Tuesday, June 18, 2013
BY Ken Allen
Back in the heart of summer, myriad bicyclists caught my eye in the Belgrade Lakes region week after week, and all the pedalers often prompted me to whisper in genuine awe, "Wow."
Even weekdays produced their share, but weekends really proved impressive. While pedaling on a late Sunday morning in August, I counted 50 bicyclists in 2½ hours on Route 27, Route 17 and the side roads in Belgrade, Mt. Vernon and Readfield.
Brightly dressed bicyclists dotted highways, particularly on roads with breakdown lanes that got folks out of the direct traffic flow. They traveled in groups, trios, pairs and singles, and most of them waved or spoke to me, creating great camaraderie, a wonderful amenity to the sport.
Bicycling traffic plummets on rainy days, but diehard pedalers do tackle wet weather, making me feel guilty about not biking. However, trainers tell us to avoid the same exercise every day and offer this advice: Mix the exercise regimen with cross-training.
Folks in the know wisely suggest that bicyclists take sporadic rest days, but it's so much fun to bicycle from late March through early December. Because of that, I ride almost every day that it doesn't rain, and why not?
The three warmer seasons pass quickly, so I try to take advantage of every day. That's not to say winter pedaling is out of the question. Some days from December through March offer fine riding.
Non-bicyclists may assume that winter bicycling is too cold, but the real problem begins after snow and ice leave excessive sanding on slippery roads. Sand builds up on pavement and is dangerous for bicycle tires, even for mountain bikes, never mind the skinny tires on road bikes.
However, motor-vehicle traffic traveling 55 miles per hour and more air washes much of the lighter debris off pavement within a day or two. In short, bicyclists who don't mind winter pedaling find plenty of selected days to traverse bare roads, dependent on latitude and elevation.
Many people look at summer as Maine's true bicycling season, but grand pedaling continues from September through late fall. Tourist traffic has subsided, and cooler temperatures and drier air offer us pedaling paradise for weeks at a time.
Sometimes winter turns too cold, but serious bicyclists own clothing to combat freezing temperatures, a better bicycling problem than summer's sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity. In winter, we can add more layers, but in summer, we can only remove so much clothing before we're down to one shirt, bicycle shorts and helmet, and we're still too hot.
Yes, fall biking weather has everything to recommend it.
Hills brutalize newcomers, but folks who have pedaled for years can climb with relative ease. And, experienced pedalers with good memories recall their early days, when struggling up steep inclines killed leg muscles. Back then, I'd tell myself that the experience offered superb exercise, but on the way up a really savage grade, I'd groan like a spoiled child.
Once folks develop climbing muscles, though, it takes a major-league slope by Maine standards to discourage anyone. When folks reach that point, and they do all right, bicycling really turns into great fun.
At that point, climbs feel easy, and the results come quicker than newbies may realize. Every hill that novices struggle up gets them closer to that point, when steep roads don't send people hiding under the bed.
Not too belabor the point, but in places, I easily pedal up hills now that gave me big problems during my early adult bicycling phase that began seriously 23 years ago.
While bicycling up these hills in 2012, the climbing effort may not cross my mind. I often pedal without thinking about bicycling, but rather, I ponder the presidential election, fall fly fishing or any number of subjects. That's when folks know their legs have reached that good point.
Here's another quick incentive to bicycle. I now use a Garmin Edge 800 bicycle GPS with an accurate calorie counter on it, and it takes little time to burn up to 1,000 calories or much more on long rides. Yup, burning big-time calories is yet another "wow" for a sport that already had everything for me.
Ken Allen, a writer, editor and photographer, can be reached at: