Let’s get something clear right now: I’m not the type of person who names vehicles. But I did make an exception for my new bike, which I got just over two weeks ago on June 2nd. I named her Junebug.
A few years ago, I got a nice bike at a church auction for $163, a Trek hybrid bike with a rack, a helmet and a bell. It had only been ridden by the previous owner a couple of times before he passed away, and I got an excellent bike with that winning bid. My Trek was my passport back to bicycling, which had never been a passion but rather something utilitarian I did with bikes I was either given or found second hand. I’d never had a new bike, never biked more than a couple of miles, never biked more than once a week. When I got the Trek, I hadn’t ridden a bike in almost ten years.
With the Trek, I explored local bike trails, finding peace in the midst of great anxiety with work and family concerns. I plugged earbuds into my phone and rode along slowly, listening to podcasts and music. After my cancer surgery in January of 2015, I decided to get myself into better shape and started riding more frequently, and for longer distances. The first ride after my surgery was in the summer and I went less than three miles before my body went into revolt. I collapsed in front of the public library and called PC from there, weeping.
“Walk the bike home,” he said flatly when I begged him to pick me up. In fairness to him, I was seven blocks from our house. I wasn’t bleeding or having a seizure. I was physically exhausted and out of shape. Tough love rules in our house.
I did a little research and started riding more. I worked my way up to ten miles, and then fifteen, then twenty. My bike was solid and I was slow. Eventually, I rode 28 miles. It took me over three hours, with stops for water, for rest, for something to eat.
In November, a client mentioned a regional multi-day tour organized by someone in our city, to take place in June for five days. The tour covers a total of around 300 miles during that time. “You should do it!” she enthused.
The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. In retrospect, I must have been nuts. Even so, I signed up for a training class at the local YMCA and in January, on the one year anniversary of my cancer surgery, I had the first class to train for the Tour de Nebraska. It was a spin class, group cycling. I passed out from the exertion and the heat. Same the next session. Then I got shorter bike pants and started changing my water intake, my sleep patterns, my nutrition plan.
The first couple of months of class were to condition us physically for our bikes. We had guest speakers and Q&A sessions. Then we started outdoor group rides in May – that’s where we learned how little we knew about cycling. My bike seat was too low. My shoes were hurting my feet. I didn’t use 75% of my bike’s gears, and the ones I did use I was using incorrectly. I was in despair, but I kept trying.
We had some AMAZING instructors – they encouraged us, cheered us on, helped us learn and listened to us when we doubted ourselves. The best thing about the class was the new friends I made with classmates of all ages and backgrounds. We signed up for fundraising rides, we went on 32-mile group rides with over a hundred people, we went on a charity ride near Omaha with over 600 entrants, on a day with wind chill of 37 degrees.
I got special bike shoes with pedal cleats, and clip-in pedals. The first time I went out on the bike with them, I wrecked when I couldn’t get my feet disengaged from the pedals. I got back up, rode home, and then wiped out again in the driveway, falling on my side with my feet still attached to the pedals and giving myself a mammogram on the concrete with my handlebars.
One thing that became obvious was that my old Trek, while a solid and sturdy bike for leisurely riding in town, was going to be insufficient for the Tour de Nebraska and the hills and highways and long hours I’d be riding. Even with training and improved stamina and performance, the bike was too heavy for the hills–it was for casual riding, and I’d progressed beyond that. PC encouraged me to upgrade before the tour so I would be able to enjoy myself and keep up.
I test rode several bikes, and kept coming back to a Liv Invite road bike, which is what I eventually decided on. Liv is made by Giant brand, and the Liv line is focused on Women-Specific Design–not just a men’s bike made smaller but designed with our torsos and sit bones in mind. This little bike is so zippy and lightweight — it’s been an adjustment to learn the new gear shift levers, the lighter frame and the different handlebars. Two weeks ago, I attempted a fifty-mile ride with friends and burned out spectacularly after 30 miles when the wind started gusting at 30 miles an hour; I had to get a ride home to town and learned a bitter lesson about attempting too much too soon after getting a bike so unfamiliar to me.
Today I did my third long ride with the new bike – last week I did 22 miles and today was almost 16 miles in the morning with friends, then a trip to the bike shop to get an inner tube replaced and my gears adjusted again. After that I rode a quick five miles that felt like I was flying.
I know I’ve got a tough ride coming up: the first day is going to be 62 miles and I’ve never done more than 32 in a day. But I’ve done as much as I can, and also invested in good bike shorts, some cycling jerseys, a hydration backpack with the drinking tube so I can drink water on long rides without having to tote a bottle along. Headlight, tail light, new helmet, rear view mirror, a phone holder, a bike odometer/speedometer, rear rack, trunk bag, saddlebags….and I leave in three days for the bike tour, so it’s all or nothing now.
This is going to be a tremendous learning experience to help me figure out what I’ve done wrong, as well as what I’ve done right. I know Junebug will do fine – I just hope I do, too!