Recreational Cycling

[Note: This page was written sometime in 2008, when I lived on the San Francisco Peninsula.]

Strictly speaking this isn’t transit, but cycling for transportation and cycling for recreation are really not very distinct for me in some ways, though in others they’re very distinct.

In May of 2007 I finally bought a road bike after looking for several months, a LeMond Alpe d’Huez WSD.

I had gotten a bit tired of hauling my 30 pounds of bike around on fun rides, and wanted to do more hills and long rides.

It’s been an interesting experience. Despite being basically familiar with road bikes from test riding, there was a lot I didn’t expect. Descending hills is scary because the bike wants to go so fast (hardly any rolling resistance). Fortunately, the brakes do work, and well. Climbing the hills is still hard, though not the kind of struggle it was on a heavier bike. There’s more joy and exhilaration, more feeling of being in harmony with the machine. It’s weirdly easy to ride longer distances. Drop handlebars, clipless pedals, and all that really aren’t so hard to get used to.

Loving the experience of the lighter, road-style bike, one thing led to another and I am now also the owner of a Terry Madeleine I use for commuting (and maybe one day for real, self-supported touring). I’ve loved the experience of buying and owning a Terry; the staff at Terry are really helpful. The one exception is that I don’t like my handlebars and now I’m ending up trying to replace both stem and bars and having a hard time getting what I want — which really is more or less an exact replica of the setup on my road bike. Shouldn’t be that hard, but it is somehow. And now I own three bikes. (Well on my way to my goal of five…the last ones to add are a cargo conversion or replacement for my old bike, a folder, and a recumbent trike.)

Riding out in the hills is a different experience from urban traffic. The traffic is less, but it’s often going faster, and the freeway on-ramps can be awkward or dangerous areas. Slipping on loose gravel is a much easier possibility with the thinner tires. The scenery is nicer. But especially in the hours before a ride, I can’t forget that tragedy can easily happen at those speeds, coming out of nowhere on a quiet morning, and there’s a certain fear that’s different from the anxiety of daily traffic. Though after my two accidents, I have plenty of that too.

I do like to mix it up, though, combining recreation and utility cycling by riding through traffic (or if lazy, hopping on Caltrain with short legs at either end) to get to recreational rides, or exploring new routes where speed is not of the essence on the solid and easy old commuter.

I haven’t really gotten into cycling as a sport, per se. I know there’s a whole culture out there around it, and I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’m going to be training for Waves to Wine this fall and that will definitely bring me a little more into that environment and mindset. But even just reading over my Long Distance Cycling book, while I love the book and it’s got so much good information and tips, something about it seems a little equipment- and speed-obsessive to me, even though most of it is about how to stay comfy over long distances, where tiny things can make a big difference. But for me, I prefer a relaxed approach. So what if I don’t have aerobars to reduce my surface area or the lightest bike possible — I’m more interested in whether I’m doing what I want, personally, on the equipment I have.

The minute it becomes a competition with someone other than myself, it’s no longer fun for me. So I mostly just ride informally or in events with no placements, and watch marveling as the fancy jerseys go by in their long lines. There’s certainly plenty of that around here. I try not to get into any cycling culture wars either. I sometimes wear lycra and I sometimes wear jeans. I’m on both sides of the line and I have the same concerns on both sides. We all have a common interest in having safer roads, the roadies no less or more than the riders to church or the grocery store, and we all enjoy life on two wheels, life at 12mph.