Sunday, May 4, 2008

Oh dear...

I continue to be amazed by my own ability to turn a thoroughly non-epic and on the whole almost completely failed bike ride into an epic internal drama! Today's ride came in two parts, and at the midpoint it was an utter unmitigated failure, but I suppose I will call it in the end a modest draw in the ongoing me vs. bicycle struggle.

I will go and do two hours (if I can get a bike for that long) in the gym later, since the ride was worthless for fitness--I did at most fifteen miles, and all at a very leisurely pace.

1. This thing of walking the bike over to Central Park is just not OK! It attracts an absurd amount of attention, because I am ludicrously kitted out. The bike clothes and bike are bad enough--the Camelbak is the straw that broke the camel's back!!!

2. On my way there, I got in an extended and unwanted conversation (because, basically, it's the hood!) with a fellow in his car. Fellow (ogling): "Was there a 5K in the park today?" JMD: "I don't know--maybe..." Fellow: "Did you run it?" JMD: "No." Begins walking faster to escape unwanted attention... (Two blocks later) "I'm not stalking you, but are you training for something?" JMD (cannot resist): "A triathlon!" Fellow: "Is that hard? Could I do it?" More hasty walking. At light at bottom of 110th and Morningside: "Can I give you my card?" Fortunately at that point I could cross the street in a direction he could not follow...

3. It is an absolutely beautiful day today, and as soon as I changed into my bike shoes and started riding around the Central Park loop I realized this is not a good thing. It was absolute mayhem out there! I was completely back to the land of the death-grip, because the sheer volume and waywardness of folks out there is slightly not to be believed...

4. I particularly noted an Amazonian female triathlete/cyclist-type of the sort I most admire (tall and muscular!) ride by me, quite fast, around 90th St. She was wearing a very noticeable pink sleeveless top.

5. Just north of the 72nd St. transverse, after some already very death-grippish moments, I realized with mild to moderate horror that there was a nasty-looking bike accident to one side--it was the pink-shirted cyclist, lying flat on her back on the ground with about ten people gathered round her and a fellow talking very earnestly on his cellphone to the ambulance dispatcher...

6. After that it was kind of all over for my notionally peaceful park ride! I made it the rest of the way back round the route, but it really is crazy out there on a beautiful Sunday, I do not think I am up for it yet.

7. Two little boys on bikes up at the north end of the park did bring a bicycle-related smile to my face, because they were delightfully showing off to each other how they could ride with no hands--but of course this does not make for a placid cycling environment, they were riding with no hands against the direction of traffic and waywardly path-crossing! Ditto many other children on bikes, roller-bladers, adult cyclists etc.

8. The safety-related reason I felt I had to stop was that really I was clutching the brakes so tightly that my right hand had become almost completely numb. Not to mention my heartrate, though I was barely exerting myself physically, was almost as high as during my run yesterday!

9. So I stopped after the first full loop plus Harlem Hill and took off my bike shoes with a sense of utter defeat. I was afraid I was going to burst into tears! I certainly felt very strongly as if it would not take much to make it actually happen...

10. And then I had the walk of shame with the bicycle back in the direction of home! Typical snippets: "Stay hydrated, mami!" "Nice legs!" (Which, NB, they are not--I do not really think it is edifying to have self-criticism on the internet, I try and avoid it; I will take the balanced view and say that we are all critical of our own figures and hyper-aware of deficiencies that would never attract a second glance if we were thinking about somebody else, but that while other parts may be arguable I have never had nice legs! It is the pure exposure of 'em in bike shorts that attracts the unwanted attention, utterly shaming...)

11. "Why don't you ride that bike the rest of the way home?!?" For whatever reason, I actually sort of got in a conversation with this particular speaker, and I was glad I did, because his words were clearly uttered with curiosity rather than as simple heckling. I half-turned and said, "It is a very long story which I will not inflict upon you!" (Hmmm, it is no wonder that random people I meet treat me as a charming eccentric, really my way of talking is not like what is found in the world, it marks me as a strange creature! It is like when I once said in front of an unwitting camera-man who had no idea what I did for a living "It is my heart's desire to run the marathon!" and he said, in all seriousness, "Are you an English professor? Because I never heard anybody talk like that about wanting to run the marathon!"

12. So this particular fellow was a very nice Dogwalker who quite understood my plight once I did begin to explain. (He had four very handsome dogs on leashes, it makes anyone seem trustworthy and worth talking to!) He said that when he got his road bike, after having ridden a mountain bike for many a year, it took him about six months before he stopped feeling he was going to die. He said that even though he got these "eggbeater" pedals that are super-easy to get in and out of, he would literally be riding down the street thinking I am going to die on this bicycle. He said he would prop himself up at home in his apartment and just practice clipping in and out...

13. The strain of actually having a conversation with a real person had by this time slightly brought me back to myself, and the Dogwalker gave a whole-hearted endorsement of my observation that perhaps I would continue walking over to Riverside Park and go there for a while to practice. We solemnly introduced ourselves and shook hands...

14. Riverside Park was very crowded also, and I thought I did not really have the fortitude for a second stab at the bike shoes, but that the only important thing was to have at least a short ride that would take the edge off bicycle-related panic. So I rode down to where it got impossibly super-crowded, around the boat basin, and then back up to 125th St. and thenceforth back down to 96th St. and up towards home.

