The Bike Matters

This weekend I decided to ride my hybrid bike to meet some girl friends for brunch on Saturday morning. I chose my hybrid because a 3 mile section of the route goes through a park that has a path of dirt and rocks – not exactly skinny-tire friendly. The rest is all on-street or paved bike path riding.

A wonderful 15 mile ride in, then a 10 mile ride around Fairmount Park before we rode off to eat.  We got a great table by an open window and enjoyed good food and a beautiful day. We then parted ways and I slogged through the 15 miles back home – it was uphill almost the entire way. At the end of the 3 miles of dirt and rocks, there is a 1.32 mile section of the road that is a 2% average incline – not insurmountable but certainly a challenge for any novice cyclist. Especially on a hybrid.

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Let’s talk about bicycle weights here for a second. My hybrid bike is 34 pounds. My road bike is 17 pounds. When you are going uphill, you can definitely feel the weight difference. Where my road bike flies, my hybrid is sluggish. It’s like being with a couch potato (hybrid) or a fitness freak (road).

But to be clear – I ask a lot of my hybrid. It has no business doing 40 miles in a morning – it’s built for casual rides around town running errands or leisurely rides with my kids.

Couple this with my hybrid has platform pedals (the flat ones) whereas my road bike has dual-sided pedals that my shoes clip into, thus transferring power from my legs to the bike. Everyone said clipless pedals would change my life but I wasn’t convinced until I had them l and could literally feel myself become one with my bike and power up a hill. It’s a truly incredible feeling – I highly recommend it.

A key difference also is my hybrid has a triple crank (three front rings) where my road bike has a compact crank (2 front rings). This means I was able to get into the lowest of low gears to slowly but surely get to the top of the hill. I was already pretty fatigued from the earlier riding, which didn’t help the cause any.

Anyway ….the point being your gear can make or break a ride. I was wrecked and spent the rest of the day rehydrating and relaxing. Next time I head downtown for brunch I need to scope a road route so I don’t completely kill my body.

Or maybe I should think of it as really good training? I used to think a ride was only good if you felt wrecked afterwards – but even after 50 miles on my road bike I don’t feel totally wrecked. I like being able to function after a ride.

Today my kids and I went on a 5 mile ride on a beautiful bike path and it was fantastic. They all have mountain bikes so my hybrid was the right choice for gear. I matched my daughter’s pace at 5 mph and it was truly a fun, low-key ride. Exactly what my hybrid is built for.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Hope you enjoyed your day as much as I did.

Just the Basics

Yesterday I participated in a skills clinic for novice female cyclists organized by my local female-centric cycling club – Sturdy Girls Cycling. I’ve ridden my (super-sexy) road bike for about a month now so it’s a perfect opportunity to break my bad habits before they take hold.

A wide range of women participated – some on hybrids and urban bikes, some preparing for a triathlon or two, some who just bought a bike and others who just wanted to know how to make their ride more efficient. I fit into the latter two categories – my bike is a pretty recent acquisition and I’m still learning how to use her optimally.

We started out the day with a short jaunt to an empty parking lot for basic drills. Like starting and stopping. Riding a straight line. Looking behind you without weaving your bike all over the place. Basic stuff that most of us don’t really think about but can have an impact on your success.

I learned that I did indeed need to switch the foot I un-clip upon stops (and managed to fall spectacularly in the early attempts to remember which foot to un-clip and which way to lean).

the ground is hard.

 

At least I got that out of the way early. And I like to think it broke the ice for the rest of the group – there were a few more falls. But most people don’t seem to have a problem with deciding when to un-clip as they roll to a stop. It’s just me over-thinking it.

Note to self: find your comfort zone anticipating the need to un-clip.

We then headed out for a short ride to learn hill climbing skills. The hills we were climbing were manageable and achievable – all good things when you are working on building confidence on your bike. We discussed gearing and how no one can tell you what gear will feel best except through time and practice – but that you will find a gear or a range of gears that will help you stay in motion.

Hills are your friend!

We also discussed Constant Motion – always keeping your legs moving. This builds your ability to keep going, even on super-tough climbs, because your body is accustomed to staying in motion. You can also work on not only using your muscles but also your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to keep from fatiguing your muscles too quickly.

The biggest take-away for me from the hills/gears section was just that – smooth, fluid motion the entire way up the hill. Not how fast or hard I could mash the hill – but how smoothly I could do it.

I spent the rest of the clinic at the back of the group as we practiced riding in lines of two and three. How to merge, not surge. How to find a bail-out point if you need it (and regroup at the top). Common group-riding lingo like” GAP” and “ON.” Why “UP” means getting into an easier gear and “DOWN” means getting into a harder gear.

