Sunday, February 2, 2014

Revisiting The “25 Things”

Five years ago today—a time before this blog existed—I created a Facebook post in which I listed 25 things about me as a cyclist. Back then, there were myriad “25” lists on Facebook: favorite albums, favorite books, favorite movies, and so on. I have shared only some of the things from my list on this blog, but not all, so please indulge me as I take a look back …
1. My first bike was blue and like most kids’ bikes of its era had a banana seat. My parents bought it at a Montgomery Ward store in Charleroi PA when I was 8 years old. Prior to that I rode my dad’s balloon-tire beach cruiser, which was too big and too heavy for me.
Those were the days when things were outgrown instead of worn out. That first bike was so mechanically simple with its single speed and its coaster brake. Late in its life I swapped out the “ape hangers” for a BMX handlebar.
2. My first bike accident happened in an alley in West Newton PA. I went over the handlebar and knocked the wind out of myself. My next bike accident was on grass and less painful but more humiliating. I was going down a little hill near the swimming pool and I wiped out from too much speed … right in front of a female classmate.
Thanks to Facebook, in July 2011 the female classmate and I renewed our friendship. She remembers my wipeout and so does her mom. In my recollection it wasn’t that big a deal, but it left an impression!
3. I got a new bike when I was ten, a BMX-style bike from Sears. It was black, accented with gaudy neon green number plates. It had a handlebar pad and a crude rear suspension that was more ornamental than functional. Dad got furious with me for bringing it home covered in mud. What did he think I was going to do with it?
I haven’t found a picture of the bike I owned, but here’s one like it:

My fenders and number plates were a much brighter green. I had forgotten about that goofy front suspension! The model in this picture is a couple of years newer than mine, and I think the only real refinement is the chain guard that looks like a motorcycle exhaust pipe. My bike didn’t have that.
4. My third accident was a big one. I went over a stone wall while attempting a jump and came down first on my front tire, then on my chin. I needed six stitches to close the wound.
Not just any wall, but this wall:

My friends from West Newton will recognize McCauley Funeral Home. My best friend was with me when I crashed and I told him that it was a fitting place to die, but he assured me that my injuries weren’t life threatening. I didn’t go over the wall at its highest point, but I shouldn’t have tried it at any point.
5. During my junior high school days I competed in unsanctioned BMX races, rarely winning but always finishing reasonably well. For the most part these were “hole-shot” races where the first rider to reach the first turn typically could not be overtaken during the remainder of the race.
Hmm … that sounds remarkably like today’s BMX races, which may explain why I don’t bother watching them.
6. But by the time I was in junior high school it just wasn’t cool to ride a BMX bike around town anymore. I bought a secondhand Huffy 10-speed with a depressing yellow and brown paint scheme and handlebar tape that was no softer than the metal it was covering.
That bike was a Huffy Scout, very much like this one:

