The evening before I wrote this column, my intrepid companion, Jolie, said, “Wow, you look skinny tonight!”

It was little wonder. That day, I had bicycled 62 hilly miles in celebration of May 1, the target date for the year’s first half-century ride. I had been training for the challenge since March 5.

A full century ride will come later in June, so for me, as for many of us, the 2010 bicycling season has begun in earnest, thanks to an early spring.

On May 1, I went 12 miles more than planned but back roads in Mt. Vernon and Fayette had turned me around a little. That’s biking.

Eventually, I’ll spring for a Garmin bicycle GPS to keep from getting lost, which will take half the fun out of cross-country treks while setting me back $500 to $650 – more money than some of my bikes have cost.

My bicycle does have a $40 computer that keeps track of miles pedaled, speed in miles per hour, average speed overall, maximum mph and other pertinent information, including a crude accounting of calories burned.

The calorie counter must be somewhat inaccurate because it excludes the bicyclist’s body weight in the calculation, crucial for a proper estimate. The little computer does furnish a ballpark figure, though, and on May 1, it indicated 762 calories burned.

Yeah, wow, and that number was low! A calculation chart including body weight and mph showed 852 to 1,230 calories burned on May 1.

That day, the exertion forced me to consume sports drinks and high-energy food to keep from bonking, a bicycling term for running low on glycogen. For folks like me worrying about weight, can you imagine force feeding to consume calories?

That’s reason enough to get into bicycling, but the sport offers participants ever so much fun along with aerobic as well as anaerobic exercise. Most folks realize biking is aerobic, but long, steep climbs also provide anaerobic work – weight lifting for the legs.

According to folks at bicycle shops, newcomers getting into the sport often choose a mountain bike or hybrid with wide tires. These newbies look folks right in the eye and claim that they consider fat tires safer, reason enough to go that route. Feeling more secure surely makes sense.

Speeding vehicles along highways also frighten many bicyclists, so they opt for mountain bikes that get them into the woods away from traffic, another choice difficult to debate.

I started with fat tires for safety, first with a hybrid, the old L.L.Bean Acadia with the green steel frame (a classic beauty), and then later a quasi mountain bike – the newer, aluminum-framed version of the Acadia.

I prefer road biking, but the gear ratios stopped these bicycles from going fast enough on flats, annoying. In the highest gears, I’d spin the pedals until my tongue hung out and just nudge over the 20-mph mark – boring.

Not to belabor this, but last year, I bought a touring bike for more speed, and that model didn’t go fast enough, either.

This spring, my solution was a low-end road bike, a completely spontaneous purchase at the L.L.Bean bike shop. One minute, I was chatting with Jackie Peppe, a bicycling expert, and the next moment wheeling a Specialized Secteur Triple out the door.

Specialized developed the Secteur line as an inexpensive version of the Specialized Roubaix, the latter explicitly developed for the Roubaix-to-Paris race that includes cobblestone roads.

The Roubaix model has a curved top tube and gel inserts in the fork and seatstay, all to dampen vibration, perfect for Maine’s rough pavement.

My Triple has the curved top tube but no gel inserts; however, the low-end model made sense for me.

It provided an opportunity to evaluate a road bike for well under a grand.

Two worries stopped me from getting a road bike in the past:

First, skinny tires struck me as hazardous, a needless worry. Road pavement around my home ranks as among the worst in all of Maine but has offered little problem – so far. The bike flies over broken pavement.

Second, I thought road bikes didn’t climb that well, but surprise of surprises, my Secteur gets over rugged hills in the Belgrade Lakes – like the 3 1/2-mile climb on Route 27 over the Kennebec Highlands in New Sharon.

This bicycle pleases me so much I now want a Cannondale or Roubaix road bike with a carbon frame and have talked with a fellow at a central-Maine bike shop about the Cannondale. These models really go fast.

I mention all this about road bikes for one reason only.

Newbies to the sport should consider a road bike. It’s fun to go fast, and as bicyclist and writer William Sheldon said, “Road bikes fly like a Porsche.” In my mind, fat-tire bikes resemble the more clunky SUVs.

Whatever folks buy, though, the main object begins and ends with hitting the road or woods as often as possible, a sport that offers so much fun that most folks have no problem setting up an exercise regimen for riding.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: [email protected]