Sometimes it *is* the bike, not the rider

Many of us have heard the phrase “it’s not the bike, it’s the rider.” So you find yourself pushing hard on every ride – and still getting dropped. Or the ever-present complaining about the bike being the reason a rider fails to perform.

While most of the time, it is the rider’s abilities that directly contribute to the enjoyment or success of a ride – but sometimes, it is totally the bike’s fault. The right bike can make or break a ride.


My first bike as an adult was a mountain-style hybrid that I never ended up riding much, followed by a comfort hybrid – designed for slow-speed cruising, not crushing double-digit rides. It was very heavy and sluggish with an extremely upright riding position – basically turning me into a wind-sail anytime I rode down a hill.

I pushed myself so hard on that bike, so confused as to why I was being passed on the bike trail by people on bikes with drop bars. All bikes are equal, right? I just need to work harder and get faster. Spoiler – the minute I bought a mid-level road bike, I immediately improved my ability to ride longer with less fatigue.


The reality is, many entry-level bikes serve to get us out there – but then do little to keep us moving forward efficiently. Sometimes entry-level bikes are overbuilt and generally heavier than their higher-level brethren. The bike can withstand a beating, but that’s why it’s holding *you* back.

Like most people, I use the equipment I have to do the adventures I want, generally using the wrong bike for the wrong purposes. It stems from a lack of discretionary funds, not hubris or elite level ability that seeks a new challenge. To be sure though, watching somebody rock a gravel grinder on a bike with a front basket while wearing Tevas, jorts, and a tie-dye muscle shirt is hilarious.

Yesterday I drove to a friend’s neighborhood to do a gravel ride. It snowed earlier in the week – heavy, wet snow that further saturated the already oversaturated earth – so the roads were going to be muddy and slushy. This is not optimal for the road bike that I have MacGuyver’d to be a gravel bike.

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(Although – praise Panaracer GravelKing SKs for being offered in sub-30mm tire width.)

So I decided to ride my hardtail mountain bike. It’s cutting-edge stock 2012 entry-level components (although I replaced the brakes and the quick-releases because they failed at various points).  It’s an aluminum 29er … but it’s heavy. Really heavy. It’s not built for speed or efficiency.

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Once again I am reminded of just how heavy and inefficient this bike is by trying desperately to keep up with my friends, who are also riding their mountain bikes on the dirt roads.

To be fair, I also haven’t ridden my bike in about six weeks due to a combination of life, work, weather, health, and trail maintenance projects. My October Strava stats were kindof hilarious.

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mentally insert the emojii for fire here

The power transfer is practically non-existent, like pouring my energy into a black hole. I have a triple crankset, yet on the road never seemed to find a good gear for keeping up without feeling like I was pushing against a brick wall.  To cap it all off, the bike is set up with flat pedals instead of SPDs because I was too lazy to swap them out before the ride.

Contrast with purchasing a pre-loved 2015 full-sus trail bike for when I want to hit the woods – and things that used to be a chore are now routine and even fun. The bike isn’t actively working against me, which my hardtail does. But it certainly would have worked against me on the road had I opted for it instead, including locking out both suspensions, because even though it’s lighter than my hardtail, it’s still a mountain bike on the road.

The right bike for the ride can make or break your enjoyment.

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this bike is amazing and has helped me feel more confident on the trails

Some of the roads warranted the extra width of my 2.25″ tires, but many were either paved or more tacky than muddy. I found myself wondering if actually getting a gravel or drop-bar mountain bike might be something to consider. Something to bridge the gap of a road bike fitted with slightly-knobby tires and a full-on mountain bike.

But that’s not currently on the agenda after 18 months of unemployment that destroyed our savings and retirement savings. We have other, more pressing projects deserving of our remaining reserves.

We finished the ride in surprisingly good time (a little less than 3 hours for a little over 30 miles) and everyone really took turns hanging back with me to chat and enjoy the ride. It felt really good to be back out turning the pedals, but also reminded me of why I hate riding that bike so much. It sucks my will to ride.


With fat bike season upon us and my schedule freeing up, I’m looking forward to getting out more regularly with friends to explore trails and gravel roads. See you out there!

 

The Dirty Apple Ride 2018

I am tardy on this write-up. Sorry! I’ve been busy planning my latest trail care projects. 

Gravel grinding is one of my most favorite things to do. Westchester County isn’t exactly known for its dirt roads – but we have them. Westchester Cycle Club has year-round dirt and gravel rides. Given the popularity of gravel these days, the Board decided to host a gravel event instead of the usual road ride, The Golden Apple Ride.

I was super happy to be able to be the co-Event Director for The Dirty Apple Ride.

My summer was spent developing routes that were both beautiful and challenging – but not so much that a novice gravel rider would feel they were in over their head. I came up with four roughly-concentric routes, ranging from 30 to 60 miles. My co-Event Director Christine was busy getting permits filed and posters to the various bike shops in the area. I managed our communications, online registration, and marketing. She solicited volunteers and coordinated our rest stops and food. We met up monthly, then weekly, as the date got closer.

Event Directing is a full-time job and even with most of the tasks split between us, it was still a challenge. We had a few other volunteers to help us make decisions, complete day-prior tasks, and fund the event – Bob, Bill, Rich, and Steve – as well as a slew of club members who volunteered the day of the event. We couldn’t have done this without them!

A few weeks before the ride our photographer, Dave from Kraus Grafik Services, came down to do a photo shoot of various locations along the route.

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all photos by Kraus Grafik Services

My personal favorite part of the longest route is through a county park. The gravel is chunkier and the climb is a little over 2 miles long, but you feel a million miles away from civilization (even though NYC is about 30 miles south).

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Pass between two ponds and the climb begins

The day of the ride went as well as any event can go – a few hiccups but mostly awesome. The weather was overcast but warm and it had rained the night before – perfect dirt road conditions. The general consensus, confirmed by our rider survey, was the routes were beautiful; the food plentiful; the beer deserved.

The official photo album can be found here.

I’m looking forward to Event Directing the ride again in 2019 – even though it means not getting to ride the event myself! Seeing the happy, muddy faces come back to the start was such a reward for all the time and energy Christine and I put into this event.

Watch the Dirty Apple Ride page for updates as to when the ride will be scheduled next year.

 

As always – see you on the road!