Great friends, reliable gear, and a good mechanic make me a better biker
I would love to share this email that I wrote in the spring to six special friends who I met through New York Cycling Club, which I joined in 2010 to find people to bike with, improve my skills, and feel more comfortable riding with cars.
Meeting these six smart, fierce, funny, and inspiring women (we affectionately call ourselves the “Hoo-ha's”) not only changed the way I ride, but also the way I think. For the first time in my life, I had a group of friends whom I built a relationship with based on feel-good fitness. Meeting for dinner and drinks came much later, after sharing hundreds of miles and hours together. And I cannot tell you how sweet it is to have such a close-knit support network who I can geek out with about my most passionate hobby. They understand my triumphs and tribulations on the road like no other. Which is why I took the time to write them this email in March after a bad ride nearly derailed me:
If you could hear me from all the way from Brooklyn, I would shout it from my rooftop: “I'M BACK! I'M BACK!”
After a horrific, terrible, demoralizing, embarrassing, downright hellish ride on Saturday, March 10th—where I mentally and physically broke down in front of new and old spandex-clad friends to the point that I had to turn back just after a short 15-mile ride (the plan was to do 50)—I couldn't stop thinking about what went so horribly wrong?
Was I so out of shape that I couldn't go faster than 12 mph? Even riding home by myself at a 10 mph pace was challenging. That day, I stopped by a local bike shop to see if possibly (hopefully) something was wrong with my bike. Hallelujah, my back wheel was falling off! Now I know this is crazy distressing news and I don't know how this happened, but the tire was partly out of its socket (is that word for the skewer holding the wheel in place?), and, in some messed up way, I'm so relieved.
Because the bike wheel wasn't completely aligned, it was rubbing the brake, which is why I felt so much resistance riding (when I picked up the back wheel to test this, it wasn't apparent; it didn't rub until I applied pressure—aka my body weight—on it). I had two separate bike shop mechanics look at my bike that weekend. Neither could diagnose the issue or how exactly it happened. The last shop just recommended that I ride with my two brake levers open, relieving tension—which I later realized was the absolute worst advice ever.
With that diagnosis, I took my bike out for a spin the following Monday, hoping to redeem myself and build up my confidence. I'm happy to report that I did four laps in Prospect Park (that's 13.6 miles total) in just under 50 minutes, which puts me at a little over 16 miles per hour. It's not 17 mph yet (which is what I should be riding with you), but it's a helluvalot better than the 12 mph I was struggling to do over the weekend. I'll have you know that the entire time, I chanted to myself, "Don't get left behind. Don't get left behind." You girls are such a huge motivator and for that, I'm so grateful.
I took my bike to a third shop to make sure everything was A-OK. Apparently, riding with the levers open is fine on the flats, but not on steep downhills—the brakes could fail (!). Here was the real issue: Riding over countless city potholes and cracks over the last few years has thrown off my spokes, which keeps causing an imbalance of the wheel. In a matter of 15 minutes, I watched this handsome bike mechanic (yup, I'm talking about you, Will, at Ride Brooklyn) tighten and loosen the spokes of both tires to perfectly center them between the brake pads with the levers down (as they should be).
The following Saturday, I knocked out a 57-miler, no problem. It was great to be back! And more importantly, to know that my body wasn't out of whack, though my bike was. Moral of the story: Sometimes you're only as good as your gear, which is why it's so important to know your equipment inside and out. Also, it brought to light how much your presence influences me. If I weren't so hellbent on keeping up with each of you—An, Angie, Gemma, Ginna, Val, and Chrissy—I might never have noticed the problem, or maybe I might've more readily accepted that I'm not that good. Thanks for inspiring me to strive to be better—and settle for nothing less.
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