Being in the back meant I needed to monitor my cadence to maintain a smooth, silky cadence. It was tough for me – I like to just GO already, to get up the hill as fast as possible, effort be damned! Plus, I hate riding behind someone as close as I really need to in a group ride. So worried someone will stop suddenly, causing me to either hit them or veer off and crash or fall down.

Not like I haven’t fallen down in front of a bunch of strangers a few times now or anything.

Quite frankly, riding in a group formation – listening to the hum of the wind in our spokes, hearing the clink of cartridge changes – is pretty sweet.

We ended the clinic with a brown-bag lunch and bike anatomy lesson. How to clean and lube your chain and cassette. Different hand positions on the handlebars (for those of us with road bikes). The importance of having a bike that fits you – frame first, everything else can be swapped or upgraded. Recommended timeline to buy new tires (2000-2500 miles). Taking the reflectors off your bike (dorky – I’m guilty as charged!) and replacing them with bike lights to stay visible.

One more quick group ride around the park and we all went our separate ways.  It also sounds like there may be a longer group ride scheduled for those of us at the clinic so we can get together again to practice our skills in a low-key ride.

I can’t stress how happy I am that I did this clinic – one of the goals was to feel more confident on your bike and I definitely feel better about my skills and how to handle myself in a group ride environment. I met a bunch of other awesome women who a new to think like me.

Now to go find my next group ride …

 

Balance

Just the other day I was walking home from the train station, pondering how much longer the sun would be out and if I could get a quick ride in before nightfall. Sadly, the very next thought was:

But where would I go?And do I *really* have time??

The reality is I am balancing being a wife and mom with my unrelenting desire to head out for a few hours and pedal my way to happiness. The house still needs to be cleaned, the lawn mowed and the flower beds tended to. May is the hardest month for this – the weather is nice, the sun is out longer and the kids’ school events ramp up before the year ends.

But even if it were just me, I’m not sure I’d just jump on my bike and head out for an evening ride. I’m working on getting to know the terrain and becoming comfortable and familiar with it. It’s part exploration, part adventure … and part just plain time. You just can’t force knowing where to go.

So I joined the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia – to have a better view of what is being advocated in my area and to also access their super-awesome regional maps that categorize many roads so I can plan better routes. And find the best places to take my kids so we can cycle together. It’s not always about riding hard or fast – sometimes it’s awesome to just cruise to the local ice cream shop with the fam for some refreshments.

I’m also attending a beginner cyclist’s clinic this weekend between getting my kids to their various activities – sports, camping, play-dates and spaghetti dinners.

It’s all very exciting … if I can find a balance.

Confidence

Let’s be very clear here: I am not a morning person. I’m not really a late-night person either … but my ideal day involves not getting out of bed until mid-morning (9, 10am) and climbing back into bed around 11pm. Sleep is just too delicious to not indulge on the weekends.

But I also love riding my bike so I sucked it up and woke early to make an 8:30am roll-out time for a women’s group ride at my local bike shop. And honestly, is 8:30 too early in the morning (YES)? I’m usually on the train to work around then!

Today’s group ride was sponsored by Specialized Bicycles – Women’s Ride Day.

Our group of about 8 women (and two guys – the leader and sweep) skewed slightly older than me but no matter – everyone had a great attitude and personality. I started the ride toward the back of the group but quickly realized I’d be happier closer to the front.

The ride itself was relatively flat – so I spent my time working on gearing. Big Ring for the flats, little ring for the hills. I noticed a few times when I geared down too low and was bouncing in the saddle – an adjustment or two later I was transferring power from myself to the bike. It’s a beautiful thing, really. There were a few bigger hills – but I managed to maintain 8-10mph up those hills. The ride felt good.

We got back to the shop in about an hour and only 10 miles. Half the group decided to split but the other half continued on for another 10 miles, coming in a touch less than 2 hours total. The shop had free bagels for us and was handing out free water bottles too (hooray – free gear!).

AND I managed to not fall off my bike! Laura 1, Clipless Pedals, o!

I’m thinking I may actually need to change my unclip pattern from right to left – but didn’t feel brave enough to change it up on this ride. Maybe on a nice, quiet solo ride.

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I’ve also signed up for the Greater Philadelphia Bike Challenge! It’s a free, for-fun competition to encourage you to use your bike for transportation, exercise, and recreation this summer. Ride your bike, log your miles, maybe win fabulous prizes but definitely feel awesome about using two-wheeled transportation all summer long.

The Buddy System

Shortly after I posted this morning – and after agonizing about whether I should do housework, lawn work, or just go for a bike ride already – I headed out on a bike ride with my oldest son. We planned to do a 13-mile out-and-back, pumped up our tires, filled our water bottles, and headed out. We were only gone about a half-hour, as we ultimately decided to make a 5-mile errands-running loop.

