I ride three bicycles, but now ride one much more than the others. What's happening to me?
First, there’s my road bike. It used to be an aluminum Cannondale--a classic beauty from 1989. I rode several wheelsets off that thing. I suppose that blue Cannondale represents my entrance into serious bicycling. I’ll call it my Lycra-wearing, wanna-be-racer stage. Or, my Tour de France mania stage. I’m not completely over it.
In what now appears to be the waning years of my road cycling enthusiasm, I gave my Cannondale to a relative and purchased a carbon fiber frame. My Orbea Orca is light as feather, stiff as a board (beats me to death), and flies up hills. It’s a thrill to ride, but I just don’t ride it much anymore.
Second, there’s my mountain bike. Right in the middle of my road bike romance, mountain bikes emerged. At first, I scoffed at them; they were beneath me. Then, I rode one. On a dirt trail. In the woods. Up steep hills. Over small drop-offs. On the edge of cliffs. Into and out of places a road bike would never go. I was in love. After I bought a Raleigh M-80 in 1997, I didn’t get back to my road bike for nearly a year. It was on my Raleigh that I took a big tumble and ended up with 19 fractures…but was back on the same bike and trail within four months!
For about fifteen years, I switched back and forth between road cycling and mountain biking. Annually, I strapped both road bike and MTB to the top of my VW and headed to West Virginia for a week. Half the time, I’d seek out curvy, hilly roads for my road bike. The other half of my days in the Mountain State, I’d wrestle my mountain bike through some of the most challenging and breathtaking trails I’ve ever encountered. I was a happy camper.
Then, in 2007, I got the opportunity to join small group on a cross-country ride through India. For the 2,000-mile trek, I picked up a used Cannondale touring bike. It was my first experience of riding at anything other than breakneck speeds on the open road. With my traveling companions, we loaded our bikes down with fenders, racks, and panniers. International riding called for a bell and a mirror. And Lycra was just too hot for India (and, later, Vietnam and Kenya).
In India, it took me three weeks and 1000 miles before I got used to riding slower—and not wanting to curse it. My internal road-biking engine was set for riding at 18-24 mph, but the day-long, 70-100 miles-a-day touring pace was closer to 12-16 mph. I still wince at my rude protestations to my traveling companions about their turtle-like pace. My companions included several Indian riders who all seemed locked into a 12 mph cadence, no matter what the terrain or which way the wind was blowing.
I finally let go of my need to ride fast. And, when I did, I began to enjoy other aspects of riding my bicycle. I noticed more about the country, the people, my companions, and what was going on inside me. I relaxed a bit and stopped being such an intense nutcase (or less of one). I started to enjoy the ride for the ride. That was my breakthrough. I still can and do ride fast on my road bike. But, more frequently, I ride a bit slower and with a different mindset and heart-set on another kind of bike.
Enter my touring bike stage. That’s the third bike that hangs in my garage—though it hangs less and is ridden more. After I returned from my third international bike ride, my local bike shop guru, Chris Wiggins, suggested I might want to try a Surly Trucker Deluxe for my next chapter of cycling.
I took his advice. I was less interested in the Surly culture (yes, there IS a distinctive Surly culture!) and more interested in the fact that the Deluxe frame unbolts in half and the whole bike can be carried in a suitcase to be checked as baggage—the end of exorbitant fees for bike cases on flights. Chris also talked me into a leather Brooks saddle, which, at the time, seemed like an unnecessary luxury, but has become the best component decision I ever made.
My Trucker, for its extra weight, is a smooth, comfortable ride. I commute with it as often as possible—a 30-mile round-trip ride. I commuted 86 days in 2013. I've also taken the Surly with me on flights to California and Florida. I’ve added fenders, racks, panniers, a bell, lights, and—God forbid—a kickstand. I’ve shed tight Lycra for more common clothing. I care less now whether or not I’m wearing technically correct or brand-flashing gear. I’m going for functional. Is it warm enough? Is it comfortable? Is it suitable for transitioning at work?
What’s happened to me? My biking preferences and habits are evolving. Maybe I’m just getting older. Maybe my values are changing. Maybe I’m looking for a different experience or outcome in cycling. Maybe all of the above. All I know is, I still enjoy riding my road bike fast, still like galloping my mountain bike through wooded trails, but I love cranking my touring bike along an urban bike lane or on a cross-country excursion.
Above all, I can’t wait to get on one of these bikes again tomorrow.
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA