Monday, July 21, 2014

Shaving Minutes Off Your Cycling Time

Or, In Praise of Crappy Bikes

I'm in the middle of several books right now, and I'll write more about them as I finish.  But I was thinking about this title on my morning bike ride.

I'm often no more than ten minutes into a conversation with a fellow cyclist before I'm being told I'm doing something wrong, and I'm struck by how divisive the community can be.

I'm often grilled about the type of bike I own and how many.  There's a competitiveness and elitism to the ride itself.  I rode my dad's Sekini for decades until the early 90s when an old boyfriend convinced me I had to have a mountain bike - even though there are no mountains around here, and I don't ride on trails.  It was the thing at the time.  I succummed to peer pressure, but I was happily back on a road bike when that bike got stolen.  And now that old Sekini is retro.  But it seems it's not enough to have one bike.  You're not a real cyclist if you don't have multiple bikes - and at least one of them should be custom-made to fit your body.

Sometimes it's all just a show of normative cycling behaviour - fitting in with the form without the substance.  I know a guy with four bikes and all the bells and whistles.  I suggested we bike to Guelph for lunch one day (about 30 km).  He countered, "You can't bike all the way to Guelph!"

Chatting with two women on bikes once, they warned me, "You can't get 100% efficiency without clip-in pedals."  When I asked how they do groceries in bike shoes, the response was met with an eye roll and aside, "She wants to do groceries with her bike."  They probably didn't mean to sound condescending, but wanting a multi-purpose ride definitely put me in a different class in their eyes.

I don't wear the lycra shirts no matter how aero-dynamic they might be.  I ride in regular clothes - even dresses. If I'm going over 40 kms, I might wear bike shorts.  Even in the heat of the day, I haven't found sweat-soaked clothes to be an issue.  I mean that it doesn't happen, not that I just don't mind it.  When I get to my destination, it just takes a few minutes to wipe the sweat from my face, and I'm good as new.  Maybe my endocrine system works differently, though.  To clarify, I don't have any issues with people who do wear the gear, I'd just like people to think a bit before putting people in a different category because they don't.  

Then yesterday I was told that the way I bike and everything I've been doing for the last 45 years is entirely wrong.  "You can't get a real workout unless you're on a single-speed bike, and you should be standing on the pedals to go up hills."  Apparently, though, most people are riding incorrectly and need to be taught a thing or two because gears make you weak.  At least I fit in with the ignorant masses.

This all speaks to a culture obsessed with more and better.  That's a concern in itself.  It's about showing off your stuff instead of enjoying the day.  And it's a problem when we suggest others aren't up to par because they're not using the currently highest-rated stuff or practices.  But it's a bigger problem with cycling because we'd all be better off if more people were encouraged to ride.

I feel a bit vindicated watching this video in which a Dutch cyclist questions the bikes and outfits of Americans and their relegation of cycling to an activity for children, a hobby, or a competitive sport, but rarely a regular means of transportation.

Infrastructure issues aside (which is a bigger discussion), I think we'd woo more cyclists if it weren't so competitive - if there weren't so many arbitrary right and wrong ways to ride.  An elitist culture is exclusionary, and we need more people to get riding.  I think some people might be reluctant to ride because they can't afford that custom-made high-performance bike or don't feel comfortable in spandex or don't want to do the work it takes to build speed enough to fit in with some riding groups.  But they don't have to do any of that to get the benefits of cycling. When the bar's raised too high, it's hard for the novice to jump in.  So they stay in the comfort of their cars. It feels like you have to be an athlete to try it instead of just a mom getting groceries.

I think we need more of us in regular clothes on cheap bikes to be celebrated by cyclists, not subtly disparaged. We're impressive for how far we get with just a single crappy bike and anti-aerodynamic gear, dammit!

And it seems to me a strange juxtaposition to have hobby-cyclists so concerned with speed and efficiency.  For me, cycling fits with the slow movement.  I know I can get to a neighbouring city faster by car, but cycling has benefits that outweigh speed.  It's precisely because I think we need to divorce ourselves from our obsession with speed that I ride a bike everywhere.  The people I've talked to - and been "helped" by - about cycling don't ever hope to race professionally.  They're not prepping for Tour de France time trials.  So why is it so important to shave minutes off their time?   Or, more to the point, why are they so concerned that I shave minutes off my time?  And to what extent have people gotten sucked into just another marketing ploy to get us to buy more stuff?

I'm not saying the gear doesn't make you go faster, but that it feels like the focus on going faster or getting the best workout possible with the best stuff possible is overshadowing all the other benefits of cycling.

Environmentally it prevents creating the GHGs produced while the car's running as well as in the production of the car.

Financially, a refurbished bike is a lot cheaper than a car - or even a bus pass.

Aesthetically it beats the Met.  Even when I ride the same routes, it's always a shifting scene.  The greens are different and the clouds are often up for a good show with sunshine filtering through the trees like a strobe light.  Some loops are full of horses frolicking, and, near sunrise, rabbits are everywhere - and they're merry.  It's nice to look at.

Physically it's good for your heart with less stress on the joints than running.  Half an hour of a raised heart-rate a few times a week is necessary for optimal health.  Whether or not you get a peak muscle workout is a side issue.

Psychologically it offers me time to go into a plane of thought that I don't get to during the rest of my multi-tasking day.  It's meditative.  I've started riding with pen and paper to record the insights and ideas I get only when riding - like this entire post.

And it's fun!  I always feel like I'm 10-years-old on my bike.  Little else beats the rush of a good downhill after slogging it up a steep incline.  Especially in a dress.

ETA: This article outlines how the push for fitness outfits is all a means of class signaling - to decide who's in and who's out. I tend to agree, and I've had far too many in my life who have tried to "help" me by using superficial means to raise me to their superficial status. I'm not buying in to that shit!!


Anonymous said...

Well I am not sure if you are in praise of cycling or just showing more animus towards others who do not share your way of doing things. Why not just allow others their own pleasures and not judge? Jeez. I agree cycling is the best but calm down. More and better culture? And you don't have the latest in computer, smartphone etc?
Lastly, I've been to Holland/Europe and cycling is everywere, in all shapes
and sizes. Nothing really worth blogging about.

Marie Snyder said...

Hey Anon, I suppose it is judgmental to ask that people stop being judgmental, but there it is. I think you missed the point though. I don't care how others bike, but I'd prefer they stop being dismissive of people who don't do the same.

Re: "Nothing really worth blogging about" - I imagine you're the same anon who writes something similar on other posts here. In case you aren't aware, some people write about the content of their baby's diapers on blogs. If you're not interested in the content of a blogger's posts, just don't read that blog. Find bloggers of interest to you. There are millions out there. I'm not sure why you feel the need to indicate the worthiness of my posts, but rest assured it will have no affect on what I choose to write.

rww said...

Some people will say that heavy utilitarian Dutch bikes are the way to go. For me that's only going halfway. If you want to prove your the toughest biker on the road then a custom made single speed cast iron bike is the only way to go.