Thursday, October 07, 2010

As if cycling wasn't hard enough

I was finally able to go for my first "run" since the Bear 100 — about an hour, mellow page, on smooth dirt singletrack. The plan was to test my right foot for impact pain, but I was too busy focused on complaints from other body parts to really make an honest assessment. Tired quads. Aching shoulders. Shredded abs and hip flexors. All common maladies of a brand new singlespeeder.

I can't say I completely understand the appeal yet, but I will say I have a whole new respect for singlespeed mountain biking. It demands nothing less than full attack mode on uphills and hip-flexor-tearing RPMs upon descent. More experienced singlespeeders tell me one-gear Zen requires patience more than power, but whenever I set my feet to my rapidly spinning platform pedals, all I can see is red. It doesn't help that the Karate Monkey is the only bike I've ridden this week, and some of those rides were really ambitious — climbing 5,000 vertical feet on Lolo mountain, for example. No wonder my abs hurt.

I decided to take a break from it all with a mellow road ride after work on my commuter, which is a fixed-gear bike. That bike's single gear is quite a bit taller than my mountain bike, but I've only ever ridden it on the meandering bike path into downtown, and a few roads here and there, and once on a gravel rail trail, so I never had any real comprehension of how my fixie could be more work to operate than any other bike I own. I spun easy toward Hellgate Canyon and started cranking harder as the grade turned slightly higher than flat. Missoula's endless availability of quality off-pavement riding has spoiled me to the point that I find riding with traffic to be completely intolerable, so I took the first opportunity I saw to turn off the main road — Marshall Canyon.

The road grade shot skyward and I stood in the saddle, pressing hard on my sore quads and straining my aching abs for the torque I needed to continue moving forward. It was hard singlespeed work again, but it felt really good, moving up a steady grade on a smooth surface. I worked harder. Sweat poured down my neck and drenched my jeans. When it came time to turn back, I took a break to catch my ragged breath and look with satisfaction far down the canyon and all the elevation I had gained. And then I started downhill.

At first, the road grade favored my desired speed, but the descent quickly took a turn for the steeper. The pedals churned faster and I touched the front brake ever so lightly, loathe to resist any free distance that gravity was perfectly willing to provide. The bike simply responded by charging faster, yanking my knees up and down with revelry as I strained my oh-so-sore quads against the pedals' care-free spin. I squeezed on the brake harder and braced my leg muscles more rigidly, but momentum was winning. My hip flexors responded angrily ... "We thought you were done with this nonsense." "It's not my fault," I muttered feebly. I fought an urge to take my feet off the pedals — fixie coasting — but resisted because I had no idea what lie around the next canyon bend and how fast I'd have to brake to avoid hitting it. So I just gripped the front brake, ducked in, and let the pedals rip my legs to little shreds all the way down to the relative peace of Hellgate Canyon.

I have GOT to get at least one of my geared bikes repaired.

On the bright side, I really think my foot is well on the mend. I am looking forward to running again, which will probably feel easy in comparison.