Not sure what it was exactly. Maybe it was the new year, 2010. Maybe it was riding home in the cold and the dark at 9:30pm. Maybe it was the realization that the ride I do daily and casually – to get to and from work – would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. Whatever the impetus, I started to reflect on how far I’ve come in cycling, how far I have to go, and how quickly it has all happened.
It is the latter that really struck me. Cycling is a big part of my life. It is my primary mode of transportation (by time, and by miles some weeks) as well as my primary recreational activity. It invigorates me, motivates me, and in many ways defines part of who I am. It is such a huge part of my life that I feel like I’ve always been a cyclist. But in fact it has been more like 3 very short years. That’s right – three. And it all began because of a little job I took in Palo Alto – while living in Sacramento.
I knew right away that I wanted an alternative to driving the 125 miles of freeway between my house and the new office. I did a little research, and found out I could actually take a bike onto a couple of commuter trains – the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, and Caltrain – and I started to consider buying a bike. The train station was about a 5 miles from where I was living at the time. In addition, I was actually staying in temporary housing about 3 days out of the week in Mountain View – about 8 miles from the office. Palo Alto can be a little challenging for parking, so I was anxious to use a bike to get from the temp housing to the office as well. I decided to make the plunge into the wild, woolly world of a bicycle commuter.
More because of proximity to my house than anything else, I found myself with a few hundred bucks checking out the bikes at The Bicycle Business. I can’t recall the exact price – I think it was somewhere around $550 – but I found myself the owner of a brand new, shiny Fuji Absolute DX. It was about August or September, 2007.
I continued to ride off and on through the winter of 2007-2008. The 5 mile rides are ok. The 8+ mile rides are something I can do, but I often find an excuse to stop along the way (coffee on the trip in to work, grocery store for dinner on the way home). I’m cruising along at 10 mph, 12 if I’ve got a good tail wind most of the time. I get a couple of 15 mph sprints in from time to time, but any ride of 10 miles or more is a “big” ride, usually done on the weekends and involving a lot of huffing, puffing and fatigue. I have no specific riding schedule to speak of, and even cheat by driving instead of riding more often than not.
Coming of age HTFU
I think it was also somewhere in there that I made my first major shift towards a more serious cycling experience – I replaced my toe clips with some Shimano clipless pedals. Sure, they were baby steps – I went for a model of pedal that actually has a flat surface on one side, and the receptor for the shoe cleat on the other side – allowing for easy riding no matter what shoes you are wearing. In fact, those pedals are still around – only these days they’re living large on my daughter Zarah’s Fuji Ace 650.
The spring and summer of 2008 was a big transition – let’s call it the teenage years of my cycling life. As those of you that know me or have read some of my other writings will already be aware, I am a Type I diabetic. I ran across a flier at a local bike shop – or somewhere – about the Tour de Cure, a benefit ride to raise money for diabetes research. This seemed like a good excuse to try something new. It was cycling – something I wanted to do more of – and helping a cause I care a great deal about. I was slowly but surely beginning to think of myself as “a cyclist” – and rides were more and more about me just wanting to get out and ride, and less and less about just getting to work and back. The Tour de Cure seemed like a good way to do something a little more. Oh yea – I convinced my 9 year old daughter to do the same! I bought her the Fuji 650 mentioned earlier for about $250 and presto – instant roadie.
So I signed up for a 50K – or about 36 miles for those imperially minded among you. At this point, I believe 15 miles had been my longest single ride. I had a long way to go and a short time to do it. However, I had an ace in the hole (there’s a pun there if you look hard enough.) One of my challenges at that time (and still something of a challenge for me today) was pacing. However, with my daughter going along I felt pretty confident that she would be setting the pace and not me. Built in ride pacer. Sweet…
As I started heading out on more and more “training” rides, I manged to plow my way through one 20 mile ride before the “big day” – the Tour de Cure ride. Chloe made it – and so did I. In fact, after we were done I actually felt like I could have kept riding! It was great. It also felt like something of a milestone – completing my first formal “ride.” I was well on my way.
