Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In which I ride...

I bought a new bike last Thursday after months of shopping and agonizing. It’s a Trek Lexa S compact, a WSD, and I love it so much I’ve been obnoxious with giddiness. It really doesn’t look remarkable, except if you look closely in the sun and notice the sparkly, blue metal flake in the black paint. But I’ve never ridden a bike with so much giddy-up in my life. I feel fast on this bike. Granted, I’ve only had her up to just over 21 mph, but we’re going to hit higher speeds, I just know it.

I went out for a couple short rides just to get acclimated—a few miles around the neighborhood Thursday on bumped-up sidewalks and cobblestones and downtown Saturday for breakfast before the annual Pride Parade. And then Sunday I skipped out of church and went on my first ever ride on the bike path along the river. Now I understand why all of my bike-obsessed cyclist friends have been urging me to buy a damn bike already. Now I'm in love.

I shopped for months. After I moved into this house in the city the end of last summer, just four blocks from the Great Miami River, which is lined on both sides with bike trails, I knew I'd have to ride something besides my clunky, 22-year-old General mountain bike. Something I could carry up and down the stairs to the river path and haul easily in my van. I started getting excited about it the end of winter, so I mentioned to this Guy I've Been Dating, who's been cycling for several years, that I was thinking about buying a new bike. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I'm going to start looking for a new bike soon so I can ride around downtown and on the river path by my house. Maybe we could go for a ride together some time. Would you want to?
Guy I've Been Dating [looking like I just asked him to donate a kidney, takes a deep breath]: Maayyybee. Ummm. [Clears his throat and breaks eye contact.] How fast do you think you can ride?
Me: I don't know yet. Do I have to make a commitment to a particular speed just now? Thinking: Ouch. Obviously out of your league, but OK for you, buddy. See if I pack a tasty picnic of fine soft cheese, crusty bread, and a cold bottle of wine and take you out on a lesser-traveled bike path some Sunday afternoon for a leisurely ride. Give me a chance and I might make you want to slow down, speed racer.

So I researched and I shopped all the rainy spring. I consulted my serious cycling friends. Pat spent an entire Saturday riding bikes with me at various bike shops; Maury started preparing me to wear bike shorts. I read the Team Estrogen message boards and dreamed about riding along the river for miles.

I thought I wanted a commuter bike, a flat-bar hybrid with a cushy saddle, so I wouldn't have to ride bent over, but a lot of people seem to start there and then end up buying a road bike the next season. I didn't want to buy twice. The hybrids really didn't feel like what I wanted, yet the road bikes were more expensive. I agonized over bumping up to almost twice what I'd expected to spend and then getting something that might not be comfy. I really couldn't see my butt sitting on one of those tiny, hard saddles. It looked like I'd be riding on the head of a golf club. And those low handlebars with their weird shifters...I was sure I'd pitch right over on my head, and I didn't think I'd earned such confusing technology. But finally I started testing the road bikes and whee! What a ride! It's like playing a Gibson. Once you play an expensive guitar, you don't want to play the cheap ones any more. I rode the Lexa, loved it, haggled the price down $50, and finally handed over my debit card for the bike and various other necessities like lights, a computer, and a water bottle holder. Squeeee!

Imagine my surprise and consternation when the Guy I've Been Dating suggested a ride the very next weekend, less than two days away. He'd been telling me about the 12-mile sprints he rides most days after work and the longer rides on the weekends. His legs look like he's got bricks under his skin. (Girls, he can rock a kilt, that man, but my love of kilts is another story... and some kilt stories shouldn't be told at all on a blog.) He describes himself as a semi-serious biker, but he seems more like serious to me. I had....well, I had ridden around the neighborhood once. I was still on training wheels. Might as well dive right into the deep end though, right? I accepted, but asked him if he would even have fun riding with someone so far out of his league. He said we wouldn't know until we tried. Fair enough. He still wasn't getting the picnic though, not even the low-carb option.

We met downtown Sunday at noon at a little deli for brunch. I drove my bike over in my van and he rode nine miles in from the suburb where he lives. Same one I lived in for almost 20 years. He was already there at the table, sweating in his hot red shirt, sexy black bike shorts, and his special biker shoes that clip right to his pedals. Serious. I changed my clothes five times and ended up in my longest shorts, a tight black yoga top and sneakers. I had ordered some new bike shorts the night before, but for my virgin ride, I had to settle for civvies. I did not feel like one of the cool kids, even with my cool bike. For the first time I wanted to be wearing tight spandex shorts that look like they have a diaper built into the back, in spite of my friend Karen's warning that the chamois (which is supposed to both mop up crotch sweat moisture and provide padding on the golf club narrow saddle) will get lodged up into the lady parts if it's too thick. And not in a good way.

We stuffed ourselves with meat and fat and then I drove both our bikes over to the river. Almost time to put my new baby to the test--or rather to put me to the test. I was sure I was going to poke along behind the Guy I've Been Dating for about half an hour and then pass out from heat stroke, burnt crimson from midday sun and shame. It was already in the mid-80's and hazy. Sweat started dripping down my back as soon as we walked out into the humid air. As we were walking down the street to my van, I happened to look down at his legs. His muscles popped every time he took a step. I looked at my legs. My muscles....were probably under there somewhere. I considered asking him to put me in a kiddie seat and ride me behind him.

I said I was such a newbie at biking I felt like a freshman girl dating a senior boy. He said he doesn't wear a helmet when he rides; I said I do and mine matches my bike perfectly. I said I ride on the sidewalks sometimes; he frowned and said he doesn't. My inner bad girl pledged to see him ride on the sidewalk at least once that day.

