Like Riding a Bike… Kinda

Today I rode bikes. It was both terrifying and wonderful. Why so? Read on, dear reader.

Now that ATB and my recovery period are over, it’s time to start training for what’s next. “What IS next?” you ask. Well, let’s see.

The NE Season Opener sprint triathlon is five weeks from today on the 13th of May. Twenty quick days later, I’m riding 100 miles around suburban Minneapolis-Saint Paul as part of the A.D.A.’s Tour de Cure. [1] My dia-bestie Scully will be there, as will Scottie J, Heather, and who knows who else.

All of this means one thing: a whole lot of bike riding is in order. (Plus the requisite running and swimming, obviously.) I’m pretty sure I can ramp myself up to a full century in eight weeks, even while tri training. [2] If I add ten miles per week to today’s ride distance—which is entirely doable—I’ll be there. No problem.

What HAS been freaking me out is the idea of riding my new tri bike. It has been since the day that I bought it, but today was the day I rode it for the first time outside. I was nervous before heading out, and that nervousness turned into absolute terror moments after I headed out the door.

How to describe riding a tri bike? (1) The saddle is positioned well forward, so that most of the energy goes directly to the pedals. You sacrifice comfort for this, and are left feeling like you’re going to fall over the front of the bike at a moment’s notice. (2) The handlebars aerobars have two parts: the steer-horn-like pair of grips that have the brake levers and that you use for turning and the aero extensions where you rest your arms as close to the center line of the bike as possible. The extensions have the shift levers. You can’t shift and brake without moving your hands from one part of the aerobars to the other. And when you’re in an aero position, you might as well give up on the idea of braking at all. (3) Because you’re more forward over the bike, even trying to steer when not in aero is kind of like trying to drive a Porsche at high speed using a go-kart steering wheel.

So I decided to start early on this Easter Sunday morning, hitting the road before 7:30 and heading out of town in the direction of nowhere (a.k.a., the towns of Upton and Grafton) on Route 140. It was a good decision.

Heading down the big hill a few blocks away from my house, I realized that the bike is much more stable when it’s going fast. And it can go fast. Wicked fast. (It weighs like two pounds and accelerates like crazy.) Going up the hill out of town—still not in aero yet because I was in town and scared—I realized that my ability to handle the bike at slow speeds (i.e., less than ten miles per hour) was going to be a special challenge.

My heart was racing and the voice of self-doubt in my head was very, very loud. If I hadn’t been wearing long-finger gloves to hold off the chilly air, you would have seen that my knuckles were white. This little ride through suburban MetroWest Boston was turning out to be one of the three scariest things I’ve ever done on a bike. [3] After getting to the highway, I finally summoned all of my courage and got down into the aero position. I was a bit skittish and I veered a few times, but I started to get the hang of steering with my body and finding a smooth gear to keep the bike going the right direction without too much wobbling. I spent a lot of time talking nicely to myself, acting as my own coach and cheerleader.

A little more than a half-hour in, it was time to turn around. I pulled onto a side street, tested my blood sugar, changed into my regular bike gloves, took off the beanie under my helmet, and collected my thoughts. “Well, I’m not dead. And I didn’t break the bike. And it seems to be getting easier. So let’s head home and continue making progress on the way.” The ride back was better and not just because I could feel the bike without the gloves.

I won’t lie. Today’s ride was a little worse than I had expected, but my confidence now that I’m done is much better than it was in the first minutes of my outing. I expect that I’ll keep improving every weekend between now and my first tri of 2012 in just over a month. By the time I do the Nautica NYC Tri in early July, I hope to have much more early morning mileage under my belt. And by late August, when I do my half-ironman in Maine, I’ll be a pro at riding this machine. Well, that’s my hope at least.

When I got home I decided to celebrate . . . with another bike ride. My nerves had only given me about 17 miles on my new bike, and I needed another 15-20, so I refilled my water bottle—which is really hard to remember to drink from when you’re freaked the hell out—and swapped bikes. Out on the road everything immediately felt wrong. Power wasn’t going through the drivetrain quite as easily as a few minutes earlier, and I felt like I was sitting really low toward the back of the bike. Perhaps I had a flat? Looking down I could see that wasn’t the case. And the handlebars felt so far apart. I held a straight line so easily, if felt like I was steering a Buick instead of a bike. “Oh, right, this is my regular bike.”

I was off, the miles quickly slidding by. It was fantastic. I can’t wait for next weekend!


1 — Not to be confused with the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes that I’m doing in Death Valley this October. (If you’ve already helped with the fundraising, thanks! If not, please consider a small donation and help JDRF search for a cure to type-1 diabetes.) Shortly after I posted that I planned to ride in Death Valley, Heather said I should do their century, too. It seems all anyone has to do these days is ask me to do an event, and I’m in. [back . . .]

2 — My eighteen-week TeamWILD training plan starts on the 22nd of this month. I will, of course, tell you all about it. [back . . .]

3 — The other two being riding out of Arles in traffic shortly after crashing while riding into Arles in the same traffic (which really wasn’t that bad), and riding down a particularly steep hill on one of the trails on the mountain outside of town where I lived in high school. Those weren’t so bad. Today was probably the most freaked out I’ve ever been. [back . . .]

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5 Responses to Like Riding a Bike… Kinda

  1. Scully says:

    I remember our conversation about the differences between roadies and tris. I remember wondering why us bike racers ride roadies when we could go SO MUCH faster on tri bikes. It’s all a bit confusing to me. The tri bike is a weird animal that intrigues me and I’d like to try one out one day just to see how different the feel really is.

    You’re such a B.A.D.mo’fo. And kudos to you for conquering the fear

  2. Heather says:

    I am in awe. And so excited to see you in under two months!! Go WILD Pancremaniac Red Rider!

  3. Céline says:

    I can feel the fear from here and you’re a brave man for climbing on that bike. People I know who ride them make them look easy. Of course, professional curlers make curling look easy too but we all know how misleading that is now don’t we?

    Keep it up sir and it will be just like riding a bike before you know it.

  4. This post was fun/terrifying to read! I felt like *I* was hanging on for dear life. :-)

    Can’t wait for you guys to get here!

  5. Alex says:

    you have captured it beautifully. I wish I read this before my first trip out. I only made it 12 miles on my maiden journey, by the way.
    I like the description of being in “launch position”

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