Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oh no, it's me!

I submit that most of us who think ourselves to be serious cyclists have goals. Perhaps “dreams” is a better word. It might be a transcontinental tour, to go carless, or notch that first century. Some might be pursuing Kent Peterson’s, “ride 12,000 miles a year and eat what you want” concept, a complete brevet series, or simply to commute to work for the very first time. I think most of us are chasing something.

As time flows steadily by, dreams change. Regardless of the dream, however, riding more has consistently been a path to my destination. I have continually sought to overcome obstacles that would stand between me and my bike.

Now that years have passed, I have systematically confronted and defeated darkness, cold, and road conditions. My children have grown and my fatherly duties have diminished. I have moved to a rural area with abundant low-traffic roads. So you might be surprised to learn that, with no decrease in passion, I ride less now than a few years ago. I seem to be losing the battle and struggle to find ways to ride more.

Just recently I was slapped silly by the realization, “Oh no…it’s me!” I am the obstacle and a formidable one. There are numerous sobering examples of people that overcome so much more to achieve their dreams with so much less. How do they do it?

Maybe I’ve been focusing on my constraints while they’ve focused on the possibilities. While I’ve been making excuses to hide my own laziness and fear, they dream and do. Yes, friends, I think I’ve found the true obstacle. It is not methods, training, traffic, or gear. Oh no, to be sure, it’s me.

I’ve read your stories and they inspire me. For those who overcame themselves, tell me please, how was it done?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

bikes as trucks

I began this year hoping to ride a 200km brevet, which would be a new distance record for me. I figured that after riding four metric centuries (62.5 mi/100km) last year this was the next logical goal. Life and other stuff got in the way, and my longest ride to date has been 55 miles of the 70-mile Livestrong course which I rode in late June.

Meanwhile, I've been discovering another approach to riding: one where not distance, but cargo capacity, is the measuring rod.

I had a Burley kid trailer. In the four years I owned it I used it perhaps a dozen times. When not in use it hung folded on the wall of the shed and sometimes got in the way when I needed to get at other things. I wanted to find a better way to carry stuff, and lots of it; but the trailer just wasn't working for me.

Enter the longbike.

I had an opportunity to buy an Xtracycle kit and add it on to the rear end of an old-school 1980's ATB, thus turning it into some kind of human-powered pickup truck. The longbike solution would take up more floor space than the trailer, but if I used it more then that tradeoff would be justified. It turned out to be a marvelous idea.

I started out doing basic things: going to the farmer's market or the grocery store; bringing home the occasional frameset or wheel from the shop. Riding was easy because I'd selected a wide range of gears and also because I had readjusted my definition of "fast" to accommodate travel on this longer, heavier bike.

Then, I got ambitious. I started bringing home larger loads, more unwieldy, oddly-shaped objects -- not on a regular basis, but just to see if I could. The ladder was free, a leftover from work that was no longer needed, and if I wanted it I had to get it home. No problem with the longbike:

What has happened is that I find I have less time and energy for "training" rides per se -- I simply haven't been able to make regular, consistent time for many long weekends rides this summer -- but instead I have made time for shorter rides with heavier, bigger loads around town. Not sure what this will do for my "fitness", and the more I ride my longbike the less I worry about that.

My best ride of all so far happened the Thursday before Labor Day, when I loaded up the longbike with lawn chairs and a picnic basket. My partner and I rode our bikes downtown for the Oregon Symphony's annual Waterfront Concert, a free event that attracts thousands of people and ends with the playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and a glorious fireworks show.

After the concert, we rode home again, attracting stares and some good-natured smiles along the way.

My bike isn't unusual anymore; there are hundreds of these Xtracycles and other versions of longbikes (like Bakfietsen, Brox [recumbent] longbikes and Mondo-bikes and such) around town now. My hope is that more people who see this kind of bike will come to accept it as yet another form of serious, real-world transportation. I'd like drivers to give me a little slack at intersections because it takes a little longer to get a longbike going from a standstill. I'd like traffic engineers to think big-picture and longer term when they plan future streets, to make a little bit more room for these bikes because they could really ease congestion in cities. And I'd like to think that this kind of utilitarian riding will help me ride stronger, even if it doesn't help me ride longer. Mostly, I have to say that although I didn't really go for my original riding goal, I've had a marvelous bicycling summer anyway discovering another kind of riding.