Monday, February 7, 2011

A Rider's Evolution or de-evolution?

Dear Mark

Recently our trusty old Nissan Xterra needed some work. I took it to a new place for service that was in Seattle near the stadiums. They called Saturday to say the work was finished, that I could pick it up by 6pm and that in order to afford it I'd probably have to sell a kidney or some other part of my body. Jack was napping (thankfully) so I decided to hope on my bike and ride down to the service center to pick up the car while Lavi stayed home.

The very effort to get ready for the ride, riding down there and driving home threw me into a reflective mood about my evolution as a cyclist. It may be because I'm currently reading "Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling" by Bike Snob NYC himself. It may be that I'm getting older (gray hair acknowledged, just don’t ask where). It may be that I realized (after realizing the older part already mentioned) that I've been doing this a long time. Whatever the reason I was in a reflective mood.

What I wore on my bike ride won't impress anyone. In fact it will likely cause me ridicule, but nothing more than I’m use to. I pulled on my favorite leg warmers (Hincapie Sports, awesome, get some), 2 pairs of wool socks (I ride in the NW right?), a pair of cycling knickers/tights, a thermal shirt with a zip up neck, a jersey, arm warmers, a rain jacket (with Bicycle Alliance logo), full finger gloves, a thin skull cap hat, helmet and glasses. All in all I looked like a reject from an Australian exploitation film that dealt with the apocalypse where cars, punk rockers and the hunt for gas was primal.

It was not too long ago that my entire outfit would have matched and marked me as a "serious" roadie. Even more recently I would have pulled on a wool sweater, some jeans, rolled up my pant leg, put Jack in the trailer or on the bike kid seat and ridden off. Even longer ago (and this is hard for me to admit) I would have proudly pulled on some hiking boots, cut-offs and a flannel and headed out. The grunge/NW cycling crossover fashion never really took off, but I tried. I've run the gambit of all cycling types practically. I have never been a hipster and never will though. Nor have I ever looked the lone wolf cyclist just for the record. Dressing for the ride was actually tougher than it sounds, even though putting on that many layers is quite challenging while maintaining pride. I’ve not been commuting and riding as much. Riding is just not practical with daycare pickup in the cold weather. It was hard for me to settle on the right stuff. Things have changed indeed.

I headed out on my Salsa Commuting Bike to ride the 12 miles to the service station. Even the bike I chose to ride was interesting to me, and yes I have choices when I ride. I always say you need one more than the number you own in bikes (n + 1 = need). The Salsa is one of my favorite bikes. It has lights and fenders and a rack. It's ready for anything the NW decides to throw at it. I wanted to ride the super light and fast Davidson bike of course, but that never sees the rain is my rule. Recently I've been pulling Jack's burley solo trailer and riding my Kona Hei Hei converted mtb with an extracycle on it, which has a bike seat on it for Jack. My choice in bikes has certainly changed over the years. As the before mentioned marked Roadie, I never would be caught on anything weighing over 22 pounds (discounting my own butt and gut of course) because, well if I have to explain it then don’t worry. It was that I only had 1 bike (gasp!). I used to be teased by my cycling friends. Eventually I graduated to road bike and a mountain bike. From there the slope was slippery and I admit I enjoy it. I now have 5 bikes. One is my super light weight totally awesome Davidson ti frame bike. One is my awesome Salsa Casserole commuter bike. One is my trusty Kona Kapu road bike. I rode across the US with that I’ll never part with it. One a Ridley Time Trial bike that I can’t seem to sell. I think it is destined to live on my indoor trainer. Talk about overkill. Last is my Kona Hei Hei mountain bike which now sports an xtracycle kit for Jack to sit on. Things have changed indeed.

