April 21, 2013

Allen Afield: Bicyclists, get real – your season has finally arrived

By Ken Allen

Serious, regular exercising adds to our quality of life, and for me a bicycling health regimen has everything to recommend it as an aerobic, calorie-burning activity and just plain undeniable joy. What more can we ask than fun while doing something good for us?

In winter and very early spring, I fool with an aluminum-framed road bicycle on a trainer in my living room, but at times I get a composite-framed road bike outdoors, an ever so light machine compared to aluminum and surely to steel. (One of my steel hybrids bought in 1992 weighs 32 pounds, but the composite is 181/2 pounds, including gadgets.)

In Maine, though, despite white-season heroics, the real pedaling begins this month, when post-storm sanding has concluded. Sand ranks as the enemy of cold-season bicycling, and the layers stay until passing vehicles blow debris off -- two or three days on main highways and longer on side roads.

Serious bicyclists know what I mean when saying "real pedaling." The exact timing of this golden date varies with the individual, depending on tolerance for cold, and it starts when we tell ourselves, "My serious pedaling season begins this very day."

How well that first outing sticks in my memory each year. Often enough it's the one that kicks off a string of back-to-back days that last for weeks, even months, despite wind, rain or famine, and it usually includes an event or observation that ensures this special time stays in mind.

(I know, I know. We should take breaks from doing the same exercise every day, but some of us like the sport so much that it's hard to stay home -- just because...)

Lack of wind all day may create an unforgettable time because in a Maine spring, those typical early morning, sun-splashed calms turn into rising air that becomes high-velocity gusts by afternoon.

Here's a typical example of a first ride: Six years ago, dense, slate clouds hung low over the late morning landscape, and the air proved rather raw, but the day had one huge plus -- no wind. So the year's first serious ride passed with calm, cool air that helped create a lasting memory.

That day, my bicycle had just come from the repair shop, and the 23mm tires whirring softly against pavement and soft mechanical sounds in absolutely still air were intoxicating.

So often in early season, sunlight splashes the countryside, but high winds rule. Three years ago on a wicked gusty day, I flew down a hill while hanging to the right edge of the breakdown lane to miss a layer of sand, covering the unbroken white line.

Suddenly, through stupidity and negligence, I dumped my bicycle and tried to relax and roll. And I rolled all right -- part way down a steep bank. The ground was muddy beneath sparse grass and exceedingly wet from spring melting, turning my bright-yellow top and black tights into a mud pie.

Back home, Jolie, my intrepid companion, asked with a tone that underscored intense curiosity, "What happened?"

I was as vague with that windy-day story then as I am now.

Forty years ago, an article in the Kennebec Journal talked about a wonderful new Augusta bicycle shop (now closed, unfortunately), and the owner explained that he had begun a bicycle regimen to lose weight. That avocation turned into a vocation, a comment that drew me into the sport -- but it took 15 years for the adult phase of my bicycling life to begin.

One excuse for my delay was living in an area with lots of huge hills -- no problem for a serious bicyclist but intimidating for a pedaling wannabe. I wish someone had enlightened me back then, because I lost 15 years.

Hills are no problem once folks get into biking, and these days I dislike routes without ascensions. I like those long, steep climbs to get a bicycle and body weight up an incline, an exercise much like a weight-lifting machine.

It's fun to hit the road and know the only way to get from here to there begins with our own legs, lungs and initiative.

In short, we earn our destinations, but it's such intense fun that who's keeping track of the effort?

For me, that's what the sport is all about.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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