As I continued to ride through 2008 I began to both increase my “cruising” speed, and also become more comfortable doing 30 miles or so at a time. I was getting closer to more like 15 mph during normal rides, and I was riding *a lot* more. In addition, in Dec 2008 we moved to a new house that was around 8 miles from the train station. I’d done that type of commute before (in Palo Alto) but usually only once a week or so. Now I was riding 15-16 miles round trip, regularly, 3 days a week. In addition I also went out on rides on the weekends, or on days when I didn’t commute. I was basically just putting on a lot more miles, and I started to notice the effects.
I also started to treat my commutes like training rides. I’d push up to lactic threshold during the rides. I was carrying as much 30-40 pounds in my panniers some days, further adding to the training benefit.
Finally, I can call myself a “real” cyclist
Still, almost all of my rides were by myself, or perhaps with my wife. I hadn’t ever experienced an actual group ride at this point – and I was thinking about it more and more. There were a couple of things holding me back, however. First was my bike. I just couldn’t imagine myself tagging along on a club ride with my aluminum, flat bared commuter hybrid. The bike itself was also becoming something of a constraint to my actual “top-end” performance too. The bike was heavy – I’d guess over 25 pounds with all of the racks, fenders, lights and whatnot that make commuting reasonable. The drive-train was starting to show signs of wear and tear too. The rear derailleur hanger had been bent and straightened a couple of times – mostly damage from the buses and trains my commute takes me through. Because of this and general wear, ghost shifts were not uncommon. The bike had some miles, was abused by the stresses of commuting, and probably hadn’t been maintained to the optimal level.
I started to plot and scheme about getting myself a new bike.
In the mean time, the summer of 2009 rolled along, with me continuing to put on miles. The Tour de Cure was attended by “Del Duca Cycling Team” yet again – this time with my wife Melissa, and youngest daughter Zarah. The older daughter Chloe – the veteran of the 2008 Tour – opted out for 2009. I’d kept pushing my wife to buy a bike – mostly because I selfishly wanted her to go along with me on my rides, and I knew here cruiser put her at a significant handicap. And in March of 2009, she was happily riding a Specialized Dolce. My wife had a honest-to-goodness road bike before me. But that was absolutely OK – because I got a riding partner in the process!
But my sights were still set on a new bike of my own. I plotted. I schemed. I read review after review. I changed my mind about what I might want on an almost daily basis. Finally I settled on a model. But there weren’t that many of them around. There were none in Sacramento (in fact, I don’t think anyone in Sacramento sells this brand of bike at all). I did, however, locate one in Davis and one in Palo Alto, less than a block from my work. The decision was made – my goal was set. I was going to own a Look 566.
It took a little longer than I expected to be the actual owner of this beauty, but it finally happened. As soon as I rode this thing I just felt faster. At 17 lbs or so it is a full 10 lbs lighter than my commuter. I’d done it. I was a “real cyclist.” This bike changed everything. 30 miles became my normal “casual” ride. 50 or 70 were days where I had a little more time available. I felt confident enough to go find myself a group to ride with.
That pretty much brings us up to the current time. Group rides are becoming a normal, expected Saturday activity for me. I’ve yet to reach my goal of 20 miles in one hour, but I think I’m getting closer. I’m also targeting the Seattle to Portland ride for this coming July. And of course I’ll be doing the Tour de Cure this year – only this time around I’m the captain of Team Red – a team of diabetic riders and those that ride with them. If the logistics work out I’ll be riding the century at the Tour de Cure.
My riding today is so much different from what it was just a short couple of years ago that it actually feels like I’ve been riding for a lot longer. Bikes have become a significant part of my life and my identity, and I’m probably on my way to becoming healthier and fitter than ever before. Before long, if you look really closely, you’ll see me out mixing it up in the local races.
Cheers – happy cycling!
P.S. This post was actually written in pieces over a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, as written about in other posts in this blog, my original commuter bike – the Fuji – was stolen off of Caltrain on my way to work. In this article I tried to highlight some of the milestones and rites of passage in my cycling. Unfortunately, for all too many of us getting a bike stolen is among those.