I rode along the Ballard Bridge to Myrtle Edwards Park and down the waterfront to the Stadiums. This is a route I use to ride all the time to work actually in 1997-1998. I miss it. The park is so scenic to ride through. It was in this park that I had my worse crash in 2004. I slipped on a wet day and separated my shoulder. It was a very slight separation. This was evidence by the fact that I actually rode my bike home from there, where upon I was rendered unable to remove my jersey with out help from my brother-in-law. The waterfront would be more fun to ride along if the lights were not so damn ill timed that you had to stop every 20 feet. Still through it all and down to the stadium where I took the new overpass over the train tracks and to the service station.

Not so long ago my minimum ride was 50 miles. I would not even go out for something smaller. My time to warm up for a ride took 15-20 miles. My ego wanted to do 100 every time I threw my leg over the frame, and he usually was not nice about it either. I would wear a heart rate monitor, collect data, analyze my training and plan my next ride. I rode to work every day bar none, no matter the weather condition. In January of 2011 I rode twice, and that was 2x more than January 2010.

As I turned the pedals over on my ride I remembered how a ride like this in 1994 was a "big" ride for Jason and me. It would take all day. Now look at us. He's training for Canada Ironman and I am a Big Rider, having traversed our great country by bicycle in 2003. I use to commute 17 miles one way to work, now I can run to work its so close at 5 miles. Things change indeed.

The drive home in the Xterra had me thinking about racing and mountain biking. I liked nothing better than getting out on the trails with friends and getting dirty. How I loved it. I would pack the Xterra and head out. As I drove home I remembered some of my best times on the trail. Getting lost every time at Bonney Lake, getting delirious on Noble Knob, hitting some epic downhill at Crystal with Joey, and completing my first mtb race with Dirtworld.com. Heck, even you came out on the trails a few times, although that was pre-Xterra days. I remember donuts in a blue Subaru. Today I have a child seat and stroller in the car, along with snacks and other items in our emergency kit (no skittles). I don’t even have my bike rack on the Xterra any longer. That is telling. More telling is that I converted that much loved Kona Hei Hei into a bike to pull Jack along. While I have no end of joy in riding with Jack, the bike does give me the finger now and then when it reminds that it is a high-premium mtb race bike. Things changed indeed.

In 2002 I raced Cyclocross for the first time. It was a lot of fun and I ended up taking 3rd in the race series for Beginners. More importantly I won the last race of the year. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. I recall that dream when I run these days. It pushes me. I'm so proud of winning that race. There is hardly a greater feeling than riding your bike with your hands in the air across the finish line first. As that day becomes more distant the effect on me is the same, but the reality of repeating becomes even more distant.

All of these thoughts went by during my ride and drive home. I began to wonder what kind of cyclist I am today. I know my roots of cycling, what type I've been and what I am becoming as a father. I wonder if it is evolution of de-evolution that I'm in the midst of. It a sport where you build and build to be better and stronger, it would seem that I hit a pinnacle when I threw my hands in the air to celebrate that win or when I reached Washington D.C. on my ride across the US. I could conclude that I've since started to devolve into a simpler rider. That I’m going back to where I was when I started out.

But I throw those notions away. Champions of sport do not become less when they retire of if they don't win. Sure maybe Jordan lost some street cred with the comeback with the Wizards, but in Cycling champions continue to be great. Lance is still great even though he only finished 3rd in the Tour during his comeback. Eddie Meryx lost his last Tour de France as well. I know I'm comparing myself to great cyclists here, but my point is that I believe I'm still growing as a cyclist. I'm getting wiser and cagier for sure. I may have lost some of my top end sprint but I'm still a strong rider. I mean how many other individuals will pull their kid (50 pounds + with trailer) up a 10% grade. I conclude that I’m still evolving as a cyclist.

My riding style may change. My bikes might change, still need one more I think. My outfits will change, although lycra will undoubtedly rule supreme. I may not even ride as often as I have in the past. My destinations, distances and need for speed will most surely change too. Yet, just because I’m not winning the races or besting the competition, I’m still riding. That is the point I think. Through all the change, the ups and downs in time commitments and fitness and changing of bikes I still always rode.

I’m going to keep riding and I’m going to keep enjoying it.

On your left,

Jeff

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