Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning to be Slow

Just about ten years ago, I bought a new bicycle. I wanted something sturdy and versatile, and bought myself a cyclocross bike, with dropped handlebars and off-road brakes. I coulnd't afford two good bicycles, so I figured that this would handle aggressive road riding as well as light trail and touring use. It was a fast bike, not the most comfortable thing on two wheels, but I put it to use in some all-day rides anyway. After replacing just about every part on it I finally sold off the frame few years ago, with the idea that I'd build up a new road bike with the parts I'd hung on to. Unfortunately, the car broke down and I ended up spending my frame money on the infernal combustion machine, so I could get to work. The new bike never got built.

About a week ago, I bought another new bike, my first one in a decade (I've had other ones in the interim, but they've been assembled out of second-hand frames and fourth-hand parts, often as not held together by MacGuyver-like improvisations and zip ties. Not one of them has actually been big enough to be a comfortable fit for my six-foot-plus self). Just like a decade ago, I can't afford two good bikes (a breif period of relative financial security, if not exactly prosperity, fell victim to the Great Recession, just like it has for so many others), so I had to get something that would satisfy my need for commuting, road riding, some weekend touring and light trail use. This time, however, I got a bike with swept back “North Road” style handlebars, an 8-Speed internally geared hub and fenders. It's closer in spirit to a mid-20th Century British three-speed than a Belgian mixed-course racing machine. It's more “tweed jacket” than “lycra shorts.” I even put a bell on the handlebars.

So what changed? Why not get another cyclocross bike, or a mountain bike with slick tires, or anything more aggressively styled? The obvious answer is that I'm not in as good shape as I was at 25, but that's not it. If I ride enough (and with gas prices and frequent breakdowns, leaving the car in the driveway is not a hard choice most days), I'll be able to move at a good clip before too long. Already, after a week of riding, some of the hills are feeling noticably smaller and some of my routes feel a bit quicker. Am I suffering an attack of retro-grouch nostalgia, and trying to recreate the club riding experience of half a century ago? Maybe a little, but it's not a replica of an old bike, it's a modern, aluminum machine which while it may be inspired by those old roadsters, is a lot lighter and has some nice upgrades (like a bigger range of gears). Maybe it's because it looks cool and it impresses women? Well, yeah, but I can do that on any type of bike.

I think a huge part of the reason is that after all these years of riding I really want a bike that I can just hop on and GO. No special shoes (I have not intention of putting clipless pedals on this thing, or even toe straps and clips. Just plain old flats for me, thanks), no funny shorts (although I may find myself wearing liners or shorts with padding for longer trips) and no need to tuck my pant leg into my sock (it's got a chain guard). The riding position is upright enough that I can wear my regular raincoat when it rains, and sling my leather briefcase over my shoulder without it getting too uncomfortable. I wear sneakers, dress shoes or even sandals, not lugging a change of shoes everywhere I ride. I don't have to spend 20 minutes getting prepped to ride, I just have to figure out where I left my cell phone, squeeze the tires to make sure they're pumped up, and roll.

The new bike is slower than my drop-bar bikes have been (not by much, judging by the time it takes to get places and the readouts on those radar signs, but definitely a couple MPH), but that's OK, because I'm also learning the value of taking it easy sometimes. If I'm riding to work, it's nice to be able to wear my work clothes instead of having to pack a change, and if I want to show up without looking like I've been swimming to work, that means staying at an exertion level that doesn't make me sweat too much. It's the difference between “brisk walk” and “jogging” paces. Because I'm in a relaxed stance, I don't feel that subconscious pressure to race everywhere, and I'm certainly not riding a bike that I'll ever find myself saying “I may race this one day,” so I don't have the need to live up to that kind of thinking either.

I think, when it comes down to it, this says a lot about who I am these days, I'm no longer out to prove anything to myself (except perhaps that I can find a halfway decent job again, but that's another blogging topic altogether) but hope to be able to sit back and enjoy the ride a bit more.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Yay, the Daily DeBlass is back!

Having ridden with you, I can say that your bike looks like a sweet machine. May you get many years out of it.