On the 10-mile wind-down coming home from my long Saturday ride this past weekend, my buddy Bill and I were chatting about how we’ve changed over the years as cyclists.
We weren’t really talking so much about our likes and dislikes (we both love the thrill of fast group riding; I still love rolling hills as much as always and view climbs as the price I have to pay for fun descents).
Nor were we talking about our changing abilities over time (we both still make “rookie mistakes” from time to time, as I believe we all do; I think overall I’m a much better rider than, say, 10 years ago, but I have to work harder to get, and stay, in good form).
No, what we were mainly comparing notes on was what we used to think was vitally important but now understand is not, and vice versa. Call it the wisdom of age, accumulated knowledge, experience, whatever. But it was an interesting subject to chat about, and I’m guessing we’ve all changed somewhat in our “cycling ways” over the years.
Here are just a few of the ways I’ve changed (note, there may be some exaggeration for effect). See if you recognize any of these, and share your own on the Comments page.
I better understand the value of quality clothing. Early on in my cycling life, I was content with fairly inexpensive clothing, especially shoes and shorts.
My first pair of cycling shoes was a clunky pair of Shimano shoes in a truly ugly blue color. Why I bought a pair of blue shoes I still can’t answer to this day. The only good thing to come from those shoes was the really good-looking vibrant blue Sierra Nevada jersey I bought to go with them. It was my favorite jersey for years – until it got shredded in a crash.
As for shorts, like many newbies, I started with regular shorts, being hesitant to try out those strange bib shorts. When I did, I didn’t know the chamois wasn’t supposed to feel like a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper. I thought crotch irritation was just the price you paid to ride.
Only when I started buying higher end bibs, and then shoes that weighed slightly less than a brick (in black, if you please), did I realize that suffering should be something you do on occasion – like trying to keep up with your faster buddies – not something that is the result of your poor clothing choices.
I better understand the value of closer fitting clothing. I’ve also evolved (devolved?) over the years when it comes to the fit of my jerseys and bibs. Some of that has to do with weighing about 30 pounds less than when I started riding.
But I’ve also grown to appreciate over the years clothes that better fit my form. It may have something to do with the psychological effect of being mostly OK with my body, with the exception of the stubborn spare inner tube I carry around my mid-section, which sometimes inflates nearly to tire size if I’m not careful. But bibs tend to mask that little mid-section bulge, don’t they?
I also have come to like the fact that closer-fitting clothes don’t pick up the breeze and flap, making me a touch more streamlined overall. (Notice I didn’t say “tight-fitting,” because that still bugs me – and, frankly, is not pretty to look at when I see it on other riders who just can’t pull it off, especially those who don’t wear bibs. There’s something particularly repellent about a male muffin-top! I’m just sayin’.)
I spend far less time preparing my bike for each ride. For years, my pre-ride routine included religiously airing my tires to a very precise level that made them so hard I probably could have used them as a hammer if needed.
After overinflating, I would wipe down and then re-soak my chain with whatever messy wet lube I happened to be trying that month. It was, of course, a Teufels Kreiss, as they say in German – a devil’s (vicious) circle. A wet chain picks up more road grime and grit, requiring more frequent cleaning and relubing. D’oh!
For many years now, though, I’ve used Chain-L lube – which only occasionally needs to be touched up (say, after a rain ride). And I now inflate my tires once a week, to 90 psi front, 95 rear, and then I let them slowly drop to around 80-85 psi before re-inflating. I haven’t had a pinch flat in years, and the ride comfort is night-and-day better that when I was rolling on those veritable Flintstone tires.
Yet, I spend far more time messing with the stuff that goes on my bike. Don’t get me wrong here; I think today’s bike lights and computers are absolute marvels. I know the rechargeable lights I use emit lumens that can’t be touched by the old AA- and AAA-powered lights of yesteryear. And that the functionality of today’s bike computers, with their turn-by-turn navi capability and smart phone connectivity, make them really terrific tools.
But, man alive, do I miss the days of changing my flasher batteries once every couple of months, and charging my basic computer every couple of weeks or so.
Now, I have four (yes, four – computer, front flasher, rear flasher, and rear-facing camera) devices that I have to keep charged. Not one of which seems to have a run-time that lasts for more than three normal rides for me. As I sit at my desk writing this, I have one of those stuck in the wall outlet next to me, and one in a spare USB port in my computer. Two more are waiting on deck. Crazy!
I’m not nearly the rolling experiment I used to be. It’s only natural when jumping into a new hobby, especially one that becomes a passion, to try a variety of different types of gear, components, clothing, food, drink, rides, events, etc. Experimentation is how we sort out our personal wheat from our personal chaff.
I’ve definitely separated out a ton of chaff over the years! Included are the aforementioned low-end bibs, shorts and shoes, just about every lube known to man (wet, dry, wax, you name it), bars and gels from A to Z, and – my absolute least favorite experimental category over the years – drink mixes.
It took me well over a decade to find a powdered drink mix that I could do more than just choke down. And I realized the special place in cycling hell where a nasty drink mix can take you if you’re forced to drink it on an organized ride. (Of the millions of cycling products I’ve seen, an iron stomach has never been among them.)
So it seems to me that it’s also quite natural to find what you like, and what works best for you, and stick with it. Of all the advice we’ve dispensed over the years, that may be the single best piece.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.