I have received lots of feedback on my choice to try out clips on my new bike. As I said in my previous post, I would not have chosen them, but since they are on the bike I thought I should give them a try. I have had many people tell me that once I get used to them I will LOVE them. I will say that most of the people with that view are people that bike longer distances or use them in triathalons or other races. Some bikers feel the cons outweigh the benefits for my purposes since I have to make so many stops riding through neighborhoods and city traffic. Having to wear special shoes with the metal clip on them is somewhat bothersome – it requires bringing another pair of shoes to change into whether you are taking a quick trip to the store or going to work. For work, I always change into dress shoes anyway – I ride a long enough distance that I can’t wear my work clothes on my bike – especially in this heat. So, thus far, that hasn’t been a real problem. No, the real problem has been just getting used to using them and remembering that I have them. So far, 3 falls in 3 days. On the bright side, I now know that my bones are not yet thin and brittle, as I would surely have broken a bone in my hand this morning if they were. Luckily my bike has also been protected each time by my body. I am not sold on them yet – but each time my falls have been caused by me doing something stupid or just not paying attention. This morning I was concentrating on hitting the scored line in the road coming out of my neighborhood so that I could make the traffic light change – I hit it just right as I came to a stop… yay!, then fell right over. Yesterday, I was coming up to a 4 way stop and there was a car stopped on the cross road, I thought the car would go and I wouldn’t have to stop long enough to put my foot down, but the car didn’t move (Kudos to the car who was probably being extra careful because of me on my bike – that or he was on his cell phone), and so I had to stop completely, my foot didn’t come right out, and down I went. I should have taken it out in anticipation that I might have to stop. I’ll get better at this, hopefully. If nothing else I will become an expert on falling.
It’s been about 2 ½ months now since I first started to bike to work and I am ready to upgrade my bike. I have stuck it out in temperatures that have reached 100 degrees and have withstood many many comments from friends and family that think I am crazy or that I’m going to get myself killed. I can’t do anything about the weather – except maybe leave before the sun is up in the morning and after it goes down in the evening – but riding in the dark or at dusk would be more dangerous and would mean more time at work and less time at home with my family. So, I’m not willing to change my leave times enough to make any significant difference in temperature. I have found that afternoon rain storms make for a delightful ride home. Although others have called me crazy, I rather enjoy riding in the rain – it cools off the temperature considerably and I’d rather arrive dripping with rain water than with sweat. Don’t knock it till you try it – talk about anti-aging, I promise you will feel like a kid when you get caught in the rain on your bike. As for risking my life, I am extra careful and take mostly low traffic neighborhood streets during daylight hours. When the days start getting shorter I may have to start riding in the dark – but I will be certain to use enough lights and reflectors to blind everyone that comes near me. Driving a car is certainly not a risk free mode of transportation either – I have read that auto crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 6-27. And the health benefits of cycling is said to outweigh the risks by a factor of 20 to 1 (measured in years of life expectancy lost from collisions to years of life expectancy gained by biking).
So, now that I am confident that I can stick with my plan to bike to work, I am ready to step it up and buy a new bike. The question is what bike? I have paid great attention to what others ride down the road on and listened intently to bike enthusiasts’ comments about bike brands, styles and features, but I was still a little overwhelmed with the vast variety of bikes that are available as well as the vast differences in prices. You can spend a small fortune on a bike! Luckily, I have met several bikers of late with a great wealth of knowledge about bikes and who are very generous in offering to help those with low bike IQs like me. I have found that the biking community is like an open club that wants, more than anything else, to increase their membership. If you ride a bike, you are immediately a member and welcomed with open arms. So, I asked a biker friend on facebook for help and immediately got helpful suggestions and several others I didn’t even know chimed in with their 2 cents. One of my new biker friends, Rudy, suggested I try out one of his bikes that he would let me have at a good price – a Trek hybrid bike he said. Hmmm, I’ve heard the brand Trek mentioned before and understood that the brand got considerably high marks from my biker friends, but I figured the price would also be considerably high. But, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden anything other than a mountain bike. So, try it out I did and I loved it right away! He offered it to me at a great price — a real steal!! After testing it out on my normal route to work and back I decided to buy it – a Trek 7.3 FX. It has 700 x 37c tires (which I have learned are much faster than my smaller, wider, mountain bike tires), it has an extender added to the handlebars so that I ride more upright to alleviate the crick in my neck, it is MUCH lighter (I think he told me 26 lbs), it