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The History of me, as it relates to Bicycling. AKA Hello from Western New York.

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The History of me, as it relates to Bicycling. AKA Hello from Western New York.

Old 06-08-11, 10:47 AM
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The History of me, as it relates to Bicycling. AKA Hello from Western New York.

Hi there! Just signed up yesterday but I've been lurking for a few months now.

When I was a kid in the early 90's, I saw a commercial for a Huffy bicycle called "White Heat". This was the first time I recall ever being excited by a bicycle and I begged my parents to get it. It was seriously the most awesome thing I had ever seen. Eventually, I got a White Heat, and I loved it, and biked all over the place. I'm not really sure where it is anymore, possibly in the trash, possibly in my parents garden shed. I imagine one day I'll sort through and try to figure out the whereabouts of that incredibly heavy mountain bike.

The years passed and I outgrew the Huffy. I seem to remember being bored of bicycling and moving onto newer interests such as video games. When I turned 16, most of my friends were being given new cars for their birthdays. My parents were never affluent, though we had the disfortune of living literally 50 feet away from a very affluent neighborhood. They could not afford to give me a car for my birthday, and honestly I'm not sure they would have even if they could; they're strong proponents of learning how to earn your way through life.

So for my 16th birthday, my parents bought me my first real bicycle: a bright red 1996 GT Outpost Trail mountain bike. I still remember the LBS I got it from, a small shop named "Rays Bikes" on Elmwood. They got me fitted, and bought a pump and water bottle. Sadly I did not fall in love with it at that time. I rode it occasionally, but nothing ever serious, mostly to school and back (1/2 mile). When I moved out and went to college, I forgot all about it, and it spent the next 5 years languishing in my parents garden shed.

In the intervening years I packed on a lot of weight. By 2003 I weighed around 350, and decided I needed to do something about it. I started walking on a treadmill, and eventually outside, but I got bored of walking very quickly. In that same year, Kraftwerk released their "Tour de France Soundtracks" album, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France. I bought it and listened to it, and loved it. Slowly the idea of biking began invading my psyche, but I was still a little intimidated by it. Soon the winter came and I shelved the idea.

In April 2004, Kraftwerk played a concert in Toronto, which I attended. The entire theme of the concert was biking and the Tour de France. That night I listened to all the songs live and it really struck a chord with me. The next day, I rummaged through my parents garden shed, found my GT Outpost Trail, and hopped on it, biking a full... well 6 miles. At least it seemed like a lot to me back then. Each day I would go out and go further and faster. Eventually I went so far that I could no longer accurately say how far I've gone. That got me looking for ways to track my progress, which led me to the bike shop, which sold me a cheap little Cateye Enduro 8.

With that little gadget I started going out further and further, following the Niagara riverwalk, wondering where it would lead me. In June, just 3 months after starting biking, I finally took one sunny Saturday and decided to find the other end of the path once and for all; which led me a full 25 miles away from home to HSBC Arena in Downtown Buffalo. Of course once I was there it finally clicked that I had to go all the way back... but I didn't mind terribly; the sense of accomplishment was enough to get me back home to finish my first half-century ride, in just over 4 hours.

Once I was home I decided that I loved going for distance, and started researching for ways that would make my bike faster so I could go farther. I decided to purchase some slick tires to reduce my rolling resistance, which increased my average speed by around 2mph. Sadly I was not able to find the time to take another half-century trek around the city before the biking season came to a close. I had a few 40 mile rides, but that was pretty much it.

When 2005 rolled around I ended up in a relationship with a girl who convinced me to move out to the country with her. Since there was no bike paths out in the middle of nowhere, I would be riding on roads, and I decided now would be a good time to purchase a bicycle helmet (yes yes I know, shame on me for not buying one prior to that). After a few months of riding in the country, disaster struck. I was nearly 15 miles away from home when suddenly my rear wheel felt a little wobbly. I kept going, and within a minute, it was clear that the tire was completely flat. I used my hand pump to pump it back up and tried to keep going, but it went flat again. A large packaging staple had become firmly wedged into my slick tires. I carried a spare tube with me, so I thought I was set... until I realised that only the front wheel had a quick release skewer; the rear one required a pair of wrenches, which I did not actually carry with me. Thus began my 15 mile walk of shame home, which nearly ended my biking career. At first I put on my old dirt tires again so I would feel more safe when biking on the road, but the zeal of it did not last. Within 2 weeks I had given up on biking due to my deteriorating mental state (relationship wasn't going very well either). I put the bike in a closet and didn't think about it again for years.

Fast forward to 2010. A coworker was talking about how he was going to ride a century in Buffalo's "Ride For Roswell", a cancer benefit ride. Everyone thought he was completely insane... but that got me thinking about biking again for the very first time in years. The sound of sprockets changing, freewheels clicking, calipers caliping. The smell of nature, the sweat rolling off my back, the feel of wind as you fly down a hill at 30mph. I piped up and said that I could easily see someone doing 100 miles; it had only been 5 years since I was able to bike 50. No one believed me, and for good reason. In the intervening 5 years I had let my weight balloon in size to a whopping 457 pounds (I didn't know it at the time; I didn't want to know how much I weighed). No one could see me being able to bike even 10 miles, much less 50. In my current state, they were probably right.

