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From "Cyclist" to Weekend Rider and Bike-Commuter

 by Michael Roy

            In the late 70s, I was a competitive cyclist.  I raced college and USCF races.  I trained hard and was very fit.  My Dartmouth College Team won the Ivy League cycling title all four years, and the Eastern College title in my senior year (second my junior year).  I enjoyed the racing, the training in beautiful country in Vermont and New Hampshire, the camaraderie, and being fit.  I loved the team raining rides, especially the hard climbs and the sprints to road signs.

            I particularly enjoyed being part of a successful team.  I definitely contributed to the team -- my 13th place finish in the A race in my junior year helped us to the Ivy title and second place in the Easterns -- but I was not, and clearly never would be, a top-notch competitive cyclist.  Based on my results, I knew that the end of my college days would be the end of my competitive cycling career.  I saw no reason to continue to experience the suffering of bike racing for the meager individual results that I had achieved and would likely continue to achieve.  And I didn't see myself getting up early to train before going to a nine-to-five job.  Only in college can you schedule all of your work in the morning so you can train with a team mid-afternoon.

            I had examples of older guys who raced, but they were either more successful than I or just downright more committed.  There was the local guy, 30-something, a trapper by trade, who rode with us occasionally and finished with me, around tenth place, in a mass-start 100K race (cat 3 and 4).  I was dissatisfied with my finish, and I couldn't see being satisfied with that kind of finish when I reached my thirties.  Once, after I finished third in a hill-climb (my best-ever finish in a USCF race), the winner drove me back to the start in his truck.  He was an older guy, balding, 30- or 40-something, and I was amazed that he was still cycling, not to mention beating much younger guys like me.  He said his friends thought he was crazy to race, but he liked it and it kept him in shape.  I was impressed, but I still couldn't see myself racing after college.

            I recall the many miles I rode in France while on a language study program there, and the people I saw cycling there.  I remember seeing older guys, 30-something and older, riding on the weekends wearing professional team jerseys that showed their big bellies.  I thought, I'll never be like them!

            True to my thinking, I discontinued racing, and all but discontinued riding, after my college graduation.  By the late 80s, my racing bike was merely transportation to soccer games.  Playing soccer kept me fit (somewhat), but a knee problem led me to discontinue that.  After cartilage was removed from a knee, and osteoarthritis diagnosed, I discontinued playing soccer, and began riding again to lose weight and get in shape. 

            Because I was horribly unfit, and some 40+ pounds over my cycling weight, I started with short rides, rides so short I never would have bothered to do them when I was a "cyclist."  In addition to 1 or 2 short rides before work each week, I started riding every Saturday and Sunday.  I made an agreement with my wife.  I'd have one weekend day to ride alone, and on the other I would take our son Brian, who was then one and a half years old.  Frankly, I didn't think I'd enjoy the rides with Brian as much as solo rides, and I agreed to take him ought of necessity.  I still had a "racing" kind of mentality, and couldn't see myself really enjoying doing the "daddy" thing towing Brian.

            How wrong I was!  The rides with Brian were better than the rides alone.  Brian enjoyed them, and we could talk and fool around.  He loved grabbing my jersey and the stuff in my pockets, and yelling "bike left" when we passed slower cyclists on the bike paths.  I loved tickling him, and singing with him.  He didn't mind 40-50 mile rides, and I didn't mind having to stop to let him play on one of the old railroad cabooses parked along the bike path.

            The joy of riding with Brian wasn't my only surprise on rediscovering cycling.  With kids and a career, I couldn't do long rides on a daily basis.  But to my surprise, I found that shorter rides are worthwhile.  I began to commute by bike to my office -- about 10 miles, a distance I never would have ridden in my competitive days.  It happened like this.  I was doing a 12-mile ride on the bike path before work 1 to 2 mornings a week, when I realized that other people on the path were riding their bikes to work, meaning that they were using their time more efficiently, and getting more miles in too.  I remember the first morning I commuted, and the huge grin on my face.  I couldn't believe I could ride a bike and get to work at the same time.  I felt like I was robbing a bank and getting away with it.

            That was nine years ago.  I still commute, year-round, in darkness, and through rain and snow.  I no longer treat each commute as a time trial -- unlike the early days.  And I feel camaraderie with my fellow bike-commuters.   I don't look down on those who ride slowly, or have junky bikes, or ride with team jerseys and big bellies. They are out there riding, and that's what matters.

            My rides with Brian continue, though less frequently than I'd like (I have to compete with baseball, football, Nintendo, playing with friends, etc.), and they have changed.  Seven years ago, I bought a tandem to ride with my wife.  (Rides where she rode her single bike were too slow for me.)  We first towed Brian, and then Brian and his younger brother Ethan, in a trailer behind us.  Two years ago, Brian became my stoker.  At first he was cautious, making me brake on the descents.  Gradually, he would egg me on to higher and higher speeds on the descents.  Our best ride was on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, where we beat Brian's 6 aunts and uncles around the island.  (Okay, so we weren't racing, and they were on mountain bikes.  Still . . . .)  Not too long ago, Brian and I rode the tandem pulling Ethan (7) and Nolan (1 1/2) in the trailer.  I hope we get to do that more.  (Unfortunately, Nolan didn't like it much, so I had to put the trailer away for a later day.)

            I don't know where all this will lead.  Will I still be bike-commuting at 65 years old?  Will Ethan (and later Nolan) want to stoke the tandem when they can reach the pedals?  I sure hope so. 

            Recently, I bought a cyclocross bike.  My thought was I would ride it in the winter when there's snow on the ground, using the wide studded tires I bought with it.  I must confess, though, that I plan on mounting the cyclocross tires first, and doing some off-road riding, something I have never done before. Hope to see you on the trails.

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