Life is always easier if you're in the right gear.


Do you remember those days when you were a child and the night before Christmas was excruciating as you waited in anticipation for Christmas Day and whatever goodies you might discover under the tree? I remember loving to hate those Christmas Eves. I’d stay awake as long as I could, with excitement. But I always fell asleep, and I was always surprised the next morning. It makes me wonder, what is it about stuff that gets us so excited, even from our youngest years. Is this an American thing, I wonder? Or is this excitement about receiving gifts a more global experience?

For me, Christmas came this last Thursday, March 7, 2013. On Thursday, I received the call from my LBS, that my pedals and shoes were in and the bikes ready to go. Of course, I was down there the first minute I could get there after work.

Back in 2010, when I first began dreaming about a bike, and a venue to ride said bike, I truly did not know what I was doing. I’d been a wannabe road cyclist back in the 80’s. I rode with the local cycling club over in eastern Oregon. Back then, a Motebecane, my dad purchased for himself after reading everything Consumer Reports had to offer. That bike was just a bit to big for me, but I was so determined to ride, I made it work. It was uncomfortable and I had to reach and overcompensate, but eventually that bike became a part of me. Fast forward almost 25 years and the bike terrain has changed significantly.

For one, the technology is far more advanced. There are different categories of bikes. Back then, we didn’t have mountain bikes. I was faced with the decision, do I choose a road bike or a mountain bike. I was torn. I didn’t know which kind of riding I would prefer, so I chose a hybrid; a bike designed to do both.

I soon learned that mountain biking takes some skill and a whole bunch of technique. After taco-ing my rear wheel on the second single track ride I did, and almost killing myself in the process, I decided that I was too old and too lazy to want to learn to pick this sport up. I was also not wealthy enough to be taking my sorry bike to the shop after every adventure, and while I fully intended to learn how to wrench my own bike, I knew the learning curve on that was likely to be slower than my need for repairs. I knew pretty quickly after purchasing my Ariel Elite, that eventually I was going to buy myself a road bike.

My best fun on a bike is to just put my head down and pedal till the wind in my eyes makes me cry. As a mountain biker I have to deal with way too much adrenaline rush. I have to think too hard and too quickly on the bike. I can’t just simply pedal and process the worries of the day. On a mountain bike I have to work, to shift, to anticipate, to think. Far too much effort for someone at my stage of the game who just wants to get out and ride without having to think every second about how I’m going to make that next switchback or land that next jump. Downhill, I decided, is just insane. A worthy adrenaline rush for sure, but not something I really want to take up at the ripe old age of 50. I kind of enjoy being successful at the things I do, rather than being dead as the result of the things I do.

So, two and a half years after purchasing my hybrid, Specialized Ariel Elite, on Thursday, I rode my first brand new, fit for me, road bike. Boy, did I look like an idiot.

If you’re a cyclist and you still remember the days when you were learning about pedals and clipping in on a road bike, you’ll get this. If you’re not a cyclist, what you need to know is that the good ole days, of just getting on your bike in your regular street wear with your regular clothes are gone. Sure, if you’re just hopping the Schwinn to ride across town or for a leisurely roll around the neighborhood, okay. You can get away with wearing your normal street clothes and shoes. This is not the case on true road bike. A road bike requires gear.

First, if you are going to ride for any length of time or distance, you’ll immediately come to love spandex, particularly the padded kind. I’m not exactly sporting a cyclist’s physique, and I look disastrous in my cycling spanx, but I had to get over the vanity of the the thing long ago. A more experienced (much, much more experienced) cyclist told me once, “No one looks good in those things.” I disagree. Cyclists who ride often, train hard, eat right, and don’t drink a Gin and Tonic every night, look fantastic in the spandex. Even so, cycling has been an experience in getting over worrying about how I look. I’ve learned to work on experiencing the fun rather than worrying about how I look. Face it. Even if I looked good in the padded spandex, I’d still look dorky in the helmet, especially after taking it off. Helmet hair is humbling.

The second essential piece of technology a real road bike will have is strange pedals. No foot fits on these things. No way. These days, when you ride a road bike you are attached at the foot to your bike. I purchased pedals for my bike. I also purchased corresponding shoes to go with them. People who don’t ride, think this is crazy, and it is, until you hit about mile 25 on your bike with regular shoes. Fatigue and injury become real concerns if you don’t have the right gear and you plan to ride for any distance.

Now, it must be noted that I have had special shoes and pedals almost from the start of owning my hybrid bike. I’m familiar with the idea of clipping in and out. I get the process. But my new bike’s pedals are very different. On my Ariel, I can flip the pedal over and ride unclipped if I miss clipping in. On my new Dolce, that is not the case. When I rode my bike away from my LBS Thursday afternoon, I learned that it’s pretty impossible to ride at all without clipping in, and clipping in on this bike is not as easy as it was on my other bike.

So there we were, my son and I, all freshly decked out on brand new bikes and we came up to our first stop sign in traffic. We’d practiced clipping in and out in the shop and felt ready to go. We cruised up to the stop sign and clipped out just fine. No problems there. But when the light turned green and we had to go, I missed clipping in on one shoe. I immediately began wobbling like someone just learning to ride. Probably no big deal, but I was on a fairly busy street during 5:00 p.m. traffic. I looked like a complete idiot.

My son and I managed to get to our destination, and the bikes are now home safely. I know, just after that short mile long ride that I’m going to have to get used to the new shoes, the new pedals and the way this bike shifts. (I struggled with all of these things on my other bike too, so I really believe this is just me and not the components of the bike.) This is what Saturdays are for in my world. So today, my son and I will take our new bikes out and get used to them. (I’d say break them in, but I don’t want to jinx our ride.) We’ve got a great weather forecast and we’ll be sporting some new gear, so it should be a great day. We plan to take a fairly easy route along the greenway just to work out the newness of our bikes without having to worry about traffic signals and such. The plan is to go 45 miles today.

I’ve been wide awake since 4:23 a.m.
I can’t wait.
It’s like finally getting to open those Christmas presents under the tree.

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Hi, I'm Cat A.Olson, @According2Cat on Twitter, or @TheDigitalCat on Instagram, and I write about my cycling adventures. In 2010, after 25 years off the bike, I decided to get a bike and start riding again. In 2012, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early and completely curable form of breast cancer. I had five weeks of radiation treatment and I rode my bike to nearly every treatment. In 2013, I decided to get a faster bike. I'm finally getting serious about losing weight, and riding really fast with the cool kids.

I ride every chance I get, as fast as I can, for as long as my body will allow. I'm learning how to embrace challenges like helmet hair, padded pants, clipless shoes, flat tires, bugs in my teeth, and...ugh...hills. I'm learning that both cycling and life are easier and a lot more fun when you're in the right gear.

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