Custom, Part 4: Not the Final Chapter
April 4, 2010
Total mileage: 230
When I first began writing about the custom bike, I assumed there would be a final chapter in which the Sweetpea and I rode off into the sunset. Here’s how it would go: I’d sink into the cushy seat (akin to sitting on a marshmallow), crank the pedals a time or two in an effortless circle, and she would take over from there. Yeah, I know it was a fantasy, but a girl’s gotta dream.
The reality is much more, well, real. And here’s where I’m going to get into some slightly embarrassing personal admissions. Once I got the Sweetpea home and put her into the trainer and began pedaling, I lapsed into a special kind of crazy about the toe overlap (for you non-cyclists, that’s when the back of the front tire hits the front of your foot when you’re pedaling). I discovered this while yanking the wheel hard to one side in an unnatural way. After Mr. Spoked sighed patiently and talked me off the ledge, I put my old bike on the trainer and discovered it had toe overlap, too. That helped bring an end to freakout session number one.
The next morning I saddled up and rode Sweetpea to work. Now, keep in mind that the previous night was still fresh in my mind. I put the rubber to the road outside our house, swung my leg over the bike, and took off. I’d read about responsive bikes but never had experienced one before the Sweetpea. Holy cow, I had only to think about turning right and the bike went in that direction. Combine this with a 20 mph crosswind and concerns about toe overlap, and it was not a pleasurable ride. My shoulders tensed, my forearms hurt from clutching the handlebars, and my back stiffened. I was terribly nervous about crashing, but I made it to work and back home. End of freakout session number two.
The next day was a Saturday, and I spent hours at the computer researching toe overlap, steering responsiveness, and other issues on the bike forums. This is exactly what I should have done months earlier. Throughout the whole bike fitting process Natalie had kept me informed, and I remember her talking about such things as toe overlap, but I really didn’t have a clue how that would impact my riding. I would have done more research before buying a toaster than I did for a custom bike. How stupid is that?
Anyway, the next day, Mr. Spoked and I went for a leisurely morning ride. I put the bike on the road with a sense of resignation, hopped on and moved the pedals a couple of pumps. I had to look down to see if it was the same bike. It felt so much more stable than the previous ride. What had happened? It must have been a combination of being more informed and more relaxed.
Over the next week, I rode the Sweetpea to work several times. This was probably a mistake, because every day there was at least a 20 mph crosswind, one day with gusts up to 40 mph. People at work couldn’t believe I was riding a bike when they were struggling to keep their cars straight on the road. Because of the wind, I rode in the drops (the lowest part of the handlebars) most of the time. I’d never ridden in the drops for more than about 30 seconds before, and that day I rode in them for miles. Being in that position consistently for the first time in my riding life caused new strains on the body, and my back began to bother me. Freakout number three.
What was I thinking? Well, I can only explain this behavior by saying I’d had such high expectations for this bike, and wanted it for so long, that I forgot perfection only exists in the movies. No piece of sports equipment I know provides immediate gratification. They all require a period of adjustment and adaptation.
Now that you’ve heard the bad things about the first rides, which have been pretty much my fault (except for the wind, and that’s due to Mother Nature), it’s time to tell you the good. If you’ve been following this blog, you know every bike I’ve owned has been a struggle. It’s felt like I had to fight to keep them rolling. Not this one. The Sweetpea is a race horse. When I get on her, it’s as though she’s raring to GO! Every ounce of energy in my legs is translated into action in the wheels. It’s an awesome feeling. This bike wants to run.
This must be due to her brilliant design and fit (thank you, Natalie and Michael). Previously, my knees traced figure eights in the air while pedaling, now they move up and down like pistons. There is no wasted energy or movement. I can ride in the drops now–albeit in small amounts until my body gets accustomed to the lower position. The toe overlap? Haven’t even noticed it on the road. As far as performance goes, it’s early in the season and I’m still getting my lungs back, but today we climbed a monster hill and I wasn’t that far behind Mr. Spoked.
So, this is the last chapter in my “Custom” series but it’s not the end of the Sweetpea saga. We’re going to take some more time getting to know one another. And although we’re not in Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.