One hundred days ago I bought my first nice bike (a.k.a. my first bike purchased from a bike shop and not a department store). What possessed me, aside from the thrill of learning that I’d passed my quals for the last time ever? Well, Joe and I had rented bikes to ride the Cades Cove loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few weeks earlier, and, despite the absolute clunkers we rode and my abysmal performance as a rider, I’d had just enough fun to consider taking the plunge.
One hundred days later I have biked a total of 783 miles, 244 of which were spent commuting. I’ve saved myself more than 10 gallons of gas, which is more than my average fill-up amount. I’ve burned about 32,000 calories or 9.24 pounds of fat. I’ve gone from feeling like a 10-mile ride with 360 feet of ascent would kill me to regularly riding 30-mile routes on the weekend. I’ve even managed 600 feet of ascent, which is about the best I can do in this part of Texas, on a 39-mile ride at pace of 15.2 mph. With head- and crosswinds the whole way.
I am still very much a beginner in the world of cycling, but 780 miles in 100 days has taught me a lot. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
Getting places is more fun on two wheels. I didn’t realize how much of my daily commute by car was colored by frustration–with the red lights, with people not moving quickly enough, with being unable to get the parking spot I wanted–until I tried it by bike. I actually get to my office faster by bike; I get less frustrated doing so; I save money, and I burn fat. Win, win, win.
Cycling on the road with cars is not as scary as you think it is. Yes, I have had people pass me doing 60 mph way too close to me for safety, but the vast majority of drivers have shown me courtesy and respect. If the pickups of rural Texas can get along with bicycles, I’m pretty sure anybody can.
Some drivers are idiots. So are some cyclists. I’ve had drivers (and their passengers) jeer at me, call me names, and even threaten me while on my bike. I’ve also had drivers wave enthusiastically at me while riding and a motorcyclist pull over to make sure I didn’t have a flat when I was just taking a break on the shoulder of the road. I’ve also had to deal with cyclists who don’t follow basic laws, like riding with traffic instead of against it.
Cyclists come in every shape and size. I’ve met whippet-thin racers and I’ve met overweight mountain bikers. I’ve met cyclists nearly three times my age who can leave me in the dust. Anyone can ride a bike, and I do mean anyone.
Pride comes before a fall. The moment you feel confident may be quickly followed by flipping head over heels into a ditch full of stagnant water. And discovering that you’ve given your boyfriend road rash on his face. It’s not a fun experience, but if you get up, check your dérailleur and get back on the bike, it’s worth it. Also, that bouncy feeling on your back tire? It’s a flat.
Cycling with friends is great. I look forward to our group rides on the weekend. We can take it easy and chat and just enjoy the scenery, or we (usually Chris and I) can go out and push ourselves to ride harder and faster and climb more. Either way, it’ll feel great in the end.
Spandex actually is pretty comfortable. It’s hard not to look at a cyclist decked out in skin-tight, brightly-colored shorts and a jersey and think they’re crazy. But the truth is that those shorts are way more comfortable for riding, and those jerseys have pockets on the back that are the best thing ever.
Early mornings on the weekend are glorious. In Texas, the prospect of cycling in 95 degrees with 90% humidity during the day is very real and very unpleasant. During the warmer months, starting a ride just after sunrise means more comfortable temperatures and empty roads. Those early Sunday mornings are almost magical.
Aerodynamics can be a bitch. You’d think I, as a fluid mechanician, would be well aware of the un-aerodynamic state of an upright bicyclist. But I become infinitely more aware when battling a 12 mph crosswind. It’s rough. But, hey, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right? What’s a few extra hundred calories burned?
I love cycling. I love the sense of freedom. I love that the pace that makes me appreciate the journey instead of the destination. I love the feeling of empowerment when I’ve conquered something new. I love the exhilarating speed of a downhill sprint (I’ve been recorded at ~35 mph), and I love the feeling when I’m cruising above 20 mph without feeling strained. I love that I can save money and and time and the environment one day at a time. I love getting home sweaty and tired and rosy from the endorphins and the knowledge that I’ve just done something really healthy for myself.
Only one hundred days of cycling, but I think I’m on to something. And, yeah, my legs are looking pretty good these days.