Learning to Shift

12 07 2012

I wheeled it into the shop before work on Monday morning, July 2nd. I remained stoic as the guy enumerated the items that needed to be repaired or replaced. As the cost rose I interrupted him to ask, “Bottom-line it for me – will it cost less to repair this one or buy a new one?” He laughed, assuring me the repairs would fall well short of the price of a new bicycle. I was still holding my own as he consulted a calendar on the wall and said, “I can give you a guaranteed pick-up date of the 13th.”  And that is what brought the tears to my eyes.

Two weeks without a bike in early July when one is training for RAGBRAI is an eternity. At least it is for me – I’m still trying to make up for forty years of inactivity, carrying 50 pounds I should have shed by now. And it was just one more crappy thing on top of a bunch of other difficult things that have made this summer one of stress and anxiety. The one thing that hadn’t, till then, been stressful (except for the two crashes that led to the extensive repairs) was cycling. I was finally getting the hang of shifting to maximize the usefulness of 21 gears. Hills were no longer daunting. Well, not completely daunting. Even crashing had added to my confidence – I got right back on and rode 18 miles, didn’t I?

Anyway, later on Monday I lamented to a friend that I would have to cancel plans for a 4th of July ride out to Ely, and she promptly offered to lend me her bike. I gratefully accepted the offer, and later that night, she dropped it off at my place: bright blue, low, wide handlebars and the fattest tires I’d ever seen. The bike turned out to be specifically engineered for beach riding. I recognized the brand, a nice bike. But not intended for the type of riding I do. Six gears, the lowest of which required the level of exertion I usually used for riding along straight, flat land. Hills were only possible if I stood to pedal, a skill I had hardly used, much less perfected. I shifted gears, and they shifted again on their own, often slipping out of gear randomly. Occasionally, the chain fell off. I learned to enjoy the feel of riding closer to the ground, of the easy manueverability of the wide handlebars, and, yes, even the burning in my quads and hammies.

And then the unthinkable happened. The loaner bike broke and was unrideable. That day’s ride ended in a two-mile walk, pushing the bike along beside me. In 105 degree weather, midday. But the loan and riding of the beach bike had done more for me than build up some new muscles and develop my hill-climbing skills. It had reminded me that I had resources, support, people to help me. So, even before I showered after the long walk home, I was on the phone to another friend, asking if I could borrow a bike from her family.

I picked the big chrome men’s Huffy. Taller than my bike, with a strangely tilted saddle, six speeds but the lowest speed was more like the “granny gear” on my bike. I expected a less difficult transition than I had experienced with the beach bike. But, no, it was not meant to be. At the beginning of a 40-mile ride, I put the new loaner through its paces, and immediately discovered it was incredibly difficult to shift gears. In fact, I wrestled with the handlebar shifting mechanism for a full 30 seconds before I could get it to shift out of 4th gear. First gear, granny. Second, super-easy-almost-granny. Third gear, a grinding clicking sound that did not inspire much confidence. 4th gear, where it had been stuck, wouldn’t work and now ground until it automatically found 5th gear. It was clear to me that 4th was where I wanted to be, but 5th was where I would do my riding. By the tenth mile, I was aware that my knees were not enjoying the added strain. However, it was easy to take the hills, and I figured I could tough it out. And I did, including the two miles I rode without glasses when I lost the lens of my prescription sunglasses.

I’ve learned a lot in these two weeks of my bike being in the shop. Valuable lessons, not the least of which is to take care of my bike and keep it in good repair. More important, though, I’ve learned:

  • We all have plenty of gears, but most of us discover a sweet spot and pretty much stay there. Sometimes, it becomes so ingrained, it’s difficult to shift into a new or different gear. We feel stuck when we try. If we shifted more frequently, and not just when it was forced upon us, we’d find the whole process would go more smoothly and comfortably.
  • And about that “sweet spot”. If we stay in it, rather than try the other gears available to us, we don’t develop skills or new muscle. We just get more efficient at what we already know how to do. Sometimes, stasis is what we’re after; however, growth is both more challenging and more fun.
  • Hills. Every life, every ride, has some. How we handle the climb – not the equipment we use – is what reveals our character. Its easy to psych ourselves out before we start the uphill, to think ourselves into failure. It’s even easier to let ourselves off the hook when we have something outside ourselves to blame (Really? A beach bike is NOT intended to do this…) The truth is, hills are conquered by perseverence and discipline applied with a dash of positude – by internal qualities, not equipment.
  • Equipment may not be what conquers the hills in life. But it does help to have the right stuff in good working order. Take care of what you have, pay attention to what it needs, lube it and wipe it down when necessary. Treat your equipment with loving care and attention, people!
  • Even a small adjustment can bring big changes. Just ask my quads. Shift your perspective and you work differently – you will feel and see different things.
  • Wide handlebars = open arms.This can make you feel vulnerable until you get used to them. And then you just feel open. Open and ready to embrace new experiences.
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5 responses

12 07 2012
srfcreativestudios

Awesome post as always Jen! Love the sweet spot analysis – PERFECT!

12 07 2012
Tammy

Awesome post and awesome analogies!

12 07 2012
crgardenjoe

As you know, I’m making due with bikes I’m not used to, too, although I have the advantage that I just have to go out to the garage and pick one. Good for you for “rolling” with it and keeping going–another nice life lesson.

19 07 2012
jenion

Joe, the day is fast approaching! I saw you in your MMU jersey yesterday, and I think you must be ready to go! Best of luck with the whole week, hopefully I’ll see you on Thursday in Marshalltown!

1 08 2013
Riding Lessons: What I Learned Over 406 Miles and 17,000+ Feet of Climb | Jenion

[…] some mishaps while preparing to ride three days of RAGBRAI 2012 , ( “Learning to Shift” which you can see, here).  Virtually everything about my life is different from what it was a year ago: no job, new city, […]

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