Pat’s Cannondale Quick 6
Yesterday, hubby and I went for a bike ride. This may sound like an ordinary thing to do, but I’m 65 now, 50 pounds overweight, and this was my first time on any bike in a long time, much less on my “new” bike we bought last June. It’s a Cannondale Quick 6 that I’ve avoided riding because of my “good Celtic stock,” as my husband calls my body, which is equipped with short legs. Most bikes are made for longer-legged humans, and it takes major effort for me to fling my Celtic thigh over the bar of these contraptions.
Once positioned, getting the bike moving becomes the primary concern…positioning the right pedal so that I can push it forward with my foot while retaining enough momentum to keep the bike (and me!) moving forward and upright, all the while giving my aging brain and body time to coordinate how to get the left foot onto the left pedal and push it forward, too. Thankfully, I retained enough childhood athleticism to accomplish these things, so I proudly pedaled up the street where Hubby awaited at the stop sign. I had told him to go ahead as I did not want him behind me. He rides his bike with boyish abandon and has fallen several times, much to my concern. In fact, I didn’t want the man anywhere near me for fear he’d run us both into a ditch. So, he waited at the corner, while I madly pedaled, but then it dawned on me that I now needed to stop.
Backwards in a Whirl
My childhood bike had pedal brakes…you pressed backward to stop. This movement has been engrained in my psyche for 60 years, so the first time I tried to stop my new bike — I was well-aware it had handbrakes — I pushed backwards on the pedals, which went around in a whirl while my hands squeezed the handbrakes in a death grip and the bike managed to stop.
Uh-oh, that meant I now had to put my feet on the ground to keep from falling over, so that meant I had to slide off the high seat while also getting my feet off the backward whirling pedals onto solid ground. Again, I retained enough innate body memory to accomplish these things without tipping over, but, after we got going again, I started to wonder what I was supposed to do with all these gears? I hollered to Bill to stop and we analyzed the situation. The thought of reading my bike manual had not occurred to either of us before trekking out to ride.
An Algorithm of 1,000 Gears
My bike has three settings on the left and six settings on the right, and you can click both sides into a combination of any of those settings, an algorithm that boggles the mind. Hubby admitted he didn’t have a clue, as his bike is different from mine, but he told me to find low gears for the hills. (Hills?) So after I got going again, I fiddled with the clickers, figuring out the various low, high and many gears between. All of that was fine and dandy, but suddenly I was flying downhill in the rec lane on a very busy Lohman’s Crossing Road, heading toward Hamilton Greenbelt. As I soared, I realized the gears had nothing to do with slowing down, so I got another death grip on the brakes. I imagine real bikers thrill at going 30 mph downhill, but I was in a panic.
Fear is an excellent way to raise your heart rate to aerobic conditioning levels. The thought of falling on asphalt has scared the hell out of me ever since childhood when my little dog Putter ran in front of my bicycle, and I flipped over the handlebars onto the pavement. I still have a tiny scar from that fall, and the post-traumatic stress disorder returned as my bike raced downhill. Luckily, at the bottom of that hill, there was a flat area where Hubby awaited to cross the street, and I could again stop.
“It’s Tricky,” Hubby Had Said.
Hamilton Greenbelt is a long cinder trail that runs mostly downhill (yes, more downhill stuff) toward Lake Travis. In spite of hubby’s admonitions that this trail was “tricky” for biking, I chose it for my first outing, thinking it would give me plenty of room to practice, would not have any cars, and would be less painful to fall on than on asphalt. But after I got there, I kept thinking how painful it would be to fall on those cinders. And there were lots of people around, people with kids and dogs, whom I kept trying to avoid as I sailed toward the lake, applying my brakes cautiously so I would not cause the bike to slip … I did not want to slip!
Mostly, the first leg of the trip was an exercise in controlling the bike in a downhill run. At the end of the trail before it winds further down to the lake, Bill waited for me. Luckily that portion was somewhat flat and I was able to stop easily. He said with a wink, “I told ya, it’s tricky,” and we laughed, taking a breather. Then it was time to turn back to the entrance, all going uphill. I reiterate: uphill.
A Tisket, a Tasket, a Watermelon in Your Basket
Uphill is where having 1,000 gear options becomes important. Finding the right gear at the right moment to mount a hill without losing the speed and momentum needed to keep moving is a tough thing to do, especially, as it suddenly occurred to me, when one is carrying the equivalent of a 50-pound Black Diamond watermelon in one’s bicycle basket. Lance Armstrong is skinny for a reason.
The first hill defeated me because, (a) I wasn’t in the lowest of the low gears at the right time, and (b) I kept pedaling when changing gears, which is a no-no. You must stop pedaling while changing gears, but when you are in a panic and trying to build momentum, you keep pedaling and gripping the brakes which don’t help at all when trying to go uphill. I kept chanting to myself, stop pedaling, stop braking, find the lowest of the low gears and pump, pump, pump that watermelon up that hill. But momentum kept running headlong into the wall of inertia. I asked myself how Lance Armstrong could possibly think this is a fun sport. So I stopped, got my feet on the ground and walked my bike uphill to a flat area where I could get going again. This cycle of resistance continued for the remainder of the journey. But I did get better as I went. In fact, hubby said he was amazed that I managed to get back up the hill at all.
As we made our way home, the rec lane we had soared down before was now uphill. As I looked uphill to judge which gear to try, a family of six on bikes came roaring down toward us, not yielding an inch. I quickly pulled over and got off. Hubby was miffed, but I understood their quandary: it was impossible for them to be courteous when in a panic.
As we made the final trek to our house, that too was uphill. I kept trying to find the lowest of the low gears that would get me home. I pumped and pumped, breathing harder than I may have ever, but I made it, thinking I might even be able to bike up the steep hill that is our driveway. But again, the huge watermelon in my basket prevented me from having enough momentum. So I walked the bike uphill to the garage, determined to lose a few slices in weeks to come and learn more about my bike before the next outing. I’m also determined to listen to hubby more and find a less tricky track.