Biking again

When I was nearly 17 years old, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my best friend and I decided to ride our bicycles from Lawrence, Kansas to Green Lake, Wisconsin, to attend a national church youth conference. That was in 1971, and I weighed about 145 pounds when the trip was done.

Today I am pushing 54 years of age, and I weigh about double what I weighed in high school. Riding a bike is a whole different experience at this weight, believe me. For one thing, the small saddle on a road bike, mountain bike or hybrid is far too uncomfortable for me to use for long. I bought a Trek 730 in 2001–a nice bike, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t fit me well, and I ended up riding it only rarely.

So this weekend I decided to go talk to the folks at one of the local bike shops to see if there was a reasonable solution for someone like me. I gave him the following information: (1) I’m “heavy.” Duh. Like he couldn’t tell that by looking at me. (2) I have a bad back, so leaning over as you do on a conventional road or mountain bike is uncomfortable, even painful for me. (3) I intended to ride around town–no long trips just yet. The helpful young man at the shop recommended something he called a “comfort” bike. I hadn’t heard this term before, but I had seen several of them near the front of the store (I just didn’t know that’s what they were called).

He recommended that I try out a Specialized Expedition Elite. He went to the basement and found one that he estimated to be the right size (the “large” frame size), brought it up and set the seat height in approximately the right place. He clamped it in a service stand for a moment to show me how the shifters worked, then, in exchange for my driver’s license, turned the bike over to me for a test ride.

I took it out of the shop and into the alley behind it, and climbed on. Within a few seconds I could tell that this was going to be a riding experience unlike any of my previous experiences. I took it for a brief spin, then brought it back, adjusted the seat height, and took it out again. A couple of additional seat height adjustments, and my mind was made up.

FIrst, the saddle was comfortable. It was thickly-padded, and wider than any other saddle I’d been on. It also had a built-in shock absorber (for lack of a better term), which made for a very smooth ride. Secondly, the front fork had what amounted to built-in shock absorbers (I still don’t know the proper terms for this equipment). Third, the handlebars were high enough for me to pretty much sit upright while riding. This puts most of my weight on my butt, but it’s easier on my back, and for now, that’s an acceptable trade-off

After including a water bottle cage and a cable lock in the deal, the purchase was made–about $490 US. The location of the shop was sufficiently distant from my house (and a very steep hill was part of the deal), so I asked my lovely wife is she would ride the bike home. We had to lower the seat all the way down for her, but she was able to do it, and she loved the bike, even though she rides a Trek 7.2 FX. The Expedition is a big bike–the handle bars come nearly to my chest when I’m standing flat-footed on the ground astride the frame, and I’m about six feet tall. She’s a good deal shorter than me, so you can imagine what she looked like on such a large bicycle. But she’s a trooper, and after she brought the bike home, we filled up our water bottles and set out for a short ride to the local college campus, a distance of about 1.8 miles from our home, for a round trip distance of about 3.6 miles.

I loved the ride–it was flat and easy, and although I’m overweight and out of shape, it was easy for me to imagine myself riding a bike again, and loving it.

Yesterday after church, lunch and a brief nap, we rode out to my son’s high school, a distance of 3.1 miles, for a round trip of 6.2 miles.

This morning I took the bike out for a brief ride; I rode for about 15 minutes, covering a distance of about 1.2 miles–on some more challenging terrain. This was probably a bad idea, because my legs are sore–I’m sure I should have warmed up with something less strenuous. My butt was sore, too, although the butt tenderness had abated by the end of the ride. I’ll likely ride again this afternoon, and shoot for an hour or so. But so far my total mileage on the new bike is 11.0 miles. Some riders ride three or four times that distance (or more) every day, but for the likes of me, that’s huge. I look forward to the day when 11 miles is a daily distance.

(I added another 1.8 miles to my total this evening, by riding to a nearby grocery store to return rented DVDs. That brings the total for the day to about 3 miles, and the running total to 12.8 miles.)

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