I recently picked up my family and moved almost 1800 miles for my job. This was not an easy decision but one that was definitely the correct decision. While I’ve spent the past few months helping my kids adjust and get integrated in their new schools and our new community, I ended up neglecting my own needs. I suspect this tends to happen for most, if not all, moms.
So I went out and finally purchased my new bicycle. It’s a dream – the Felt ZW5 – a jade and carbon women’s specific road bike with Shimano components. Picked up some clipless pedals and shoes to finish the package and left the cycling shop one very happy girl.
After a few test rides I nervously signed up for a local all-women group ride. It was longer than I usually ride casually – 50 miles – but it was advertised as flat … and really, it was going to be 25 out and then 25 back. Totally do-able; have done it once before (but at the end of the cycling season, when I’d been riding pretty consistently). Plus there was the promise of a farm-fresh lunch between the segments!
Let’s be clear – my illustrious cycling career is less than a year old. I bought a Specialized Crossroads hybrid bike last spring to help deal with the unwanted anxiety that comes with knowing you are about to be laid off. At the time I had considered buying an entry-level road bike but talked myself out of it. Thousand dollars for a bike? What if it sat in the garage and I rode it three times? I would feel so silly! Besides … I’m probably only going to ride with the kids, and you don’t need anything fancy for bike paths and trips to the fro-yo shop.
And I did ride with my kids. The fro-yo shop was 3 miles away on roads … but there was also a 6 mile route to get there on the bike path! And my kids were real champs about it – mostly because there was a promise of fro-yo mid-ride. Only later did we realize that we should do the 3 miles first – because the 6 miles are downhill from there (but uphill if we did the 6miles first).
But I also started riding by myself. My first ride on my own was 10 miles: 3 miles downhill, 7 miles back uphill. No cycling gear – just my shorts and a tank top, backpack and a water bottle. It was that ride that convinced me to get a jersey and cycling skort.
Then I did a 15mi route. And a 35mi route.
Suddenly it was about getting mileage. Longer, faster, MORE. I would go west for a mile before picking up the bike path just to get a little more distance. I would check elevations for potential hills … but most of the time, that was an after-the-fact reality of “holy crap that hill in mile 8 sucked.”
Mileage sounds impressive but is really more about time. Time spent on your bike going somewhere, or getting back from somewhere, or just going because you’ve done this route before and you want to see if you can do it a little bit faster this time or not be so winded by the big hill or not have to get into your granny gears after a few hills.
My friends who were already cyclists were kind enough to ride with me, even though I struggled to keep my hybrid going more than 10 miles per hour. It’s a heavy bike that is not meant for distance, speed, or anything more than a short jaunt with friends out for brunch on a Saturday morning or fro-yo with the kids. But every time I went out I got a little better, a little faster. Me in my spandex with platform pedals and Converse One Star sneakers.
So coming back to the present – I’ve signed up for this ride. I’ve put maybe 25 miles on my new bike. I’ve mostly got the hang of my cycling shoes and pedals.
It’s a brisk morning and after spending some time trying to find the starting location, I meet up with the other women. I am candid that I am a new cyclist, I’ve done some riding in Colorado but not as a group ride, and I’m on a new bike. The women of the cycling group are very nice, supportive, and forthcoming with advice without being nasty or rude about it.
I manage to totally fall off my bike in front of everyone. And no one thought less of me. I managed to keep up with everyone – even though I rode sweep most of the way back to the leaders’ home. Didn’t get the lunch – the bridge was out about a half-mile from the farm so we simply had a snack break and headed back to the city. But the most important thing was I had a good time. I didn’t feel totally depleted – I felt like I had pushed myself a little beyond my comfort zone and succeeded. I finally felt HAPPY.
I totally plan to join another ride with this group … after I attend their Beginner’s Clinic so I can learn to be a better cyclist in general. Know how to optimize my shifting, change a flat, not fall off my bike. I can already feel a difference on hills – my bike is lighter but my feet are attached to it, creating this machine than propels me forward and up. It’s a completely different use of myself from when I’m on my hybrid and mashing down on my pedals in a wasted effort to GO UP.
But I also noticed, as I drove home, that my mind was no longer pinned to MORE MILEAGE. Yes I want to ride more. I want to ride a lot more! But I also have a job, three beautiful kids and a loving husband who also need my time and energy. Balance is key, right?
No – my thoughts are now more on how to be a better QUALITY cyclist. To be able to get through 50 miles and include a few more hills (did I mention the route wasn’t flat? Because it totally wasn’t. But it’s probably the flattest the ride was going to get). To someday attempt the Manayunk Wall – a fabled half-mile with over 250′ elevation gain (about 10% grade). To not necessarily ride sweep by default on the ride back. To maybe average more than 12mph over 50 miles … although that tells you nothing about the sheer delight of looking at your cyclometer and seeing you are going 18mph on a straightaway and almost 30mph on a downhill.
So while I’d still like to someday attempt a century ride, it’s not my main focus anymore. For now, I just want to kick some ass when I visit my friends this summer, bike in tow. Show them how I’ve improved at maximizing my energy efficiency so we can someday do those all-day rides.