In the Beginning…

4 12 2009

I suppose I should start with what got me into bikes, road bikes that is–not to include the banana-seated three-speed when I was little. Or the regular boy’s bike whose head tube I broke by going off of jumps. No, this was later: junior high school in the high desert of Apple Valley, California.

Like you might imagine, the terrain was open and somewhat flat. I’d say it was about nine to twelve miles to my friend Dan’s house. We needed a means to get around and 10-speeds were the solution.

This bike was produced by the Avanti Company and was typical of the department store, “gas pipe” frames prevalent then. This bike was nothing special, but it had 27” wheels with a double chainring and derailleur and I could move along at a pretty good clip. It resembled this bike, except without the fenders. I should have kept a picture of it, but what does a 15 year-old kid know?

I don’t recall going to truly distant places with it. But one adventure remains in memory: Dan and I packed our backpacks and hit the road to tent camp at Lake Arrowhead in California for a weekend. 21 miles seems very short to me now but to us it was quite the excursion.

This trip also provided one of my first hard lessons: Never go on a bike trip with a heavy backpack. Fortunately I was young and when you are young, your body is made of something indestructible. 21 miles and a short steep climb preceded the front gate to the park, and after I dismounted, my legs seized.

I had to push the bike partly uphill and through the gate. I seem to recall the experience as hilarious and painful at the same time because I couldn’t bend my knees and had to walk straight-legged. I also seem to recall that Dan was in the same predicament.

I think we made camp, pitched our tent, ate something and slept until the sprinklers went off the next morning. I’m not sure what else we did but it probably involved checking out any girls in the vicinity.

My last memory of this bike has me riding extended wheelies down our street and riding this bike on the dirt-bike trails in the desert. (I had desperately wanted a dirt-bike but hadn’t saved enough money yet—so I pretended.) After I left home, my brother did something with this bike. The details have long escaped me.

From high school graduation in 1983 until moving to Spokane in 1995 I did not have a road bike. During 1996 I got the idea that riding to work would be decent exercise and so I acquired a Schwinn Le Tour II, which looked almost identical to this bike (below) although mine had regular bar tape.

The book rack now resides on my stepdaughter’s old bike. It’s amazing what a bench grinder with a polishing wheel can do to make old gear look good again.

I had learned about clip-less pedals and how they made pedaling more efficient. I won an EBay bid for used SPD pedals but didn’t have money for the appropriate shoes. Being the industrious type, I made my own, sort of.

The solution was to attach the cleat to my running shoe–Nike or Addidas I think. I cut and peeled away roughly five square inches of the black rubber sole and shaped a 16-gauge galvanized steel plate to fit. After that it was a simple matter to drill and tap threads for the cleat screws.

This arrangement worked great…and I quickly learned how to clip-out before a stop. I reminisce about this and it makes me grin. Pedaling full circles was a lesson several years into the future however.

I was learning more and more about road bikes. Around this time I picked up a Raleigh Competition GS from a yard sale on the South Hill of Spokane for about $40. This bike was a gorgeous black with gold pin striping and chrome highlights at the fork legs and rear triangle—beautiful! I loved the Campagnolo group.

The only problem was that it was a 58cm frame and I actually fit a 56cm. I restored it to the best of my detailing skill and in addition, learned how to build wheels from Jobst Brandt and his book The Bicycle Wheel.

Sometime later I sold the old Raleigh on EBay and used the profits to buy this newer Raleigh R800.  I really liked the Shimano Ultegra group and the Mavic Classic Elite wheels were bullet-proof.

Noting my growing fervor for road bikes, my comedic co-workers even played a joke on me when young Joe won the “raffle”. (That’s a raffle notice taped to the front tire.) Yeah, I kept my bike in my cube to avoid any possible damage which might occur out on the shop floor.

I thought the kids would like getting out and about, but at this age they were getting too big for the trailer… I called it extended training. Connor motored right along. This is us on the Centennial Trail west of home.

