Friday, March 14, 2008

My bicycle history

Date: March 13 and 14
Mileage: 22.5 and 31.5
March mileage: 102.5
Temperature: 37 and 35

I dragged out my road bike today - first ride of the year. With an inch of new snow on the ground and temperatures in the mid-30s, it was a risky move. But after taking Pugsley to a few nearby trails yesterday and finding nothing but slush and mud, even a potentially icy road seemed more appealing.

As I hoisted the bicycle out of the basement and up two flights of stairs, I couldn't believe how light it felt. The reality of my road bike is it weighs about 25 or 26 pounds; it is unforgivably heavy for a road bike. But after five months on my fat bikes, it felt like a featherweight. I clipped into my pedals - so strange to feel so trapped. I coasted down the road, hitting 10 mph without even pedaling. When I finally fired my war-worn muscles into the effort, I shot up to 16 mph, 17, 18 ... By the time I crested the hill out of Douglas, spinning hard but well below a dead sprint, I moved beyond 20 mph - speeds my Pugsley rarely sees even on a solid downhill. I can understand why people get so fired up about road biking. It's a good workout, and it's so darn easy.

But today as I pedaled along and thought about the reality of trying to use my road bike for anything serious - say, a 400-mile highway race - it became more and more apparent that I'm not completely happy with my set-up. I'm not surprised. I've had this bike since 2004, and it's been amazingly versatile and reliable for what it is. But it is what it is - a four-year-old, $599 retail, flat-bar "light touring" Ibex Corrida. And I fear I may have outgrown it.

Yesterday an anonymous commenter, probably one of my former roommates in Salt Lake City (Curt?) pointed out how far I've come since my bicycle beginnings, in 2002, when my cycling outings consisted of "tenuously pedaling along through the Avenues, periodically falling over for lack of any sustained biking ability." It's completely true. Six years ago this spring, Geoff and I decided we wanted to prepare for a two-week bicycle tour of Southern Utah. I had only ridden a bicycle a handful of times in the past decade. I borrowed Geoff's rigid mountain bike, which he admitted was probably worth about $20. I had to have him show me how to shift the gears and work the brakes. I had to have him expain to me what the gear shifting accomplished. I felt so wobbly and uncertain on his bike that I would occasionally tip over, on city streets, for no reason. If one of the tires went flat, I would walk to the nearest phone for a rescue call or appeal to passing cyclists to bail me out. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday throughout the summer of 2002, I would head out after work to try and gain more cycling experience ahead of our fall bike tour. I refused to let my roommates call it training. I called it "practicing."

As we neared our planned tour, I decided it was time to buy my own bicycle. I purchased from eBay a 2002 Ibex Corrida and paid $300. I considered that a fortune. After the bike came in the mail, I somehow managed to put it together myself, with the exception of somehow getting the derailleur caught in the spokes. Ibex sent me a new derailleur. I went on to put nearly 8,000 miles on that bike, including a 3,200-mile tour across America, before I traded up for a newer model of the same bike in 2004. I realized that since 2002, I have purchased a new bicycle every year. The progression fits in nicely with my growth as a cyclist:

2003: Geoff talks me into purchasing a mountain bike, so I grudgingly peruse eBay and pay $250 for a Trek 6500. The first ride we do is a winter ride on the singletrack of Stansbury Island - steep, exposed and covered in patches of ice. The ride hardens my convictions that I do, in fact, hate mountain biking. This bike would have remained mostly unused throughout my ownership of it had I not dragged it up to Alaska during my road trip in summer 2003, where I rode it to transport myself around towns and train for my upcoming cross-country bicycle tour.

2004: Through my first blog, Ibex catches wind of my big bike trip and my potential to write semi-decent ad copy. The company offers to upgrade my now-well-worn Corrida in exchange for updating their Web site. I spend 60 to 70 hours on the project, and in the end have to revise and rewrite most of it. But a 2004 Ibex Corrida shows up at my door as promised. My friends tease me for getting a "free" bike. The first ride I take it on is the Salt Lake Century.

2005: My $250 Trek 6500 is by now falling apart, but I'm still convinced I'm not a mountain biker. Still, Geoff has strong powers of purchasing persuasion and finds a great eBay deal for me on a women's specific Gary Fisher Sugar. "You'll ride so much better with full suspension," he tells me. I grudgingly shell out $800 for the bike, which I find completely ridiculous. The nearly new bike spends most of the summer sitting in my Idaho Falls apartment. It doesn't start to see any serious mileage until I move up to Homer, Alaska, and inexplicably latch on to the idea of snow biking. And yes, I do find poetic justice in the fact I spent my whole life in the mountain-biking mecca of Utah and never caught on until I moved to Alaska, where, were it not for snow biking and the Kenai Peninsula, mountain biking would essentially not exist.

2006: It becomes more obvious to me that Gary Fisher did not intend the Sugar to be used as a snow bike, and I set out to build a faux fat bike with a used Raleigh mountain bike frame, a pair of SnowCat rims, 2.7" Timberwolf tires with the tread shaved off and a bunch of random eBay parts. I call it "Snaux Bike" and ride it aggressively all season, culminating in the Susitna 100 that shredded my right knee. I sour a bit to the bike after that - not that my injury was the bike's fault, but all that time off did enlighten me to the fact that bike was not enough for everything I wanted to do.

2007: I finally accept my destiny and set out to build a fat bike, which began with an impulse purchase of built wheels and tires in July. I spend almost as much for said wheels ($430) as I did for my first two bicycles combined. I no longer consider this ridiculous. I go on to mull several frame options before purchasing a Surly Pugsley frame and fork and moving on from there, mostly with old Snaux Bike scraps and a few online bargain parts to complete a fairly low-end but perfectly functional (and, in my opinion now, completely bomber) Pugsley.

2008: The best part of this timeline is it further justifies my need to get a new bike this year as well ... but only one. As much as I'd love a new road bike, I feel like a more immediate need is to retire my poor Sugar and pick up a new bomb-proof steel 29er, possibly a Karate Monkey just like Geoff's. Time will tell.