My weight had gotten me down for a long time. I kept thinking about biking, but it made me sad because I felt like I was far too heavy to get into it again. I soon put the thoughts away and went back to my old couch potato habits.

In July 2010, an event occurred that changed my life. The apartment below mine caught fire somehow. I got out safely, but after the fire the paramedics insisted that they check me out. The first thing they did was check my blood pressure; which they were unable to do, because they couldn't find a cuff that fit me. That was pretty embarrassing, but eventually they found a thigh cuff that fit around my arm. At which point they measured a 250 systolic pressure. They demanded that I be hospitalized immediately.

Long story short, I had developed hypertension, and I was told that if I did not begin exercising, I was going to die. So I began exercising again. At first I stuck to my recumbent exercise bike indoors, because I felt so embarrassed about being seen exercising in a gym or outdoors. After a month I decided that maybe I would dust off the old bike and try it out. Unfortunately, I barely fit on it anymore. My stomach touched the handlebars when I stood up with my butt against the seat. The gear shifters had also become gummed up internally, something which I found out later on the internet is typical of the old Shimano 7 speed trigger shifters. To top it all off, I could not maintain my balance on the bike, so I made it about 20 feet before I got off and gave up for the year.

I spent the rest of the fall spinning indoors on the recumbent, then graduated to cross-country skiing when winter came. Sadly the outdoorsiness of the skiing had paid a toll on me: I was no longer content to exercise indoors, for it had become too boring. So when the snow melted, I found myself sad that I could no longer ski. Still feeling intimidated by the broken bicycle, I decided that I would start walking outdoors on some bike paths. This was fine for the first few times, but the same scenery became overly boring. Additionally I was reaching a point where I wanted to go further and further, but if I walked anymore than 4 miles in one session, my joints would begin to ache for the next few days, thus making me less inspired to continue on my weight loss. While I had lost 85 pounds at this point, I still weighed far too much to do any significant walking... and jogging was so far out of the question, it shouldn't have even been asked.

The solution was sitting in my apartment, calling my name. By the time May rolled around I finally started seeing people riding bikes on the bike paths, and every time I saw one, a nagging feeling would bite me in the rear and tell me: I needed to fix my bike up.

I don't know much about bicycle maintenance. I can switch tires, but that's about it. I googled the 15 year old Shimano Altus shifters I had to see if I could fix them up. Some sites had some suggestions, but I kept imagining that I would screw it up. Even worse: I imagined that they might break after I go far from home, and then I'd get stuck in the middle of nowhere again, destined to make another walk of shame. So I bit the bullet and got a bike rack for my car, and took it down to a local bike chain named Berts to get it fixed up. They gave it some new shifters and did a tune up, and I was back in business!

Took the bike out for a spin, and made it 8 miles the first time. Unfortunately I had forgotten that I had worn out the old gear 6 sprocket on the cassette, which would now skip if any significant pressure was applied to the pedals. Had I remembered that fact I would have asked them to replace the cassette at that time as well. So not wanting to skip any biking, I decided I would just do the gear ratio calculations and figure out which gears to substitute; gear 3-6 was nearly identical to gear 2-7; 2-6 was close to 3-5, and 1-6 was close to 3-3. This worked well at first, but I soon grew weary of switching from 3-7 to 2-7 to 3-5 and so on just to get some smooth ratios going.

I ended up signing up for the Ride For Roswell. I decided to do the 22 mile route, because the ride was only 2 months away and I was finding 10 miles to be exerting. I was a little disappointed because I knew that I could do the 44 mile route easily in years past, but in the end I bit the bullet and accepted that at my current abilities, 22 miles will be tough. The silver lining, of course, being the fact that I pledged that I would tackle a longer route next year, when I'm in better shape.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I was feeling particularly inspired, and set myself a goal of 60 miles for all 3 days, and 30 miles on Saturday. Come Saturday I reach the 30 mile goal... and still feel like going, so I upped it to 35 miles. I was actually a little disappointed now because I wish I had actually signed up for the 33 mile route on Ride for Roswell. The next two days I biked 12 and 19 miles respectively, handily meeting my goal with 66 miles in total. Unfortunately after the 19 mile ride, I ended up pinching a nerve in my back (within seconds of getting off the bike), and I became practically immobilized. I decided that this would be a good time to get the bike to a bike shop and replace the sprocket.

This time I did more research on bike repair and figured out that the first shop I went to wasn't very good; too big-box-ish, too expensive. They never even told me that my chain was elongated and needed to be replaced (it had seen over 4000 miles over 15 years at this point). So I took it to a smaller shop who noticed the chain problem right away without me even telling them.

So I dropped it off last week and they said it should be ready by tomorrow. Getting a new 12-21 road cassette put on it to eliminate all the low gears that I never used. I am so excited about that I can hardly wait. I'm considering getting the chainrings replaced as well, because the old cassette was 11-28, so I'll be losing a bit of range. But we'll see how it goes; maybe I'll wait a few months and upgrade from 24/32/38 to 22/32/44 if I find the new arrangement too restrictive.

So right now I'm just sitting here daydreaming about tomorrow when I'll get to take her out for a spin again. Damn I can't wait.
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Old 06-08-11, 11:45 AM
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