Gratitude

Times like these, home from a fun ride on a gorgeous late summer evening, I realize how many things I love about cycling. How grateful I am for everything it adds to my life, how lucky I am to be able to ride. It can be far too easy to take a strong heart and pain-free joints for granted.

So here are some things about cycling I love, the transcendent parts of riding that make all the boring and painful parts worth it. We’ve all seen lists like this on websites and in cycling magazines. They seem a little too easy, a little clickbaity. Maybe this list will sound like that. I don’t know. All I know is that I mean these things.

Quiet roads along quiet creeks.

The way light from a sinking sun shatters though the treetops, bright but not blinding.

The unspoken agreement to pause a conversation on the descent and resume it seamlessly at the bottom.

Pre-ride panckakes. Post-ride pancakes.

Two-hour loops with a little bit of climbing but not too much, where you get a workout but still feel fresh when you get home.

Swooping through shady spots, feeling the rush of cool air.

Waving at old men on porches who would normally never wave at a man in lyrca, and seeing them smile and wave back.

Talking about rides you’ve done. Planning rides you might never do.

Riding two or three wide in the middle of the road because you know there are never cars on it.

Coming back into town after rush hour.

Seeing the light change to green just as your faux-track stand is about to peter out.

Riding with friends, sometimes.

Riding alone, sometimes.

Discovering a perfect new road.

Forgetting your heart rate strap, and realizing you don’t miss it.

The first pedal stroke. The last pedal stroke.

Pressing “save” on your Garmin.

Realizing a hill wasn’t as steep as you remembered it.

Taking the bike path back to your neighborhood, even though you say you hate maneuvering around pedestrians, because sometimes it’s nice to just ┬áride a bike like a kid would ride a bike.

Tower Road Adventure

Yesterday the missus and I did a bike/hike up Tower Road to where it connects with the Darlington Trail, which runs along a ridgetop through state game land. My prior experience with Tower Road came last summer, when Strava failed to tell me it was less a road and more of a wide dirt path with rocks the size of baby’s heads connected to a hillside of loose gravel at 15% grade. Long story short, I spent an unknown amount of time hiking in road shoes and cursing loudly into the empty, unsympathetic woods as darkness fell.

This time I was more prepared–the plan was to bike up as far as the road was passable, then get off and walk to the trailhead, then go for a hike, then take the long way home with a stop at the Garlic Poet, a restaurant we’ve wanted to try. We approached Tower road from the southeast side. The road was better than I remembered, switching from asphalt to gravel about halfway up. The whole thing is rideable with decent gravel tires, as evidenced by the Strava segment. Autumn was tired and her bike has disappointingly narrow 25mm tires, so we walked most of the way, stupidly pushing our bikes instead of locking them at the bottom.

Looking back we saw the shape of another cyclist working its way up. Slooooowly, like a bug inching its way up a wall. Near the top the shape revealed itself to be an older dude on a hardtail.

“It’s better on the other side,” he said. I translated that to something like Why are you wimps walking your bikes?

“Yeah, we’re just going up to hike,” I stammered. I meant something like I promise, I would be riding, but I’m with my girlfriend. Some things you can’t say out loud.

We left our bikes at the fenced-in radio tower and went in search of the trailhead. The road turned into the boulder-strewn dirt path I had so unfondly remembered. “Decent gravel tires” won’t cut it on this–you’d need something pretty wide and knobby. I might try with cross tires soon, but even with those, I’ll have to take this side slowly. WTB Riddlers or something similar would be better, though a mountain bike would be ideal.

It was peaceful in the forest. The old dude passed us again–somehow he’d gotten behind–but we saw nobody else. There wasn’t much of a view, on account of the tree cover. The mosquitoes were biting and there were big puddles from the thunderstorms we’ve had all week. We walked for thirty, forty-five minutes before we hit the intersection with the Darlington Trail. It was further than we thought. We stepped onto it, walked maybe 50 yards, and looked at each other.

“Want to turn around?”
“Yup.”

Once again, I realized that it’s about getting there. That’s the fun part. The journey is itself the destination.

Back to the bikes, back down the gravel road. Walking downhill is hard on the knees; doing it with a 25-pound bike pulling you towards the Earth’s core is harder. Lesson learned.

