Getting Started In Cycling

When I joined the Oklahoma Bicycle Society in 1987, I had what was known as a "City Bike" not quite a road bike but not one of those new rages, a mountain bike. I bought it to haul on the back of our motorhome so I would have something to ride to the store and not have to pull the RV off the leveling blocks. When I bought the bike, I never thought it would lead to anything more than a convenience and never imagined that cycling would become one of my interests, much less traveling on one. My longest ride at that time was perhaps five miles.

After two years on the road in the motorhome, we settled in Moore, Oklahoma so my wife could live near her sister. Shortly after that I noticed an article in the paper about a local bicycle club along with a telephone number. I called it and asked what sort of riding they did. He told me to join their Donut Ride, which was every Saturday morning. I asked how far they rode and was told about six miles each way. After I wondered if I could ride that far, he told me, "You will find you have a lot more miles in you than you think."

I rode the Donut Ride for the next few weeks and it didn't take long after joining the club to realize that the bike I had just wasn't suited for the types of rides the club sponsored. I also rode it on several T-shirt rides with the longest being about 35 miles. I knew I needed a road bike of some sort but still had no idea what I really wanted.

One day I spotted a bike at a garage sale where the lady said she had won in a sweepstakes and it had never been ridden. It was a Schwinn World Traveler with water bottle cages, a rear rack and one of those blue gel pads on the saddle. Seemed like a good buy so I picked it up. It just happened that the club was having one of their annual rides called The Streak the next weekend so I signed up for the 50 mile distance since it was only a few miles more than I'd ridden in club rides. I knew I wasn't up to riding the 100 mile route.

Wearing a regular pair of walking shorts, I paid my registration, picked up my T-shirt and ride number, filled the water bottle that came in my rider pack and I was ready to go. I started somewhere around the middle of the 600 to 700 riders in the 50 and it soon became apparent that most of them could ride a lot faster than I could, they were passing me right and left. I made it to the 12 mile water stop with a number of people still behind me so I figured I was doing OK for a 60 year old beginner. Three more like that and I would have finished the 50 miler; piece of cake.

By the time I made it to the 25 mile water stop, I was in pure misery and could barely walk. Someone noticed my problem and took pity on me. He gave me a green can of stuff called Bag Balm and told me to go in the porta potty and apply a good coat of it on the sore and raw places and then throw that stupid blue thing away. Also, when I got back, to buy some padded cycling shorts.

After a cup of Gatorade and a couple cookies, I felt a lot better and set off on the 25 mile return route which was also the hilly part, just one rolling hill after another. I'd struggle to the top in the lowest gear and coast down the other side. It was along there where I noticed that many of the bikes had a third, smaller gear on the front and they were able to ride up the hills with apparent ease while I struggled in the lowest gear I had. Lower gears joined the cycling shorts as things I was going to buy when I got home.

The 40 mile rest stop was loading up to leave when I finally arrived but they stayed long enough for me to get water and a banana. Someone came up in a car said there was no one behind me. I'd never heard of a sag wagon and figured the only way back was to ride. Even though I was having to walk every hill, I plodded on. When I came to the final hill, which was actually to climb up on the dam around a lake, I was no longer able to push the bike up it. I'd take a couple steps and pull the bike up beside me, take two more and pull the bike. I finally reached the road on top and I had one mile left to go.

As I struggled along, a group of about 25 cyclists blazed past me. I realized from the color of their ride numbers that they were riders on the 100 mile route. They had started just in front of us and they were going to beat me back. All I could think of was just to finish. My leg muscles were burning and every turn of the pedals seemed if it would be my last. I struggled the last hundred yards to the finish line and heard someone say as they pulled my ride tag, "Hey, this guy's a 50 miler."

Too tired to even think of trying to find my car and go home, I found a bench in the shade and began to sip water from my bottle. The riders all around me were laughing and having a great time then one of them said, "Mister, you look like hell. How much water have you had?"

I shook my bottle and replied, "About half a bottle."

Someone handed me a beer and another one brought a large cup of Gatorade and some donuts. Quite a combination but I began to feel much better. They began calling out numbers over the PA system and after each one, there would be a chorus of "Ohhhh". Then after they read another number, someone slapped me across the back and shouted, "We have a winner! Here he is!" I had just won the drawing for a new Cannondale bicycle.

When I went to the shop the following week to pick it up, they pulled one off the rack and had me sit on it. Then they changed to a longer seatpost to get the saddle high enough and sent me on my way. I rode it that winter and into the next spring thinking that the handlebars six inches below the saddle was how everyone rode.

The next spring I received an assignment from Bicycling Magazine for a story about the experiences of a neophyte at a professional cycling camp and I signed on for the 7-ELEVEN camp at Bonham, Texas. The leader of the W&W (Wimps and Women) group was Bob Roll who took one look at my bike and said, "Why did you bring your grandson's bike? It's way too small for you."

During a fit kit session, they found I should be riding a 59cm bike and the Cannondale was a 54 or a good two inches too small. So much for getting the right size bike but it was probably what they had in stock and since I was getting it free, there was no need to do otherwise. I rode the too-small bike during the camp in which I learned a lot about riding, how to maintain speed and most of all, how to climb hills efficiently. On the last day of the camp, the team was notified that the parent company of 7-ELEVEN had declared bankruptcy and America's premier cycling team was no more. Worst of all, the checks they were expecting were not going to happen and basically the team was stranded in Bonham, Texas. I think most of them got drunk that night.

The following morning they announced that they were going to sell all the team equipment, mostly to get money to get home on. Bob Roll told me that one of the bikes they were going to sell was Eric Heiden's new Eddy Merckx was a 59cm frame, exactly my size. I came home with probably one of the best bikes available at the time. Of course, having never won an Olympic Gold Medal in speed skating, or having legs like oak trees, there was no way I could ride the bike to its potential, but I tried. I rode it for a couple years and sold it to someone who could appreciate and ride it.

Like so many people when they first get into cycling, my aim was to be able to ride as fast as possible but after a couple credit card tours, I realized that was the area of cycling that I really enjoyed. Without the constant need to hang on and not get dropped, I found the true pleasure in being able to look around at what I was passing and to stop when and where I wished for whatever reason. There was a whole new world out there for me to explore and a new way of doing it. I don't know if this was an original for me as I have used it several times but in a car you touch the pavement but on a bicycle, you touch the people.

Related Story: The Randonee

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Copyright 2004 by Jim Foreman