of grey, were swapped for real cycling shoes. Unfortunately, the Cannondale met an early demise at the mercy of an unobservant driver who plowed into us at an intersection; the bike looked like a crushed Coke can and I like a bruised peach. Yes, by this time I had learned enough about bikes to become a pickier customer, a more inquisitive shopper armed with knowledge and experience. I applied this information to future bike acquisitions and am still a student of bikes and bike fit (I find bike geometry charts fascinating reading material).

I have learned many truths over the years. Number one: the most popular bike or the coolest bike many not be the best bike for you. When purchasing a bike, fit is the single most important factor to consider. I have ridden more ill-fitting bikes than I can count. The result: flying all over the country for bike fits, extreme discomfort during rides, injury. Truth number two: learn about your bike. It does not take much to know the cogs in your cassette (if you ride regularly and don’t know these terms, please, right now, Google them), the difference between the front and rear derailleur, and how to clean your chain. Truth number three: be nice to your bike and it will be nice to you. I was once told that nicks in the paint happen over time and are to be expected, however there is never an excuse for rust. I fastidiously clean my bike. I even use Q-tips to get into the smaller areas unreachable with a cloth. Cleaning your bike on a regular basis is not only respectful to the bike, but also gives you the opportunity to look for cracks or other signs of dangerous wear to the bike. Truth number four: riding is fun.


  1. Haha... i do the q-tip thing too. :)

  2. If amazing athlete's rise from borrowed bikes that are 2 sizes to big then i'm on to something! :)I was one of those people clueless but so eager to get out on the open road.