Autumn was a trooper, and made it another ten miles through suburban sprawl and rolling cornfields to our restaurant destination. The vegan entree options were present but lacking a little in the calorie department; chalk it up as a step in the right direction for south central Pennsylvania. Tired and not really nourished, we rode home under an early evening sky the color of battleships. Somehow the greens are sharper on cloudy days, the forests more lush and magical-looking. Through New Cumberland on Bridge Street, then Lemoyne, then home along the greenbelt. We were fast asleep by the time the rain started falling.

Change of Plans

Turns out you can’t fly with oversized baggage into Bogota in December. One of those fine-print things buried on the airline’s website that you don’t bother to read unless you stumble upon it by accident. So, my bike–and the nice (pricey) case I just bought–isn’t coming with me on my biking trip. Another part of Delta’s website I didn’t explore enough before booking non-refundable tickets and hotel rooms was the part that said bikes cost $150 each way. Oof.

Yeah, I feel pretty stupid. I don’t generally make rash or under-researched decisions; usually I hesitate too long before making up my mind. In this case, a bit more Googling would have been good. But, riding a wave of enthusiasm and adventure lust, I committed. So it’s too late to change the basic fact that I’ll be in Bogota for a week, ostensibly to ride a bike. I’ll have to make new plans.

Obviously I’ll have to rent a bike, which will at least eliminate the hassle of bringing one to the airport. But how to bring a rental bike on a bus to the base of Alto de Letras with no carrying case? That climb is the main reason I want to ride in Colombia to begin with. Coming so close and not riding it, even though the mountains around Bogota will surely be stunning and difficult, would be disappointing to say the least.

After lamenting this possibility for a day, I got an idea. Not sure why it didn’t strike me sooner. Forget the damn bus. I could ride to Mariquita, stay the night, ride up the climb and back down, stay the night, ride back to Bogota. The idea is to spend most of my days there in the saddle, so why not ride somewhere I need to go instead of doing loops around the city?

With some trepidation, I went into Strava to create a new route. Bogota, green dot. Mariquita, black dot. Calculating route. How far would it be? Too far and my plan/trip reclamation project would be dashed.

110 miles. Boom. And “only” 8,000 feet of climbing to boot, 4,000 if I take what seems to be a back road (I’m currently awaiting confirmation of its safety).

This could be doable after all.

Gear Review: Voler Jet Bib Shorts

Product review time. On the docket today are the Voler Jet Bib Shorts. This was my first pair of bib shorts; I’ve had ’em for a while now, for about a year. ┬áHere’s what I think.

Durability

I ride in them five or six times per week, and they’re still going strong, despite an embarrassing amount of time between washings (hey, going to the laundromat is no fun). All the seams are holding up, the elastic is still tight, and no unseemly crotch holes have developed. Sorry ladies.

Verdict: If you have a long cycling wish list, don’t get these–they’ll hold up so well that you won’t really be able to justify purchasing more pairs.

Comfort

I like the fit–not too tight around the thighs, but definitely not loose. Good length. The shoulder straps are breathable. The chamois feels…chamois-y. I’m a medium in shorts, and these are medium, and they fit.

Verdict: I rode 134 miles in them without any butt pain. Need I say more?

Looks

You won’t find a much more basic pair of shorts in the design department. Black, no frills. Just a reflective “Voler” logo on the mid-back and lettering on one of the legs. Some people are into that kind of thing; others want their riding buddies to know how much their clothes cost.

Verdict: They match everything decently, but nothing beautifully.

Price

For the past two years, every time I’ve looked on Voler’s website these are “on sale” for $79, stuck in some weird cut-rate purgatory. Not sure what’s going on there. But I think it’s safe to assume that if the price never changes, that’s a pretty good hint that maybe there is no sale. Maybe it’s just the actual price.

Verdict: I dare you to find a high-quality pair of bib shorts for cheaper. Go ahead, try.

‘Murica

Voler is one of the small but surprisingly somewhat kind of large number of cycling apparel companies making stuff in the US of A (specifically, California, where I imagine there’s lots of cheap labor, relatively speaking.)

Verdict: Whether you want to support American workers because you think they deserve our dollars more than Asian workers or you don’t like the idea of kids sweating over sewing machines in a dangerous factory, you can get behind Voler’s business model.