shifts MUCH smoother, the seat is very comfortable, it is already decked out with a headlight, a small bag, a little computer, and a water bottle holder, AND it is GATOR blue with orangish reflective tires with a flame like design on them (yes, I am a Florida Gator fan). I think this bike was made for me!! It does have one feature though that is taking some getting used to – clips. I had never tried clips before and didn’t think I wanted them. They require you to wear special shoes with a metal piece on the bottom that clips into the pedal. Using the clips keeps your foot from slipping off and allows you to more efficiently pedal – using the full rotation by pulling up on the pedal as well as pushing down. However, when you are making frequent stops they can be a pain, especially when you are not used to them and forget you have them. Yes, I fell over yesterday morning into my neighbors’ raised planter when I stupidly took a short cut and came upon some boards that had been laid out across the path because of some construction they had going on. I went to stop, forgetting about the clips and when my feet did not come off the pedals as expected, I ended up leaning over and laying in their planter. Thankfully, I was going VERY slow since I was on a narrow off-road pedestrian path between houses and I knew there was construction ahead (yes, I knew this and I still took the path – attempting to save maybe a whole 30 sec. on my trip since I left late). I managed to just bruise my right shin, (which now matches the bruise on my left shin). The bicycle was unharmed (thank God!!) and I was thankful that no one was around to see my fall. If you’ve read my accounts of my first couple weeks riding, then you know this is par for the course as I am somewhat prone to minor bike mishaps. (See my earlier blog entries at: http://bikingmobile.wordpress.com/). Another lesson learned, shaving 30 seconds is not worth risking my shins or my bike (especially my NEW bike!)
When I started biking to work about six weeks ago, I had no idea the adventure I was in for. Although I have always been very active, I had not been on a bike in over a year, and had not done any real biking since I was in Junior High. I have learned much from my experience that has allowed me to tweak my rides for the better and I expect there will be more adjustments in the future. Though the temperature has been rising, I have enjoyed my rides and hope to continue indefinitely.
My first rides resulted in a very sore rear end and padded bike shorts didn’t help much. But, I seem to have broken in my derriere and now suffer no repercussions even when the ride gets bumpy. The bicycle I am riding is probably not the optimal style for my rides. I am using my daughter’s Walmart-special mountain bike since mine was stolen last year when three hoodlums broke into our house and decided to take off with their loot (my jewelry and cash) on our three bikes. We replaced both of my daughters’ bikes, but have yet to replace mine. I initially had trouble with her bike which was apparently not put together well, but after several disastrous trips where my pedal fell off, my handlebars twisted around or my tire popped halfway to work (you can read my accounts of these early rides at http://bikingmobile.wordpress.com/), all the parts on the bike have been tightened down and seem to be working fine. I am also short on equipment for the bike – I did not want to spend a lot of money on this project before I had even tried it and determined whether I could keep it up. I have a helmet and back pack, but baskets and other accessories would come in handy.
I am careful with any traffic and try not to give cars the chance to make a mistake. Some cars don’t seem to see me or the stop sign at intersections, while others stop to let me cross even when they don’t have a stop sign. I am cognizant that no matter who’s fault, I will surely be the loser in any collision.
I have also learned that the best route is not always a straight one. Mobile doesn’t seem to know what a bike lane is and I don’t expect they will be adding any anytime soon. After reading some of the “soundoffs” in the paper about bikes, I guess I know why – many Mobilians simply don’t see any advantages to encouraging biking over their gas guzzling ways. Yet, if people would stop relying on their cars as much and sit their butt on a bike occasionally, Mobile would be a quieter, cleaner and greener city with fewer obese residents. Unfortunately, although Mobile has many wonderful attributes, it has never been known for being green. So, since there are no bike lanes, the safest and best route for my 5 mile trek to work is to stay off as many busy streets as possible and instead wind through neighborhood streets all the way to downtown. This route has the added benefit that I get to see many beautiful historic houses and neighborhood scenery.
My favorite day to bike is Friday. Every Friday there are residents on each side of Brown Street that put out bubble machines facing the road. I never imagined that bubbles could be so uplifting! I’m not completely sure why, but I have found it impossible to ride through a cloud of bubbles without smiling. No matter how sweaty and tired I am, the first sight of floating bubbles always brightens my afternoon.
So, to anyone that is unsure about attempting to bike to work or just around the block, I strongly encourage you to, as Nike would say, just do it! I’m not suggesting you give up your car – heavens no! I still burn up the gas in mine when I have places to go that are too far to bike or when I can’t arrive dripping in sweat. It may not be easy at first, but I expect the adventure will be worth the trouble. Who knows, you might discover your own neighborhood bubbles.