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


Ben said...

Brilliant post, Kent, and really illustrates things. A good friend loves RAGBRAI and charity rides, but the thought of riding in a group of 500 people - let alone 25,000 - makes me go into convulsions.

Yet, I'll still ride with him, when he rides gravel roads or desolate trails.

Like the poster I too have a Long Haul Trucker and it's been my only bike for going on three years now, and I'm fine with that. It's a amazingly versatile and tough as nails rig that has seen me through the best and the worst of times. It won't hang with the fast groups as much as I try, and I'm sure if I got a Madone I'd be doing just fine but for me.. what fun is that?

Iron Rider said...

Kent, I'm enjoying the Bike Talk posts. It's a fun idea and you are doing a fine job with it. As for this particular topic, I am an owner of an LHT and I think one more point should be made: when it comes to bike speed, the rider makes far more difference than the bike. If Joseph from Cyberspace only rides long rides at mountain turtle paces, then switching bikes for weekend hammerfests is not likely to make a big difference. If you want to ride fast you have to ride faster in preparation. If you want to attack hills you have to prepare with hard hills. I know of what I speak. MY LHT has gotten significantly faster as I have ridden it faster. When it comes to speed, the engine counts more than the frame.
Keep on Truckin' indeed.

Anonymous said...

Thoreau didn't have a girlfriend, nor a bicycle. Of the two, though, we can be confident he'd choose the bike.

It's also safe to assume ol' Hank wouldn't be rocking flourescent lycra on his jaunts to Walden Pond. I kind of imagine him on a rusty Schwinn cantilever frame with cheap mtb tires. Probably found it in Ralph Waldo's junk heap.

So, if Thoreau is our style guide, I'd suggest dumping the Surly bike AND the surly girl.

Apertome said...

Great post. Kent, I am enjoying this series of posts, too.

As someone who has both a LHT and a road bike, I have to kind of disagree with Iron Rider a bit. When I ride my road bike (a Bianchi Imola -- steel, BTW) for a while, then go for a longer ride on the LHT, it's always astounding how much slower I am on the LHT. On many hills I would hammer up on the road bike, I have to spin up very slowly on the LHT. The LHT is great for slower, rambling rides and it's great for mixed-terrain rides, too. The Imola is good to keep up with friends on faster bikes or when I just want to go faster (which often, but not always, equals more fun).

I like both laid back and faster styles of riding, but prefer the Imola if I know I'll be on pavement. Not only can I go faster, but I can ride longer distances with the same effort. I don't care much about speed, but it can be a factor. .

Richard Risemberg said...

Kent's point is simple: want to ride with the faster folks now and then, buy a cheap fast bike for those rides. Doesn't mean you can't enjoy the Surly all the rest of the time!

Even an expensive bike is relatively cheap, and old fast bikes are very cheap and still fast. Bikes don't take up much room, so it's not too bad to have two. Why, doesn't the Mountain Turtle himself have three or four?

RoadieRyan said...

Kent, great post especially loved the Thoreau quote, had to stop and go back a re-read it to let it resonate. I would echo what you and a few other commentators have said, find an older lighter road frame for the "go fast" rides if that is what you want to try. I find it perfectly acceptable own more that one bike. I have a Handsome Devil (much like a LHT) with fat tires, racks and fenders for all round riding and a late 70's Miyata 910 for going "fast". I got the Miyata for $20 at a yard sale, put another $100 into it and its a nice lean mean machine for road riding.

Love the bike talk btw keep it up!


Vik said...

Surly LHTs come with slow stiff tires and a lot of bike tourists put slow stiff tires on their LHTs.

I put fast rubber on my GF's Surly Cross Check and I have slow rubber on my LHT. She's never been able to stay with me on climbs before, but now the lower rolling resistance of those tires gives her the edge she needs to keep up.

If Joseph has slow rubber on his LHT I would suggest fitting something like a Grand Bois tire in 700c or 26" as appropriate or the Schwalbe Kojak as available in both sizes. He'll be markedly faster and the bike will be more comfortable to ride.

Just don't overinflated the tires or you'll lose much of the potential benefit.

safe riding,


Loganenator said...

This might be blasphemy but perhaps he should look into an ebike conversion kit to attack the hills. :^) There is an older gentlemen that I see on my commute to work often and although he rides a comfort pace on his trusty looking commuter with racks, bags and a basket during the flats, when he sees some aggressive roadies, he lets them pass and then blows by them on the hills with his ebike conversion kit. ;^) He always lets the roadies pass him again at the top of the hill but its hilarious to watch them chase him and then give him incredulous looks as he politely waves, sheepishly smiles, and humbly rings his bell. :^)

brad said...

I agree that riding like others can also be fun. I'm as transportationally luddite as any and more than most but also enjoy ripping it up with the dudes as often as I can. It's a different kind of biking that adds richness to the one I love most.

I don't think that defining yourself as one type of cyclist is that helpful if it keeps you from riding with the people you would like to ride with. My son loves ripping it up at the skate park and on the mtb trails and this has significantly changed my riding interests. Yes, I'm looking for a BMX or a mountain bike just so I can share it with him? Do I identify with BMX culture? Nope, but I do love riding with my son.

There is wrinkle in this that if you show up to a ride with the period correct bike, you have some leeway in the way that you address the group. For instance, I ride with the fast guys sometimes on a light single speed and sometimes with my road bike which is a bone stock low end 80's Trek with downtube shifters. Perhaps I'm dissing the group, but perhaps I'm just communicating my apartness from the group. Showing up with a touring bike would be one standard deviation further away. If you beat everyone, then by golly, that's one additional standard deviation further. There is a line between deviancy and strangeness, though.

A cheap aluminum racing bike is perfect for tearing it up because everybody used to have one so they comprehend, has no technical impediments, and keeps your main money on the bike you love most.

You aren't committing heresy by riding a different bike that doesn't as closely define you. Spandex also, is not the enemy. Sometimes, it's really just fun to dress up alike, ride alike, and play together.

Surly's are a tribe. Riv's are a tribe. Carbon is a tribe. Mountain has many tribes. Be pan-tribal.

GravelDoc said...

Another Thoreau quote: "It is a great art to saunter".

Suze said...

"Remember, no matter how nice the Surly is, it probably doesn't love you back." Are you sure you aren't underestimating the bicycle?

Written on behalf of my two very different both beloved bikes, neither of which has much in the way of English skills.

Big Love Dummy said...

My Surly girls love each other, but they don't respect me!