Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bike Talk: Do I Keep On Truckin'?

Joseph from Cyberspace writes:

I own a Surly Long Haul Trucker and have truly embraced The Mountain Turtle philosophy and love going out on 60+ mile trips. I find that I average about 14 mph and slowly make my way uphills on my steel-frame bike. However, my girlfriend and our friends who own more traditional, lighter road bikes, average quite a bit faster speed on our weekend rides and really attack hills. Is there a way that I can ride with them without feeling like I'm holding everyone up or without hurting their feelings by choosing not to ride with them? I can tell that they are somewhat annoyed that I can't keep up. And I usually feel a little defeated that I can't keep up (though I do love that my downhill speeds are usually significantly faster than theirs). 

Am I doomed to a life of solo riding? Do I have to give up on the love of my Surly and buy a lighter bike? I don't really want to drop the money on a new bike.

Joseph, although you wrote with a specific problem and I'll get around to offering some specific advice, your situation highlights the fact that there are a broad range of bikes, bike styles and bike riders in the world. Thoreau advises:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

It's worth noting at this point that Thoreau never really had a girlfriend and it's probably not a good idea to take relationship advice from a guy who I'm sure many of the Concord townsfolk referred to as "that odd cabin fellow."

Joseph, I'm assuming that you are fond of both your girlfriend and your friends, since you express concern for their feelings. It's worth noting, however, that when you speak of love in your note, you are talking about your Surly. Remember, no matter how nice the Surly is, it probably doesn't love you back.

Grant Petersen writes eloquently of the "unracer" in his book Just Ride and Jim Thill has a nice riff on that theme on his blog. Both these guys are well-known shills for the massive wool and waxed-cotton industries and I can't believe how they've managed to completely dominate the U.S. bicycle scene...Oh wait, that's not true at all.

While Grant and Jim and others point out that you don't need a carbon frame or clicky shoes to have fun on a bike that doesn't mean that folks wearing lycra and riding carbon that are not having a great time with their bikes. Sprinting for signs, charging up hills, riding pacelines and all kinds of other things can be loads of fun. We all don't have to like the same things. We all don't have to do the same things.

And that, I think, is the crux of Joseph's dilemma. While Joseph, his girlfriend and their friends are all riding bikes, they really are not doing the same thing. Joseph's friends would probably not be happy on their thin-tired fast bikes on a gravel back road 50 miles from nowhere and Joseph would probably not be happy on an uphill sprint.

Years ago my friend Andy and I both got into mountain biking. Andy loved going fast, downhill and I loved to climb. Andy wound up getting into long-travel bikes with lots of suspension and he'd seek out rocky, downhill runs. I wound up getting lighter hardtails and favoring long climbs into the back country. We haven't ridden together in years. It's no big deal, but we're into different things.

Joseph, I guess I'm telling you that your Trucker is never going to be a racer. That's OK, but you have to be OK with that. Maybe you don't ride with your friends, maybe you meet them at the coffee shop. Maybe you're the guy who hauls all the food. Embrace your turtleness, use and believe the phrase "don't wait up." If you're OK being slower than your friends, they'll be OK with it.

Or maybe you do get a go fast bike for go fast things. It doesn't have to be an expensive proposition, you can get something very speedy if you get an old, quick bike. Find a pal whose itching to upgrade and buy his old bike. One of the quickest bikes I ever had I got for $20 and six Clif Bars. If you really want to ride with your girlfriend and your buddies and they are all quick people on quick bikes, well you can see what you should do.

Or opt out. "You do what you do, and I do what I do" is a fine way to go as well. Not everybody has to do the same things together. My wife sings in a choir, I don't. I drink coffee, she doesn't. Somehow, we still love each other and stay married. Every once in a while I ride whacky long distances and Christine doesn't. Other times we ride together and have wonderful trips.

Joseph, your girlfriend and your friends may come to see the virtue of your turtlesque ways. If they see you having fun on your bike, they may want to try it. Trade bikes for a bit. Ride a mile in the other person's shoes, so to speak. You may have more in common than you think.

Life, as a certain band notes, is a long, strange trip.

Keep on truckin'

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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