This week we’re away from home, on a business trip for K/vacation near our family. It’s a fairly bike-y trip. My road bike came along, as did K’s mountain bike. We’re also trying to nail down the details of the next bicycle by visiting some shops we don’t usually see.

Which is why it was particularly disappointing that I woke up Saturday morning with some kind of bizarre knee thing. I can’t even self-diagnose it. I mean, who just wakes up one morning with a painful (but not swollen) knee? I’ve never had joint problems in my life. Sunday was much better, until suddenly it wasn’t. Monday was a long drive, which left my knee feeling just generally icky.

I guess the good thing is that my activities don’t seem to bother it. Climbing stairs, walking, squatting down, everything seems fine. I test-rode my bike for a few parking lot laps, and it also doesn’t seem to hurt. Good news, all, although not as good as it being healthy all the time.

Self-Reinforcing Bad Behavior

Today I read a terrible news story about a cyclist being hit by a truck while in a crosswalk. The comments to the article were grimly fascinating. Many of the cyclists, in classic victim-blaming, pointed out that this is the problem with cycling on the sidewalk. You move faster than pedestrians, and thus vehicles don’t look for you at intersections. (Although, they often don’t look for pedestrians, either. I swore never to walk to my bank again, after a car stepped on it to beat me across the crosswalk as the light changed. The driver and I had already made eye contact. Yesterday while walking I was nearly hit by someone who wanted to block the sidewalk to make a right-hand turn out of the grocery store. Except I was *on* that piece of sidewalk.)

While the victim-blaming is uncalled for, however psychologically necessary–i.e. “she did something wrong, which I don’t do, therefore I am safe on my bike”–there’s certainly a valid point here. The other danger of sidewalk riding is accidents caused by the sidewalk itself. That is, an unexpected bump or an unramped curb could cause you to crash into traffic. In both of these cases, you would have been safer riding in traffic, forcing annoyed drivers to pass you in other lanes.

I’ve been mulling this over, because I have never seen a cyclist take the lane in this town. What few of us exist seem to 1) stick to residential streets or 2) ride the sidewalk. (There are no shoulders, so you don’t see cyclists trying to slink around the edges.) Residential streets can’t get you everywhere, however, and the sidewalks are often dangerously uneven. So, what does one do in a heavily-trafficked town where the drivers really, truly, may not have ever seen a cyclist on a main road? Avoiding the busier roads, in effect, has perpetuated the idea that we don’t belong on them. And as long as the cars believe that, can one or two, or even ten, cyclists safely change their mind?

Conversation from the Bike Path

There were a few amusing things that happened while we were on the bike path terror ride. This is my favorite:

We cycled past a male runner. He was the rippling muscle type, and he was moving fast. He wasn’t a big guy. You could tell that he was mostly a runner who did the gym thing on his off days, but he did it seriously when he was there.

Later, when we stopped for water, there was a female runner. She was in one of those tiny running outfits that you can only wear if you have serious running-cred to back it up. She wasn’t too thin, in that painful “I run too much” way that some women get, but there wasn’t a pudge to be seen.

As we cycled away, the male runner caught up, revealing that they were a couple. Back at the car I said, “Did you see that running couple? The woman in the tiny shorts and the man in orange?”
K: “Yeah, they were in good shape.”
Me: “I think they spend half their time in the gym, and the other half drinking protein shakes.”
K: “We could do more of that, right?”
Me: “So I could look like her, or so you could look like him?”
K: …. “Well, he had really nice muscle tone.”

Weekend on the Multi-Use Trail

This weekend K and I tried something different. We woke up at 5:30, packed up the road bikes, and drove over to the longest of the local multi-use trails.

It was a terrible idea.

I’ve ridden this trail before, while we were still thinking about moving here. I found it a little frustrating, because the path can be herky-jerky. Random, short, steep hills, and at almost every intersection you need to make an unrideable (for me) corner. Between those things, though, it was decent pavement, and I’m starting to feel really bike deprived. The trail was just as I remembered it. We beat the heat. It was really pleasant just to be out.

You’re waiting for the “terrible idea” part, right?

We live in, I’m guessing, one of the country’s least bikeable cities. While I can piece together an awkward kind of route as a transportation cyclist, sport cyclists are, as far as I can tell, out of luck. To compound the inherent problems of doing “real” road riding in an urban area, this city has a huge footprint. Even if you recognize that you need to get out of town to find smooth, low-traffic roads, it can be a 45 minute drive or more.

Add all these things together and you get some phenomenally inappropriate bike behavior. Things like fast group rides on the multi-use trail on a busy Sunday. I understand the thrill of going fast on the trail–I’ve done it. On quiet days, when I’m not going to run over anyone. On crowded days, I chill out. I enjoy riding my bicycle. I go 12 mph, or even less. I call out when I need to pass someone, even when there’s a 97% chance that they won’t hear me over their headphones.

