In my mind, I was in the cycling scene from American Flyers, a peloton of trained athletes tucked into compression shorts, sparkling white shoes clipped into metal contraptions, gliding around on the 16lb flying machines we call road bikes. But that’s not exactly what it looked like. In fact, when I started riding with the people here, we didn’t even know how to ride in a paceline, we were side by side, or in the road. I never had the time, money, or guts to clip into my Cannondale road bike, either.
I only recently got my first “real” bike, my Cannondale, in 2012 when my friend Margaret went overseas to teach English. I offered to watch her horse for the year, and in return, she gave me a sweet deal on her older roadie. As she was packing her house up to leave the country, I went over so she could show me the bike. The garage was full of bikes, hanging on the walls, leaned up against the wooden siding, hanging upside down on the ceiling. She lived in a raft guides house, the sort of house you find rather often Fort Collins, if you know what I mean. I scanned all of the bikes in the garage, quickly picking out which ones I was secretly hoping would not be the one I was about to invest in. As soon as Margaret had said “do you want to buy my other road bike?” a few weeks prior, I said yes, knowing she had great taste in bikes, but without having seen the bike.
“No seriously Kaysha,” she said while I steered the sleek dark blue bike with pink rims and handlebar wraps down the driveway. “Make sure it fits you, it should, we’re pretty much the same size.” I swung my leg over and cruised down the drivway, struggling even to find the brakes, having never used drop bars before. The whole front end of the bike felt stiff, like a box with a wheel in it, it was a new world for me. With a jaggedy , rough start I set off down the street. I’d get it.
“Don’t crash it … it’ll crumble. It’s aluminum,” she said while I hoisted the light contraption into the back of my pickup. Good advice for a girl who has no concept of road bikes and has been clunking around on a hybrid KHS bike haphazardly for years, never really getting in to it. I could barely go for a 5 mile bike ride at that point between my heavy old bike, my asthma, and the altitute. I’m from Arizona, and was riding a bike in the Rocky Mountains. I took the Cannondale in for a tune-up and started taking the Fort Collins bike routes to work and around town. 2 mile rides turned into 10 mile rides. I began riding “Charlotte” the Cannondale, as I named her, everywhere.
Eventually I picked up a pair of cheap cycling shorts with the padding on them after I started to realize how much it can hurt, riding 9+ miles on a tiny racing seat. That was enough my for cycling investments for awhile as I figured out how to switch gears, as I got into shape for riding around town, riding at 5,000 ft. , up hills. When I came back down to Yuma, Arizona last year I was afraid for my bike, afraid I might lose the connection to my beloved bicycle, that I wouldn’t have anyone to ride with or anywhere to ride at all! In fact, my first ride out on the county roads furthered this fear as I bounced and bobbed along the poorly maintained pothole filled asphalt.
My wrists hurt, I was buzzed by speeding cars who didn’t have the slightest idea how to interact with bike traffic on the road. A few months later, after letting my beloved Charlotte sit more than I’d like to admit, I tried to bring my old bike back to life, I hate having things sitting around and not functioning. I posted a picture of the old bike on Facebook for fun asking if anybody had any recommendations for tires for the thing, hoping a few of pro-cyclist friends would chime in. When I left Fort Collins, I also left a wonderful bike community where I had been spoiled with easy access to any and all things bicycle.
A new friend from the Yuma Outdoor Adventures group, Stephen answered and started up an entire conversation about bikes, ending up with me going over and finding a free set of tubes for my odd-sized bike tires. If anything, I noticed that the bike community likes to pass on the tradition. To pass on the things they learned and the pass-ons that they accumulated. They only expect it to be paid forward in due time. The passing on of knowledge, of gear, of extra tires seems to be expected in this world. I mentioned to him how I had been having a hard time finding safe and good riding spots in the area.
That conversation morphed into not only 30 mile Saturday morning rides, but regular 20 mile Thursday evening rides. I found new cycling problems.
My hands began to go numb on rides. Stephen recommended gloves with padding, so that investment came next. The rides started with the two of us, and Josh joined came along, who Stephen also had helped get set up and going in the world of cycling. The three of us, it seemed, would get faster and faster each week. I gained more confidence. And then more people started to come on the ride.
Stephen began an official Meetup with two groups for the Thursday ride, a 15 mph and slower crew for bikes of all shapes and sizes to join, and the road bike crew, 15 mph+. I met a lot of new cyclists, some people who had raced before. It was the first time I’d have the chance to ride with people who actually raced and knew how to bike 80 mile + races, and happily shared their experiences.
Then there I was, my little Cannondale chugging along, keeping up, without baskets on my pedals or cleats on my shoes. When I hit 25 to 35 mph on the bike my feet would sometimes slip off the pedal, causing a near wreck, and of course instantly slowing down. I worked twice as hard going up hill because I didn’t have the constant momentum building that the clipped in riders had. “Wow, you’re riding without being clipped in? That’s brave,” they said.
Stephen came across some brand new cycling kits for super cheap for a few of us, and I got my first pair of white compression shorts, another mind blowing upgrade. “They’ll be your new favorite,” he had said. They are. So I kept saving and saving for my clip in shoes. The shoes themselves would be at least $100+, and the pedals started at the same price! June 26th a shoebox of a different sort arrived bearing the words SHIMANO on my doorstep. On top of them was a package holding a set of cleats and Shimano pedals to replace the cheapest part of my Cannondale. She always had looked a little out of place, with her sleek Cannondale lines and Shimano parts, fit with cheap, regular pedals like bumper stickers on a Ferarri.
I always had that fear of clipping in for the first time. A lot of people do. A soft nudge to the left and my foot came right out of the pedal. There’s always that fear that I’ll be tired and get stuck on a tipping bicycle, or that I’ll forget to unclip at a light and in graceful slow motion, crash into the cement, feet locked into place on the pedals.
Even my stepmom, who raced bicycles back in the day warned that I should first go off on my own to figure out the pedals before tossing myself into a group. I twisted on the new pedals, took the bike out front, and slid right into the shoes and pedals. However, I had to make a few adjustments like learning to pull up with my thighs, instead of just pushing down on the pedals.
A 20 mile ride, while being clipped in and going 33 mph is much more comfortable and efficient while being clipped in. And yes the ride is better with compression shorts with real padding. And because everyone asks, “yes, it makes that much of a difference.”
Stephen captured a bit of one of our rides on his new GoPro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-5NBZI_nuc
“I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability.”