15. The dogwalker had another observation which is quite right, and which relates to something Brent observed in a comment about this before but which I am too lazy to re-find--that the way these road bikes are built, one cannot ride on the hoods and also hold onto a brake. I just need to get my head around the fact that either I am riding in a more upright position with hands near but not on brakes or I am riding lower down with better brake access. I will make my hands numb if I hold tightly from that upper position, and then it really isn't safe. I need to practice clipping out when braking in the drops, that is the specific bicycle-related task that can be accomplished this week...

16. The only thing that is going to get this all sorted out is patience and persistence. I think I will be fine for this upcoming race, because the fact is that's a much better cycling environment for me than a very crowded and confusing city park--everybody will be riding reasonably safely and in the same direction (much faster than me!), even though there are cars on the road it is not complicated, I am actually confident it will be all right. But I need to break it down afterwards into a horrible Evil Summer of the Bike.

17. When I first greeted the problem of riding this bike with utter horror, I went and bought another bike, a very cheap one (it was only slightly more expensive than the high-quality lock I bought with it!), which has since been gathering dust in the laundry room in the basement. But once I'm done with this race and have more time post-end-of-semester, I should take it out for rides where I have helmet and bike and sunglasses but am otherwise non-burdened by stuff. And I think I must find a group to ride with also--it is chicken-and-egg, I am not a good enough rider currently to make a plan to ride with a friend, but there are some easy group rides that involve taking a train out to somewhere more rustic, I certainly would have to steel myself for the part involved in riding from the other-end train station to the genuinely rustic part but I am thinking that a lot of this fortitude would be easier to come by if I were surrounded by people who thought I was being slightly silly & figured I would pull myself together pretty quickly if they had brief moral support and then turned a blind eye to panic!

18. That is quite enough bicycle-related listing for the evening! ARGHHHHHHHH! But I will point to a couple articles on a swimming-related site I greatly admire as evidence of the ways that the very accomplished may underrate the work required to get to a place of basic achievement. I have found this site quite inspiring, but both How to swim a mile in six weeks and Flip Turns seem to me grossly over-optimistic in the time frame and amount of practice they lay out. The obstacles to going from no actual swimming and pretty rudimentary swimming skills to swimming a mile over the course of six weeks are more psychological than physiological, I am sure that if you had ever swum laps before on any regular basis that this is a reasonable time-frame, but it definitely took me from January to June last year to get to the place where I first tried to swim a mile--at that point, it was quite easy, but there were countless obstacles to even trying it sooner. And I was swimming four or even five times a week, so that does not even count the "can't make it to the pool regularly" obstacle which is its own affliction. The flip turns piece suggests that doing ten turns after every practice might lead to reliable turns in six weeks. I suppose it depends what one means by reliable, but I would think it takes something more like twelve weeks of doing thirty or forty turns each practice before one would be at all comfortable with it. I have stopped working on turns because I need to concentrate on technique right now, but I will get back to them post-race. They are essential for getting the most out of a pool workout...

19. Even the most adventurous and bold athletes sometimes feel like they are going to die when they ride their bikes!

20. Nothing else to add, but 20 is a nice round number compared to 19...

7 comments:

Brent Buckner said...

Dang. Mention, but no link. However am I going to maintain my google standing? (c.f. "How does this affect me?" - character Herb Tarlek, _WKRP in Cincinnati_)

re: flip turns
One doesn't need the best of the current technique, one just needs something faster than open turns... enough to make practice better, not to compete.

re: cycling
Yes, making the drops your good and close friends may be useful just now. They'll cost you drag (more like a barge than a schooner), but if you're happier close to the brakes that will count. Really, drops work well enough that it's only in time trials that the roadies use aerobars. (N.B. aerobars let one distribute weight onto one's forearms.)

Wendy said...

Oh, Jenny! I'm glad the bout ended in a draw -- but I'm sorry it was such a struggle. (Although I enjoyed your exchange with the dogwalker!)

And there will come a time when you enjoy flip turns. I'm sure of it.

Danielle in Iowa said...

I'm glad I live in a small town because I can get out of the treacherous "city" driving and onto empty country roads with about ten minutes of cautious biking - I don't envy you!

Levi Stahl said...

I wish I could offer words of wisdom on biking in traffic, but all I really have is the knowledge that practice helps--practice looking over your shoulder at upcoming traffic while holding your straight line forward, and practice at being ready to brake without having focus on it.

But rest assured: if you keep at this, one day you'll be riding in traffic and will realize that you're not really thinking about it much. (Though, as I don't race, I don't use clipless pedals, preferring the old toe clip kind, so I can't help you there!)

Leah said...

Oh, my. It sounds like a frustrating time. Wasn't this weekend the Five Borough Bike Tour? Could that be why it was such mayhem in the park?

Jenny Davidson said...

Really I am just irrationally fearful! The Five Boroughs Bike Tour did not impact Central Park, the thing there was just the thing of it being one of the first really sunny beautiful weekend days (I am going to switch to doing the long ride on Wednesdays during the midday hours where the park is closed to traffic, it is never so crowded on a weekday, it is more suitable for me). But there were a lot of riders coming back up through Riverside Park along the west side--that was why I couldn't get further than the Boat Basin, it was thronged.

The thing really is just that I need to practice very basic skills with utmost patience, I haven't really even RIDDEN on the street more than a couple times in my life so it is no wonder I am in terror. I wish it were easier to find organized/structured ways to learn to ride safely, it is much harder than for running/swimming to find cycling gurus!

Leah said...

Well, if it's any consolation, one of the other bloggers I read (pro Laurel Wassner) said the very same thing about riding in the park on Sunday. If she was freaked out, it must have been really terrible! Yes, patience.