The lack of recent posts is due to (blamed on) four things. First, I have been very busy at job #1 (research). Second, I have been very busy at job #2 (hardware/software development). Third, job #3 (classes) will begin Monday. And fourth, I have a new hobby: cycling!

As mentioned previously, my bike was stolen some weeks ago. It was a fairly standard hybrid affair, produced by Giant. Such bikes are prime targets for thiefs however; I kept it outside (where it routinely was rained upon) and while it was not directly visible from the street, its theft wouldn’t require ninja skills.

I began to look for a replacement. As I researched more I found myself becoming quite interested in cycling in general. In the past I’ve ridden when it was convenient, but for whatever reason the sudden loss of a bike made me very interested in bikes! I decided that what I wanted was a classic 10-speed racer from the bike boom era, either a post-WWII bike or something from the 60s or 70s.

I found the following bike on Craigslist, being sold by a couple in Gainesville. This is not the bike, this is a catalog picture. It is a 1968 Raleigh Super Course (I determined the year by the shifters and brakes).

Raleigh 1968 Super Course catalog page

Raleigh 1968 Super Course catalog page

It’s a great bike. It has original everything except for tires, and it rides great.

This post isn’t really about the bike though, but about the hobby. When I learn a new skill (and to be sure, despite having ridden bikes for many years, I am still learning to cycle) I like to learn how to do it The Right Way. That means I’m learning proper pedaling form, how to work on my cadence, how and when to change gears, and so on.

I’ve learned a few things so far:

  1. When I have to stop I need to do three things: shift down with my right hand, unstrap my right foot with my right hand, and brake with my left hand. Invariably it is the unstrapping that I neglect, until I find myself at a stand-still on two wheels, strapped into the bicycle. At which I tip over comically, and end up on the ground (still strapped in).
  2. Shifting down is harder than shifting up. To shift up, I simply throw the lever up (these are friction shifters). To shift down I have to pull the lever down until the chain derails, then slide it back up to center the derailer. Too far in either direction and I either shift too many gears or immediately shift back to where I started.
  3. Eating and drinking the proper amounts and types of food makes a marked difference in performance. I’ve been focussing on eating multiple smaller meals (breakfast, snack, sandwich at lunch, snack and sandwich in the evening, dinner at night) which makes sure I have the energy when I head out. When I get back, I try to eat a solid meal within an hour (when the body is about 4 times as efficient at converting carbs to muscle). I keep my water consumption even throughout my rides.
  4. I get exercise headaches. I always have, and it’s pretty annoying because when they occur I’m out of commission for a few hours. Riding over a painted line on the road with an exercise headache throbbing jars my head and spine to the point of tears – and that’s no exaggeration. I’ve found that the best way to avoid these headaches is to ride with my head up for a short time after drinking anything on the bike, and to never drink large amounts or rest for longer than 5-10 minutes.
  5. I hit my stride about 5 miles into a ride. Before that I feel weak, burnt out, as if I’m going slow. I don’t know why this is. After the 5 mile mark, however, I’m feeling better and getting into the rhythm. I stop thinking about my breathing and cadence and just let it happen. At 10 miles I feel like I could go all day (unfortunately most of my rides are at night so 10 miles out, then 10 miles back, is about all I have time for). I think this is because I’m thinking too much during the early part of the ride, but that’s hard to stop doing.

I love the technical aspects though. I love reminding myself not to squeeze the bars too tightly, to adopt the “tipped bowl” position on certain stretches and the areodynamic “humped back” on others. I enjoy practicing judging the proper moment to shift when approaching a hill. I like watching my eyeline, focusing on which muscles I’m using to lift my legs on the back end of a stroke, and all the other technical aspects of cycling. When I catch myself doing one of these things successfully without thinking about it, I’m proud.

I have very weak thighs; Hani (lovingly) compares my legs to that of Big Bird. As a result I much prefer riding on flat roads. The best part of my usual ride is the long flat run of 441 past Paine’s Prairie, especially when I time it so I’m riding back during sunset (the sun sets in front and to the left of me, over the prairie).

One of my goals is to ride the Horse Farm Hundred, a century organized by the Gainesville Cycling Club. Right now I can ride 20 reasonably flat miles without much burden, and don’t have the daylight to try much more. I think I could probably do 30 or 40 without blowing up, but I need a frame pump to bring along before I try. I don’t fancy having to hitchhike back to Gainesville with a busted tube. I’m getting better quickly, however, so with any luck I’ll be up for a century next year.

Ultimately I’m not that great on a bicycle. I can’t sprint, I struggle up hills, and I have an unfortunate tendency to forget I’m strapped in and find myself on the ground looking foolish at a red light (or behind two chatty students on campus who just wouldn’t listen to my requests to step aside). But I enjoy it a lot, and it’s good exercise, and I love learning about and practicing the technical bits.