The first sign that we were out of our element was a crash. Mr. Roadie, one of the group riders going 20 mph on the multi-use trail, was a fair distance back. I was in front, K was behind. K says, “Mr. Roadie is coming up, he’ll pass in a minute.” I looked over, saw how far away he was, and passed a jogger. K passed the jogger. We get on a bit, and I hear a terrible noise. Mr. Roadie was off the pavement, wheels up. I don’t think this was from anything we did, given both how far in front of the crash we were and how far ahead of Mr. Roadie I was when I passed the jogger, but I do wonder if Mr. Roadie somehow did this trying to cut us off. (Later, Mr. Roadie passed us again, without calling out. Next time we saw him, he had pulled off the trail. He re-entered right in front of me without looking.) After that we started to notice things like cyclists in full team kits passing between pedestrians while still riding two abreast. I called the ride off early, because it was getting dangerous out there.

The last straw was that someone yelled at me. The exit to the park was at a very acute angle to the trail, and going up a hill. I was in the wrong gear to both turn and climb, so I went past, changed gears, and turned around. To execute this turn, I pulled off the path to the right. I looked carefully, both ways, and then quickly turned across the path. As I was straightening back up, an oncoming cyclist, whom I was absolutely not putting in danger or even inconveniencing, yelled at me for being in the middle of the path. I could see him calling out if I had been, you know, actually stopped, or if he had been within six bike lengths, which he wasn’t.

Apparently, in the eyes of the most aggressive and unpleasant riders, the bike path is for “real” road cyclists, and everyone else is just an inconvenience.

Buying, Not Riding

Do you buy more cycling gear when you can’t ride?

I’m too much of a chicken prudent to ride alone in this big new city, and K has been on business travel for practically forever. (Two weeks.)

I seem to be compensating for this by shopping for bike things. Mercifully I’ve confined myself to window shopping, but in the last two days I’ve considered buying

–new pedals
–new shoes
–a new jersey
–bar tape
–a saddle
–water bottle cages
–and an entire new bicycle.

This last one is both hilarious and worrisome. It’s K’s turn for the next bike, you see, but he can’t make up his mind. He wants a new hard-tail mountain bike, but his current full-suspension mountain bike could also use replacing. It’s a little excessive for this terrain, and his riding style would be better on a slightly smaller frame. When he plotted out the cost for the hard-tail, I almost choked, and told him to replace the suspension bike first. That would be a straight parts transfer from the (not very) old bike, so the out-of-pocket is just the frame. If we’d had the time for it in March, when he demo’d the Santa Cruz Tallboy, he would have done it right then. Now that the demo is fading from his mind, he is back to indecision.

He’s trying to prolong his indecision definitely, by foisting the decision off onto me. Which has me looking at mountain bikes. The problem with mountain biking is that I will almost certainly dislike it. My bike buying is thus in a delicate position. I don’t want the bike to be so cheap that I hate it even more, but it’s also a silly waste to spend a lot on something I will most assuredly not love. Except, it’s hard to buy something that you know isn’t as good, even if you also know that you don’t *need* something as good. My city bike came with such frustratingly inferior parts that I’m skittish of not being within a certain distance of top-of-the-line. (Not top-of-the-line itself, because the difference is mostly weight, not functionality.)

It’s all academic right now, at least. I’m going to try hard to make K take his own turn. Maybe, at most, I’ll get those pedals/shoes/bottle cages/bar tape. In the meantime, maybe window shopping through this heat wave isn’t so bad.

Saddle Maintenance

Today I realized with a jolt that my practically brand-new Brooks saddle needed a little TLC. You see, I went so far as to buy Proofide, but never applied it. Meanwhile, my poor bike is sitting in our detached, unairconditioned garage, where the temperature is probably hitting 110 on hot afternoons. Of which there are a lot lately. Time to quit thinking about saddle treatment, and actually treat the saddle.




After, with my Minnehaha bag installed:

Which, surely, I must have done wrong, because it was incredibly irritating.

Gratuitous shot of full bike (some non-black bar tape is on the docket, and I promise that carbon-fiber water bottle cage was not purchased by me):


Application was straightforward. I followed the instructions, and I used the cloth that came with my kit. Drying time was in the realm of 30 minutes, in weather that’s somewhere between “warm-ish” and “eye-searing,” with a healthy dose of humidity. As per instructions, I put Proofide top and bottom, since there are no fenders on this bike. Next up: finding somewhere to really ride this bike, rather than poking around on my city bike.

On Pedals

K and I started out fundamentally at odds on the question of appropriate pedals. He was dedicated to clipless. I was, and still am a little, terrified of them. I have some serious phobia of having my limbs restrained. (I’ve been known to have a near-panic attack trying to get out of my winter coat.)

Last time we went out, I heard him say something I never imagined. “You know, when I get a real road bike, I think I’ll put flat pedals on this one.” See, his current “road” bike is a steel cyclocross bike that would, honestly, make a perfect man’s town bike. I’ve even caught him eyeing mustache handlebars lately. Not that it will amount to anything–he’ll buy every mountain bike on the market before he decides to prioritize another road bike.

In the meantime, I’m recognizing that my road bike really is designed for, and thus needs, clipless. I’ve scraped my shoes on the pavement one too many times. In fact, I think the risk of falling may actually be higher without the clipless pedals than with.

This convinced me: