I am not a brave person by nature. If anything, I’m cautious to an obnoxious degree. I was the kid who got her learner’s permit and, when asked if I wanted to drive home from the DMV, said no no no no no no no. I spend a lot of time being scared of things, and a lot of the time I do those things anyway, but I still wish I could be less fearful in the first place.
Getting on a bike after years of being terrified was a big deal for me, and I made huge strides in 2012. A year ago, I was still walking my bike up some blocks of a route I now ride like it’s no big deal. I mean: Last January, I couldn’t signal a turn or drink from a water bottle or imagine swapping my platform pedals for clipless ones. I did those things; I’ve done all of those things. It’s been hard and stressful and exhausting but sometimes exhilarating, at least enough of the time that I want to keep riding. I don’t get the same peace on my bike that I can get from a run; in fact, if there’s an opposite of inner peace, that’s where my mind is on the bike, all look and brake and pull and sit up and sit down and watch that car and get further to the right and pothole and what is that car doing and pedal pedal pedal and turn whoa stop now now now unclip oh wait shit OK it’s fine, we’re fine, green light, deep breath, GO.
But still, there’s something about riding that makes me come home smiling more often than not. I don’t love it the way I love running or even swimming, but I like it enough that I would miss it if I quit, and if I’m not going to quit, I might as well at least try to get better.
So here’s what I want from 2013 — and it’s not a race finish or a time goal, though if those come along, I won’t say no. I want to be less of a baby on the bike.
Real talk: I still freak out a little every single time I ride, actually every time I so much as think about riding. I squeeze the brakes on every descent. And I’m still a princess about riding, when I can get myself to do it: I need the perfect conditions, the best weather, the right route, the least possible traffic. But I know enough to know that if I keep riding like that, if I keep biking the same 12-mile route at the same middling speed and only when it’s nice out, I’m going to stay stuck.
Here’s my action plan for being less of a wimp:
Bike as transportation. Normalize the idea of getting on the bike to go to a place. Learn the bike-friendly roads and routes through the city. Practice being on different kinds of streets. Stop feeling like I need eight hands to lock up my bike efficiently. Our new house is in a great place for this; I can start almost every ride in the park, where I’ve been reasonably comfortable riding ever since I first got Penelope, but I can also experiment with different routes on “real roads.” I was going to start this by riding to yoga last week, but at the last second I panicked that I’d be wobbly and unbalanced with my yoga mat in tow. (If this turns out to be true, I can store a mat at the studio; I won’t let this be an excuse for long.) Instead, I rode to brunch over the weekend, five miles each way, with a bottle of prosecco in my bag that, no, I did not fall onto and shatter all over myself.
Bike to work. A specific version of the above. I’ll never take the most efficient route; biking with the buses and trolleys and wild drivers and train tracks of Market Street is truly not aspirational for me. But there’s a slightly longer route that’s more protected, and I’ve ridden almost all of it. I’m being princess-y about this still; I’m not comfortable doing it in the rain or on days when I have to carry my computer. But once a week seems reasonable.
Ride the trainer. A, the weather or the time of day aren’t excuses not to ride when I can do it in the garage. B, I can practice skills better there, when I’m not stopping every seventeen seconds on city roads or freaking out because a car may or may not be turning in front of me. After much deliberation, I cashed in some REI gift cards for the Kinetic Fluid Trainer and got it set up in our garage. I’m not totally happy with the arrangement (the garage lights are on a timer and so after 25 minutes, I’m biking in the dark — which is fine by me, actually, but it’s a shared garage and I don’t want to give our neighbors a heart attack because they’re not expecting a crazy girl biking in the basement), but I have WiFi and Hulu and I don’t mind tucking in for a long ride.
Ride in new places. I started this on New Year’s day, riding near our rental house in Dillon Beach. Part of this process is learning when my fears are actually prohibitive and when I can find some way around them; in this case, we cut out two miles of climbing on a shoulder-less road by driving our bikes to downtown Tomales and starting from there. For the most part, I loved this ride, which took us past grassy dairy farms and an absurd number of tiny little lambs. I also freaked out massively 2/3 of the way up the very last climb; I was riding so slowly that I started to envision myself coming to a complete stop, not being able to unclip, and rolling backwards or tipping over (or, most often, tipping over while rolling backwards). Once the image was in my head, I couldn’t get it out, and I’m not proud that it’s the only climb where I’ve ever had to stop. (Though I suppose I’m glad to have proven that I could stop without crashing.) But I am proud to have finished the ride, and to have biked up Twin Peaks yesterday, a ride I’ve wanted to conquer for a while. It was rough in spots — a stretch of busy, rutted road; another climb-so-slow-I’ll-tip hill — but the views were worth it.
Ride with people. This is going to be hard for me. Most times I’ve ridden with a group, I’ve been the slowest rider in it. Someone from my tri club posts a public ride almost every weekend, but I’m terrified to show up, because even on supposed “no-drop” rides, I worry about not keeping up. (Feeling embarrassed and self-conscious and worried that I’m holding up everyone else would be almost worse for me than just being dropped.) It’s funny — it would be totally normal in that community to post a run and say I was going to be running 10-minute or even 11-minute miles, but to say, “Hey, come ride around 12 mph with me” would never happen, so I have this idea that everyone else’s leisurely pace is way faster than mine. Maybe I’ll be right, maybe I’ll be wrong, but it’s worth finding out, I guess.
Learn to take care of my bike. I know, basically, how to change a tire. I’ve done it once, with lots of help at my disposal. I fixed a dropped chain this one time. And that’s the extent of my bike knowledge. I’m scared that something will happen when I’m out riding and I won’t know how to handle it. There are lots of free or cheap bike maintenance classes around here, and I plan to sign up for one and make this happen.
Ride in the big gear. Just, I mean, seriously. I don’t ever ride in the big gear. I’m scared to shift onto it, and I’m scared that I’ll drop the chain getting there, and I’m scared that I’ll hit a big hill while I’m in the wrong gear and suddenly be moving so slowly I’ll tip over while rolling backwards. (Yes, that again.) Basically, I don’t know how or when to use it, so I don’t, so it becomes yet another thing I can’t do. I need to find a good, calm stretch of road and figure this out.
Start and/or stop without my butt in the saddle. Yeah, I stop my bike by slowly leaning to one side, ass firmly in the seat. My tri group coach spent all of last season calling me Twinkletoes. Maybe, ultimately, this will end up being the way I feel most comfortable starting and stopping, but there’s no denying that I do it now because I don’t know how to do it the other way. I have no clue how I’m going to practice this — I thought it would be the trainer, but the geometry of riding feels different enough to me on the trainer that it’s not a great simulation — but, I mean, I really should figure it out sometime.
Be kind to myself and let myself learn. This is going to be the toughest thing on this list by a mile. I feel slow and silly and scared when I ride, and I get angry with myself for not learning skills or getting faster or being able to climb (or descend) as well as I think I should on a route that looked well within my wheelhouse online. I need space to try and fail, and I need space to let myself succeed.
I’m doing a couple of other things that I think will make these goals more attainable. I want to get a proper bike fit; I suspect it will make me more comfortable when I ride and therefore more enthusiastic about doing it. And I’m looking for opportunities to ride outside my comfort zone but within a protected structure; I’m anticipating doing the bike leg of at least one tri relay this year, and I’d like to find a long supported ride where I can ride more or less my own pace but with other people giving me directions and perhaps feeding me.
I’m a far different rider this January than I was last. If I can say the same thing in January 2014, this year will have been a smashing success.