I started getting serious about this bike thing in 2005. Books with the topics of bike racing, tactics, repair, and training started to appear on my end tables, shelves, and counters. I was learning how the bike and the human engine act as one.

A better fit was needed so I kept the R800’s group and wheelset and sold the rest on EBay. Pretty soon I was riding this bike with the transferred components and a better frame. This Specialized SLX E5 was one good-looking bike. My whole ensemble carried the yellow and black theme. I looked like a giant bumble bee.

I learned all about cycling ergonomics, distance riding, pack-handling skills, periodization, and training with a heart rate monitor. I entered my first race with this bike– a time trial with clip-on bars that put me into an aero position. I was hooked.

When I commuted to work, this was the bike I hit the road with as my conveyance. I remember many mornings traveling west on highway 290 as the morning sunrise broke over the horizon.

When I turned a certain cadence, the wheel spokes would harmonize with a singing-ringing sound. My machine and I were one, and it felt like heaven. Still, at downhill speeds the steering would become twitchy…the fit wasn’t quite right. The top-tube wasn’t long enough in this 52cm frame.

The books told me that the body is a bit adaptable, and the bike is a bit adaptable. Somewhere in the middle was that really good fit. Three years would pass during this time.

The racing really made me think about performance. I was going to need a bike to grow with me. I was also going to need a team to join because, until this point, all my racing had been solo. I remembered what it felt like to work with a dedicated team when I was in the Marines. I wanted that same feeling when I raced too.

More research was in store. My effort continued and in 2008 I found a team, Spokane Rocket Velo (SRV). SRV is a local racing group comprised of enthusiasts who love our sport. During the summer I attended many team rides in the area, improving my handling skills and learning the basic tactics of pack riding. That’s me in the kneeling row, second from the right.

Most of the members are cyclists who prefer the lesser competitiveness of non-race rides. Those of us who prefer to race do so in one of three classes, A, B, or C. All new racers start with the C pack as I did during the summer of 2009.

Like I mentioned before, I needed a bike to grow with me. I learned much more about cycling dynamics, fit, materials, components, and the like. I finally accepted my procrastination and after selling my Specialized SLX on EBay, I purchased my first LBS (local bike shop)-supplied bike.

I chose the Trek Madone 5.2 based on characteristics of the manufacturer, reviews of cyclists, components, and frame design, not to mention the performance of the bike during various Tours de France. I originally narrowed my choice down to the Specialized Tarmac SL and this Trek Madone. Of course, test rides were the final piece and would carry the majority of the weight in my decision.

The Trek was simply amazing. It seemed that every time I moved a pedal the bike squirted forward. The road opened before me and I floated over the pavement, the asphalt in a blur beneath me. The ride had never felt like this–I was sold. As a result of this experience, the Tarmac would truly have to be phenomenal in impression. The Tarmac got its turn that afternoon but did not convey anything near the paradigm shift like the Madone earlier. It felt teetering and high-centered.

The fit I had been looking for was there in this 56cm frame. The sit-bones, reach, flatness-of-back, seat tube angle, hands onto the hoods and into the drops, all of it was there, and it felt natural. This was the bike where I could learn how far my engine could go. If this sounds super, it’s because this bike is super. I’ll be going farther, faster, and stronger.

My competitive aspiration grew accordingly in 2009. At the end of the local Twilight racing series I had tied for first place in overall points for the C pack. In the last race of the season I ascended to the faster B pack–I even finished sixth. As one of my teammates said, “Eric looked right at home in B pack.” That’s me, fourth from the right, near the center line.

So, what started as a way to keep fit has evolved into an expression of motivation and desire. The road race season ended last September and I’m now preparing for 2010. I’ve put close to 1100, quality endurance miles into my legs in the last three months, and if I’ve observed my competitors correctly, I’m going to need every one of those miles and more.

What a great ride this is.

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