Mine had fenders too … for about 5 minutes.
7. My first bike “tour” was a 56-mile ride from my home in Charleston IL to Paris IL and back. My friend Tim Woodall accompanied me and we suffered terribly under a hot sun. I had canteens with me for water, and no cycling-specific clothing. Taking off my T-shirt was a big mistake, as I got the worst sunburn of my life. I had been inspired to do the ride in 1978 after returning to the United States from a month-long family vacation in Europe, where I saw how deeply cycling was rooted in the culture.
Navigation wasn’t a problem on that ride because we took the only route we knew: Illinois Highway 16. There are several quiet back roads that would have been far safer.
8. As a high school sophomore I narrowly avoided an accident on busy Washington Avenue in Racine WI. I wanted to get off the street and ride on the sidewalk, so I pulled on the handlebar to jump the curb. Unfortunately my skewer bolts were loose and as the fork came up it left the front wheel on the ground. Fortunately I wasn’t going very fast and I was using platform pedals, so I avoided falling.
Check those quick-release levers, folks!
9. Before the start of my senior year of high school I bought my first good-quality bike: a black Raleigh Rapide 12-speed with headtube shifters. I sometimes used it to commute to my part-time job but I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. Getting a driver’s license killed my cycling ambitions and I sold the bike when I moved back to Pennsylvania in January 1988.
The only accessory I ever bought for that bike was a red Cannondale handlebar bag, and I didn’t use it to carry tools, tubes or anything else that would have helped if I had encountered mechanical trouble. I was always one sharp rock away from becoming a pedestrian.
10. From January 1988 until April 2003 I didn’t own a bike. During that span I never even rode one.
Boy, would I love to have those years back! Do over!
11. In April 2003 I bought a Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike. I had decided to do a little cycling to strengthen my legs for softball. I had been having muscle pulls and other over-use injuries and got back into cycling as an auxiliary activity to extend my softball career.
Success! I got stronger and played softball every year through 2012. I didn’t miss it in 2013. I didn’t even sneak a glance at the league standings to see how my old team was doing.
12. When softball season ended in August 2003, I kept riding. I had come to love it for its own sake.
And I still do.
13. In 2004 I started keeping statistics on my cycling endeavors as a way to encourage myself to ride more. I did 88 rides for a total of 1,454 miles, an average of 16.52 miles per ride. For the most part I was still riding just an hour at a time to be strong for softball.
By the end of 2013, I had completed 1,364 rides for a total of 39,530 miles (28.98 miles per ride) over 10 seasons.
14. In 2005 I got way more serious: 3,050 miles in 117 rides, an average of 26.07 miles per ride. I recognized that I wasn’t really using my mountain bike as a mountain bike, so I swapped out the wide knobby tires for some road-friendly slicks.
When I had only one bike I sometimes used it in situations for which it was not intended. These days I have the right tools for each job.
15. In August 2005 I bought a real road bike, a Giant OCR1. Almost immediately I felt like I had made a mistake. I didn’t like being pitched so far forward or being clipped into the pedals.
I still ride in a more upright position than many of my friends, but now I can’t imagine going back to platform pedals.
16. In December 2005 I added a new dimension to my cycling endeavors by getting a trainer for my home gym to allow for training through the winter.
My first trainer was a gift from a coworker who had fallen out of love with it. It was loud and clunky and after a couple of seasons I upgraded to the CycleOps Magneto that I use to this day.
17. Early in 2006 I struggled to make peace with my road bike. I still did most of my riding on the Wahoo but I decided to enter a road race and began to ride the road bike more in preparation for it. In July I competed in the road race and have been hooked on road riding ever since.
Hooked on road riding, yes, but it is now true that I have done many more mountain bike and cyclocross races than road races.
18. In 2006 I again topped 3,000 miles (3,161) and improved my per-ride average to 32.26. My average was bolstered by the completion of my first three centuries.
19. In 2007 I set personal records for mileage (4,410) number of rides (131) and per-ride average (33.66).
My current personal records are 5,113 miles (set in 2011), 204 rides (set in 2012) and 33.94 miles per ride (set in 2010).
20. In 2008 I was ahead of my 2007 pace before my season was interrupted by a serious crash on a training ride in August. I broke my collarbone and needed a couple of weeks to heal. I finished the year with 3,787 miles and 120 rides, a 31.56 average.
If not for that collarbone fracture I would have a streak of seven consecutive 4,000-mile seasons.
21. I have done 7 centuries in my brief career as a roadie. I have never started a century that I couldn’t finish.
I still haven’t started one that I couldn’t finish, but I have done only 12 all-time.
22. The longest ride I have ever done is 104 miles.
That changed on Oct. 17, 2010, when I rode 113 miles.
23. The farthest I have ever ridden in one month is 790 miles, in July 2007. I have never ridden outdoors in December or January.
My current record for miles in a single month is 1,020 (July 2011), and I now have ridden in December and January … though that’s still pretty rare.
24. The 2006 Omro Classic was my first road race. I did the same race in 2007 and 2008, and on each occasion improved my time from the previous year.
Unfortunately, that race doesn’t exist anymore.
25. I didn’t ride my Gary Fisher Wahoo at all in 2008. It’s now waiting for my son to get big enough to ride it. My new trail bike is a 2008 Giant FCR3 outfitted with cyclocross tires.
It didn’t take long for my son to grow into that mountain bike. On one occasion I got him to accompany me to New Fane, but otherwise the Wahoo has been his means of getting around town. Later this year when he gets his driver’s license, we’ll see if he abandons his bike the way I abandoned my old Raleigh. As for the Giant FCR3, it served me well until 2012 when I sold it to offset some of the cost of my current mountain bike.

A lot of things have changed in the last five years, mostly for the better. Hopefully, five years from now, I will be able to say that I am still growing as a cyclist.

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