The Bike Has Come Full-Cycle

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle.  Most of us have gears we never use.”

                                   Charles M. Schulz

When I was a kid, a bicycle was an integral part of life.  It took us everywhere— school, friends’ houses, the candy store (“Long Island” for what today would be a convenience store… but with a soda fountain); even daring ventures such as the mall, a good five miles from home.  Everyone had one and every bike had roughly the same essentials: white-wall tires with wheel fenders, three speeds—slow, medium slow and slightly faster-- a chain guard (so you didn’t catch your dungarees!), kick stand, basket, horn, light and a very comfortable seat. 

Some of us even had bikes in college.  I went to Michigan State University, known for its serpentine bike paths.  It was a useful way to get around this large, beautiful campus.  Then life changed.  We graduated, got jobs and left our bikes in the family garage, a moth ball fleet of no-longer used toys, hula hoops, whiffle balls and boxes of used books…

In life, there is something called, a “paradigm shift.”  This is when suddenly, ubiquitously and seemingly out of nowhere, people embrace a similar value or behavior.  You may remember a decade ago kids everywhere seemed to have these slim scooters, which they stopped riding when suddenly there was play station; and who, today, doesn’t have a cell phone?  Can you remember when people didn’t have them?  A more specific example is the “smart phone.”  Who still uses a dumb phone?  Places with “wifi” seemed to proliferate at the speed of light…or, well… sound.  And bicycling, thanks in part to the Tour de France, has become a tour de force in our society again.

…During the past thirty-five years, the only bicycles I’ve ridden are the kind that go nowhere: gym bikes.  Sure, you burn calories and tone your body, but there’s little passion, little excitement and certainly no change of scenery.  In all the forms of exercise in which I’ve partaken, it never would have occurred to me to once again ride a “real” bike; until the advent of two near simultaneous events: (1) An enterprising venture in Poughkeepsie, New York, in which a burned-out relic of a bridge on which trains once transported freight was converted into a beautiful, picturesque historic landmark, “The Walkway Over the Hudson”, and, (2) The completion of a “rail trail”, a hiking and biking trail that was developed by the removal of tracks from a defunct railroad line.  Though bicycling is a burgeoning trend most everywhere since the paradigm shift, these two events greatly accelerated that growth in Dutchess County, New York. 

It seemed that everywhere I went there would be SUV’s with bikes mounted on back, and people riding bikes in the road with those “The Flash!” helmets and spandex clothing.  An epidemic that seemed to be spreading fast, I became infected.

Now... to be sure, I have no aspirations of entering the Tour de France! But if you’ve followed previous articles, you know I’m a proponent of exercise that enhances heart rate variability (HRV) for improved health.  And biking is a great form of exercise for that purpose, as well as for just plain fun.

So I went to a local establishment in the area (Bikeway) and purchased one.  The salesperson asked me what I wanted-- what I was used to.  There were zillions of choices here.  My only point of reference was my “Schwinn” from many years ago, which I recall, was still visible if you stood sideways! In contrast, everything I was looking at reminded me of a razor blade on wheels.  But after working a little more with the salesperson, I was smitten with a Cannondale that had a tush-friendly seat. Even got a matching helmet (it doesn’t look like The Flash!), water bottle and gauge for distance, speed and calories, among other things. I also purchased some of the bike clothes, which are surprisingly more comfortable than they appear.  I was ready…

I said to myself, “You work out routinely, this should be a piece of cake.” First time on the rail trail, I began at the beginning in Hopewell Junction and went 5 miles round trip, came home and my legs folded like a cheap beach chair.  I realized I had some training to do. 

In matters of strength training and endurance, it’s important to continually build the capacity to improve.  The next day, after the gym and after a hike with Mocha and Chip, I somehow willed myself to go 10.2 miles round trip. The exhilaration of the experience and the beautiful vistas likely propelled me!  People were riding bikes, walking, some with dogs, jogging and generally having a great time. (I would recommend that a couple of “kiosks” be installed, which sell water, juice, energy bars -- and maybe even a hot snack.)

Third time out, I went 12.75 miles, and yesterday, my fourth trip took me 15.33 miles round trip! The explorer in me set a goal to complete a round trip jaunt to the “walkway” bridge in a couple of weeks. 

I believe if you pace yourself while simultaneously increasing the challenge a little each time, you grow stronger and enjoy it ever more.  It’s a useful strategy for building the capacity to achieve a goal and staying positive in the process.  However, rest and recovery are also important, so today, I took the day off.  After all, the bike must be very tired....