I commented to my husband that while it wasn’t what I wanted to do, any bike ride is better than no bike ride. To which he responded:

There’s nothing stopping you from going out again right now. Why don’t you just ride by yourself?”

Indeed – WHY DON’T I JUST RIDE BY MYSELF?

 

I realize I am asking too much of my oldest son. He’s a fun dude to ride with and he can do up to 26 miles with me as long as it’s relatively flat, maybe a few smaller hills. I always ride behind him and guide his route verbally. But he’s also my kid and I shouldn’t expect him to be my Cycle Buddy.

Which is what I want.

 

But why do you need a buddy?

Because it’s more fun. You have someone to talk to.

Because it’s someone to keep you honest. And is your support when you want to quit.

Because there aren’t many bike paths our here so it’s someone who will call for help if G-d forbid anything were to happen on the ride.

 

So why don’t you go to the bike paths?

Because I haven’t adjusted my mindset yet to understand Pennsylvania is not Colorado. There are bike paths and they are about a half-hour away from me. And I need to just come to terms with this and go to the bike paths to ride.

I’m a mom and that drives some of my decisions. At the end of the day, I need to be there for my kids – and that includes being safe when I do go out. Ergo – the Buddy System means I need a buddy when I go out riding.

But not really, right? I used to ride by myself in Colorado too … but on bike paths. And maybe it’s just that I’m not quite comfortable yet with the roads out here – I want to know where I’m going, what parts of town I might end up in, and how to get back home. Or at least guide someone to my location if I need to be picked up.

 

So I found a group ride tomorrow afternoon that I will attend if the weather holds out. I know it’s not supposed to (50s and raining) … and even if it doesn’t I will put it on my schedule for the following Sunday afternoon. It will feel good to get out with people in my ability bracket.

Wish me luck.

Being Average

Cycling Ride Levels-

Class Difficulty Rate
Class A Difficult, 45 to 100+ miles 18-20mph average on flat terrain
16-18mph average on rolling/hilly terrain
15-16mph average on very hilly terrain
Class B Advanced, 25 to 90 miles 15-18mph average on flat terrain
13-16mph average on rolling/hilly terrain
12-14mph average on very hilly terrain
Class C Moderate, 15 to 75 miles 12-15mph average on flat terrain
10-13mph average on rolling/hilly terrain
9-11mph average on very hilly terrain
Class D Easy, 10 to 25 miles 8-11mph average on flat terrain
4-7mph average on more hilly terrain

I’m finally recovered for the most part from a cold I contracted a few days after my Super Awesome Fun 50 mile ride a few weekends ago. And I’m looking – itching – to get back out and ride. This weekend is supposed to start nice and gradually decline into cold and rainy.

It’s Saturday and I have time for a ride with some decent mileage. So I pursue the local cycling group pages, searching for something either in my area or in my confirmed speed range. There is a ride scheduled for 10:30am (PERFECT!) at the local bike shop (EVEN BETTER!) at 15+mph average (well junk).

In the group ride community, most of the rides have average speeds set to 14+mph averages. My guess is the assumption is that if you are group riding, you are a more serious cyclist. You have the skills and knowledge to go longer distances in shorter amounts of time. And you want to be with other similarly leveled cyclists to keep you motivated … because inevitably someone will be faster or more graceful or training for a longer/hillier ride.

That’s not to say there aren’t rides for the C-level cyclist. The problem is me.

I want to ride with other people since I don’t know the area very well.

I want to start relatively close to my house so I don’t have to load everything into my car and drive first.

I want to ride on the weekends. Between work and being a mom, weekday rides – daytime and evening – just aren’t in the cards.

I want to improve my skills, speed, and distance (in that order) with friendly people who have similar goals.

In short, I miss cycling with my friends back in Colorado. I knew where I was going, didn’t generally have to drive to a starting point, and could have a very enjoyable time while improving.

In all fairness, I never did a group ride in Colorado because I didn’t have a road bike. I just rode with my friends at whatever pace we were feeling that day. We made terrible decisions sometimes – but we had a great time. I’m looking to recapture that magic.

It will take time and I will continue to look. I signed up for the Sturdy Girl Beginner Cycling clinic in two weeks to improve my skills. Doesn’t help me ease the manic desire to GO RIDE MY BIKE today, but will be beneficial in the long-term.

There are more C-rides planned coming up through Philly Bike Club. I just need to be more flexible in my approach and seek out the rides that I know I can do , have a good attitude, and be willing to make mistakes and have fun.

Someday a 15+mph average won’t be the reason I can’t do a ride.

Just not today.

New perspective

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.