By Rochelle Hartman
A friend who is passionate about biking inspired me to buy my first bike in 20 years in March 2016.
This is my third season of biking as an adult. I did have a bike during my college years that I toted around with me until I was a single parent who moved frequently. I ended up passing it along to a neighbor who I knew would use it more than I. And, there was that ill-advised used bike purchase from about 10 years ago. It was a crappy bike, I was unwell, and it sat in my garage until I gave it to a neighbor who would put it to good use.
So, there I was, a 52-year-old woman for whom fitness was an aspirational notion, with a shiny, brand-new bike.
I had no small fear that it would end up being garage filler. Holy cow, was it exhilarating! It took me back to when I was kid in the country, tooling around lake roads, getting my first taste of independence. That whole first year, every time I rode, I had the Dar Williams song “When I Was a Boy,” in my head:
I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike,
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw
My neighbor came outside to say, “get your shirt”
I said “no way, it’s the last time I’m not breaking any law.
–Dar Williams, “When I Was a Boy,” from The Honesty Room, 1993
It was my anthem, a song of new-found adult independence that busted open my world, much as I experienced when I finally learned how to ride as a clumsy, anxious 9-year old.
I rode so much, and in ways I had not anticipated in 2016, that I decided to get a better, more athletic, bike in 2017 (also, perhaps more importantly, a purple bike). I dared to wear spandex bike shorts. I registered for the GPS-based ride-tracking service, Strava, and recorded almost every ride.
I found out there’s a reason people drink Gatorade.
I ended last year’s season disappointed that I didn’t ride significantly more than the first year; both years, I hit slightly over a thousand miles. This year, I was growly because spring came late—really late. I got in one ride during February, and one in March, but cold and rain kept me from getting in miles until late April. My biking season only started in earnest this week. I found myself feeling a bit like a failure, missing almost two months of miles.
But then I thought about why I ride.
Quite simply, it brings me joy. I’m not an athlete. I’m not competing against anyone. I just dig riding my purple bike. With that realization, I came up with riding goals for this year. Because, honestly, I’m not too fond of manifestos. However, goals are not mandates.
First, I ride with the acknowledgment that my hobby is the main source of transportation for many people, and I have a choice to not ride in rain, wind, and the dark. So, I could try to whine a little less.
I will keep my 40 miles-a-week goal, and my 1000 miles-a-year goal, but no one is going to point a finger at me if I miss the mark.
I will do my best to keep my lights charged up. I want to not be that invisible asshole night biker. Or dead.
I will not commit any crimes while riding, because Strava will rat me out.
Gear goal: Prescription sunglasses, because, dang, sun is bright.
I will challenge myself to try longer rides, steeper hills, but not at the expense of hurting myself. I’ve never much cared for that no pain/no gain nonsense.
Similarly, relying on all the gears I have, to make my effort more effortless is not a failure. Knees that burn and ache for two days is.
Gear goal: One of those cup holder thingies, because I want to roll with caffeine.
I will try, in earnest, to wear my helmet every time, even though countless studies have shown that wearing a helmet can ruin a good hair day in about five seconds.
I acknowledge that, although biking has improved my health and well-being in many ways, I cannot carelessly swap it out for medication that does more to keep me well and whole than I realize.
I will stop referring to my chamois liners as “swim diapers.” Except the pink ones. They totally look like swim diapers.
Sunscreen is my friend and I should wear it every time. My ivory skin was sun-kissed into a golden glow as a young woman. What was golden glow, is now ruddy turkey neck. I will live with this late-learned lesson and hopefully avoid melanoma.
Gear goal: A rain/wind jacket that is lightweight, does not result in a sauna-like experience, and that does not cost $150.
That project bike that I picked from the alley will not become a lawn decoration or something to move around in the garage. I will use the skills I learned at my bike collective last year to get those wheels back on the road and into the hands of someone who needs it.
I will not fool myself into considering an ascent of our beloved local landmark, Grandad Bluff. Any effort involving a 6–11% grade can only end in humiliation, a roadside puke, and/or a ride in the back of an ambulance.
I will consider a more realistic goal, the 32.5 mi (one way) Elroy-Sparta trail, even though the thought of riding through a mile-long dark tunnel seriously creeps me out.
Gear goal: No, Rochelle, you do not need a Garmin to track your 15-mile rides. Nor do you need a totally adorable kit with matching bolero.
Finally, I will ride with joy and intention. And, on occasion, with chapped lady parts when I ride too long without a swim diaper.
Rochelle Hartman is a joyous bicyclist and keeper of cats. A Public librarian and chronic helper. A charm school graduate and recovering migraineur.
Photo: Author provided
Editor: Alicia Wozniak