We parked and unloaded his Fuji hybrid and my Lexa. He had saddle bags on the back of his bike, so he offered to take the ridiculous backpack tote bag I brought to carry my phone, keys, money, and a yellow bandanna. Why the bandanna? I don't know. I have always carried one when I biked and it comes in handy sometimes.

We got on our bikes and headed down toward the river, riding side by side on the brick sidewalk. My bike felt good under me, but we were just riding into the gates; the race hadn't started. We circled around Riverscape, where kids were playing in the fountains while the adults watched and fanned themselves, and headed down the ramp toward the river.The heat blew away as my bike picked up speed and settled onto the the bike path. I shifted into my highest gear and caught up with the Guy I've Been Dating. His calves still concerned me, but pedaling my bike was almost effortless and soon I stopped worrying about keeping up and just enjoyed his company and the view of the river. As we rode, I made note of bike path etiquette: the Guy I've Been Dating would speed ahead of me to pass slower riders on the left, usually saying, "On your left" as he came up on them. When we passed other riders coming from the other direction, he pulled ahead of me so we were riding single file. I said hi to every person we passed. I felt like I was being initiated into a new club, even though I didn't have the right clothes or speak the language yet.

We rode and talked....OK, I talked more because I'm a nervous blabbermouth dedicated conversationalist. I thought he was probably slowing down for me, but we didn't seem to be poking along compared to the other cyclists. We'd ridden several miles and I felt great. The seat wasn't uncomfortable and we were going fast enough I couldn't even feel the heat. I had no idea where we were part of the time, but it's a path. Where you've been is right behind you like a jet trail. I felt like I was flying along in utter freedom. In fact, I was eating bugs because I was smiling so much. I looked down at my computer and saw we were were cruising along at about 13.2 mph, which meant nothing to me. I wanted to see just how much I was slowing him down.

Me: How fast do you usually ride on your daily sprints?
Guy I've Been Dating: About 13 mph, although since I've been on this low carb diet my energy level has dropped, so sometimes only 10 or 11.
Me [looking back at my computer, which seemed to be malfunctioning already]: That can't be right. We're going a little over 13 mph right now.
Guy I've Been Dating: No, it's right. We've been cruising the same speed I usually ride. Why? Are you getting tired? Do you want to slow down?
Me: No, I'm surprisingly fine. I could ride this speed all day. I thought you'd have to ride slower for me.
Guy I've Been Dating: You don't even seem like you're breathing hard.
Me: No, I'm not. Have I shown you my new bike? It almost rides itself. (I probably said that five times. Obnoxiously happy with this bike, I am.)

We kept up that speed most of the ride. I started riding ahead when we'd pass people at least as much as he did. Eventually we rode down a part of the trail that was under trees, where it felt cool and shady. We weren't passing any other riders. We crested what looked like a long downhill grade and the Guy I've Been Dating said, "OK, we're turning around now." I had no idea how far we'd gone but evidently our ride was half over.

I stopped my bike, pulled up my water bottle and gulped half. Suddenly the heat slammed into me like it had been racing to catch up. Bugs hummed in the hazy, humid air. "Damn," I said. "It's fucking hot when you stop. We need to keep riding so we don't lose our air conditioning." So we headed back the way we'd come. We wanted to stop and watch an old fashioned baseball game we'd passed, but they had finished by the time we got back. We kept moving.The ride back seemed to take no time at all. My seat got a little hard the last quarter of the ride or so, and my feet went to sleep, but he assured me that was normal. Once we got to an area with a few stoplights where we had to stop and wait, they woke up and felt fine.

We did make one longer stop. We were probably less than a mile from Riverscape when we passed a young woman walking her bike. I kicked up ahead of the Guy I've Been Dating, but slowed down to ask her if she was OK. She said yes, but she had a flat. When he pulled up beside me he asked if she was OK. I told him about the flat and we dismounted under an overpass a few yards up the path to wait for her. She had an inner tube and a CO2 cartridge, but didn't know how to change the tire. I was clueless, of course, but the Guy I've Been Dating knew how and offered to show her how to do it; he even pumped up her tire with his little carry-on pump. Serendipity for me that I got to learn on her flat instead of one of my own. It took maybe half an hour to get her on her way, wipe the grease off our hands with the bandanna, and collect our karma points. Then we continued back to Riverscape and up the ramp to the water fountain.

I got off my bike expecting to feel sore and tired and wobbly, but I didn't. In fact I felt like I could have turned around and done it all over again. Beginner's hubris, I'm sure. I hadn't bothered to figure out how to set my computer for a trip so I asked him how far we'd ridden. He figured it out and said we'd gone about 14 miles. I know there are people who ride 50 or 100 miles in a day, so I wasn't sure if that was a respectable number of miles for a first ride or not. He said it was, and he also said I kicked his ass out there on the bike path. He was lying, but I might consider the picnic now--the low carb option with meat, fat and a flask of bourbon some fancy French water.

We rode back to my van on the sidewalk....hee. I loaded my bike and we said goodbye. He still had to ride nine miles back to the 'burbs. I wished I could ride with him because I still had some juice left in me, but I wouldn't have made the ride back into the city. It was enough for my first ride. Looks like maybe I can keep up with the cool kids after all.


  1. So, it sounds like you have a new bike? ;) What a way to feel alive! One of the cool kids, indeed. :)

  2. Laura, did I tell you I got a new bike? Did I? Here let me show you some pictures....I've got some right here....

  3. A new bike?! No way! How cool. You should tell me about it sometime. It wouldn't happen to be a Trek Lexa S Compact, would it? A WSD? Black with blue metal flake in the paint? You can go fast on that baby too, can't you? Really? Wow. Yup...haven't heard anything about that. You should tell me about it sometime. ;)