For fear of giving the impression that we are bike obsessed (Sam has always been, but I’ve NEVER been), I need to report on my first ride on the new road bike. This is my first bike with clipless pedals and my first bike with curly handle bars. It’s also the first bike that I need to wear special gear to ride comforably — bike shorts, a jersey, special shoes with cleats, gloves, arm and knee warmers on cooler days.
On Saturday I ventured out for an afternoon ride with Sam and Jackie. Both are experienced cyclists who have ridden lots with groups. Sam met me at my house where I went out early into the laneway to practice clipping in and out at speed, as she taught me to do not too long ago. Read about her wonderful lesson here.
I felt reasonably comfortable. Clipping in and out is really not the big issue. It’s doing it at speed when you’re starting and far enough in advance when you’re stopping. It was good biking weather, fall-like and cool but not cold, cloudy with a light mist in the air, held over from the many hours of rain through the night and early morning.
We set out on our ride, heading first to the long bike path from downtown to Byron. It’s a multi-use path actually, not just for bikes. Shortly into our 50K (!!) ride, a dude on a skateboard lost control of his board and it crossed the path right into Sam and her bike. She went down hard and fast, no time to unclip. Ouch.
It turns out the path is not actually the safer place to be if you’re on a bike. There is much more unpredictable stuff that goes on there — dogs or kids darting across in front of you, skateboards, pedestrians taking up more than their share of the space, roller bladers who are struggling up hills and are impossible to pass, other cylcists blasting past with no warning.
Shaken but not deterred, Sam assessed the damage as surface injuries only (she’s so tough!) and said she’d continue.
We met up with Jackie at Storybook Gardens and headed to the end of the path and out onto the road. The great thing about London is that it’s a smaller city so in any direction you can pretty quickly make your way onto light traffic rural roads. Jackie and Sam told me about drafting, but to be honest I was a little nervous about riding close enough to them to get the benefits of drafting. They kept saying “if you hit our tires, don’t worry, you won’t hurt us at all.” But I (selfishly, I know) was more concerned about what it might do to me if I hit their tire.
We began out of Byron on a long, gradual yet tough hill that they warned me about. As a beginner, it’s not clear to me that warning me about hills is a good thing. Psychologically, it might be better just to find myself on a hill rather than mentally prep for it. But warning people about hills must be a “thing” among cyclists because a recurring theme that afternoon was “there’s a big hill coming up” or “no more hills after this” (which almost always wasn’t true) or “there are couple of little hills up ahead but they’re not too bad” or “we’re just going up over this hill and then we get to go down another one” or “when you head down this hill, don’t use your brakes or you won’t make it up the next one.”
It’s not like we live in the mountains, but London and surrounding areas out towards Delaware are hillier than I realized. The full loop from Byron and back to Byron where we stopped for coffee (a soy decaf latte, actually) was about 40K. Add another 5K or so to get to and from there, and the total registered on my bike computer was 51.5K. So what did I learn? Random order — things I learned:
- Biking is hard on the upper body. My upper shoulders and neck really suffered from about 20K into the ride and on from there. I had to sit up periodically and stretch. Once I even requested that we stop so I could stretch out my shoulders (that was before I mastered taking one hand off the bars, which I did manage to learn to do before the end of the ride).
- Balance is harder on a road bike. When we left my house, we were still in town. I’m really good at using hand signals on my commuter bike, but on the road bike I could hardly take one hand off the handle bars to make a turn signal. Sam assures me that will come. In fact, her words were: “Eventually you will learn to ride with no hands.” Yikes.
- Biking with a group is fun but when you’re starting out you need a group that doesn’t mind waiting for you.
- Following on the last point, seasoned cyclists are FAST!
- Cars are pretty generous about giving people on road bikes space. One of the things that has held me back from riding a bike at all (even for my commute) has been fear of being hit by a car (more about this in my “never say never” post, coming soon). It’s true that this can and does happen, but everyone gave us a wide berth.
- Biking really is an endurance activity. This may seem obvious, but the fact is, because I’ve only ever biked shorter distances (10-15K) before this, biking seemed like a piece of cake. I felt like I could keep going forever. But no, actually, it requires lots of aerobic capacity, upper body endurance, and, of course, strong and flexible legs that keep moving. You don’t really coast on a road bike. Instead, you find a cadence that you can maintain.
- Gears are a cyclist’s best friend, but there’s a learning curve needed to get the most out of them. I’m still on the curve. I think, for example, that I gear down too early on uphills, so I run out of gears too soon.
- Stopping for a coffee is great, but it might be a good idea to do that a bit closer to home. I had a lot of trouble getting back on the bike after we stopped because, the fact is, I was done (I didn’t tell Sam this at the time, but she has since said that lots of people drive their bikes to the starting point and go from there for that reason–something to think about).
- Going down hills fast is exhilarating! We went down an amazing hill (yes, they prepped me for it!) and my computer registered 51K an hour! I’m sure lots of people have achieved much faster, but I can assure you that I have never gone that fast on a bike in my whole life. Weeeeee!
- I like riding in cooler weather with no sun. Fall riding, here I come.
- I’m slow and I need to work on endurance.
- I’m in good physical condition. I know this because even though I was exhausted and hadn’t felt that “done” since my very first hot yoga class ever, by the next morning I felt totally like myself again. To me, fast recovery time is a sign of being in good condition.
Sam and I went separate ways when we got closer to downtown since she lives in Old South and I live in the centre. I took it easy on the path, taking extra care where the skateboard incident had occurred earlier, coasting when I could because I was so wiped out from our ride. The thing about getting to my place from where we were is that it inevitably involves a hill. It’s just a matter of where you’re going to do “the big one.” I settled on the Harris Park hill up to Ridout because when I took the bike out for a test ride, I just flew up that hill and didn’t even have the clipless pedals yet.
After 50K, I didn’t fly. I pedaled and pedaled, geared down and down and down and then ran out of gears. I looked up ahead and still had about halfway to go. You can’t really unclip when you’re pedaling up a hill for your life because, at least for me, I need to be coasting to unclip. And I can’t coast when I’m struggling up a hill because the ONLY forward momentum I’m getting is when I move the pedals.
I started checking out the side of the road up where it’s grassy beyond the curb. Maybe I could just fall down gently onto the grass? Or there’s a sign post up ahead! Can I grab onto that? None of it seemed likely to end well, so I started talking out loud to myself.
“You can do this, you can do this, you can do this. Almost there, almost there, almost there.” And I got to the top. And then I got far enough to the flat to coast and unclip. Of course, by then I was hyperventilating and I had a cramp in my gut (now I know why “the rules” say no lattes).
But if you’d been there beside me right then, I’d have high-fived you! Because cramp and hyperventilating aside, I felt like I’d just done something awesome!
Sam, I’m looking forward to our next ride!