Friday, July 29, 2011

I don't wear shorts

A reader, Leslie, asks if I wear chamois-padded shorts. Maybe I should answer him in the "comments" section of this blog, but I'm not yet sure yet how to do that. Besides, his question brings up the larger one of equipment in general. So I'll address that in today's post.

The short answer on shorts is, no, I don't. I ride in loose-fitting cargo pants. The long answer (hopefully not too long) follows:

(Warning: This really is a bit long-winded. But I'm thinking of other folks in their sixties or seventies who might be fighting the urge to ride their bikes because of a mistaken belief that they are too old. I'm hoping that if they see how I got to the verge of riding 80 miles on my 80th, they could see how they might do it, too.)

So. I'm not really into equipment. At least not yet. A couple of years ago, when we moved to the Orenco Station neighborhood of Hillsboro, OR, I got the idea of riding to nearby stores on my bike as a way to get a little exercise, use less fossil fuel, and have a little fun. I had brought a 3-speed Japanese commuter bike, inherited from my sister-in-law, with us from the East Coast. I hadn't ridden in traffic, before, so when I got here I bought some flashing lights -- head and tail -- and when the weather was right I'd venture out to the post office, drug store, etc. I wore the same loose-fitting cargo pants and high-top Reeboks that I wear every day. I bought a helmet and a high-visibility vest, and for the first few outings that was it.

In other words, I wasn't planning to be a cyclist. I just wanted to use my bike to get around on. Without having to change my clothes. In pants that had pockets for my phone, camera, wallet, keys, etc.

Soon afterwards, I bought a rear-view mirror that attaches to my eyeglasses. I was too inflexible and far too unsteady to turn around while riding, like youngsters do, and look over my shoulder. But I found that there were times when I really needed to know what was coming up behind me. It took a long time to get comfortable with the mirror, but eventually it became second nature to use it, the way you use a side-view mirror on a car.

I already had an odometer on my bike. And a cable and combination padlock.

Oh -- and this is important -- when I saw that the Hillsboro Public Library was offering a one-hr class on bicycle safety, I went to it.

Anyway, for the first year or two, I only rode only once or twice a month. But then two things happened: I discovered that it was fun to just get out and ride, even when I had nowhere to go; and I realized I was getting old. I mean, old. Decrepit. Unsteady on my feet. Always thinking of a nap. Hurting myself by picking up a suitcase. In pain from sitting too long.

When I say unsteady, I mean it. I'd have people lurching to their feet to help me. I fell off my bike when I was stopped, because when I started to fall over I couldn't move my foot quickly enough to catch myself. (I survived without injury, but my cell phone was DOA.)

Did I say two things happened? Well, it was three. The third was that it dawned on me that while my general decrepitude was progressing apace, some of my cycling was actually getting easier. My body was actually responding. I was taking a hill in 2nd gear that used to demand 1st gear.

Wow. I began to wonder how far I could take this. If I'm actually getting better at 78, what could I expect at 79? 80? And, most of all, if my cycling improved, how much would it help my general conditioning? So I started riding a little farther, and farther. And feeling better and better. (Except for some days when I thought I would die, but more on that some other time.) I don't know exactly when the idea of riding 80 on my 80th hit me, but when it hit, it stuck.

And equipment had little to do with it. It was all about conditioning. If I got a lighter bike, with more gears, and clothes designed for bike riding, it would be irrelevant to what I was doing. And it would actually make it harder to gauge my progress. I'd always be wondering, "could I have done this on my old bike? In my cargo pants?"

So that's why I'm not wearing shorts, Leslie. (That and vanity -- you haven't seen me in shorts!) I do have a gel seatcover on my saddle, though. And I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for "chamois lotion," which I never even knew existed. Because the time may come when I need it. (For now, the problem is not friction, it's just the pressure points.)

Well, that's enough on equipment for now. Today I didn't ride, just did my core exercises. Tomorrow I plan to go 15 miles, with sprints.

Thanks for listening, and please ask me questions. ESPECIALLY if you are inexperienced, decrepit, old, scared, and wistful about your lost vitality. I'm having so much fun it makes me feel almost guilty. Help me assuage my guilt by letting me help you along the way. If I can do it, you can do it, and I'll bet I can prove that to you.


  1. I'm struggling to understand the "not about the gear" statement! Ha. For me sadly it's probably 50% gear, 50% athletic achievement. We had a guy in our ride group (sadly he moved away) and he said he'd walk into the bike shop, hold up his credit card and say "MAKE ME FASTER!".

  2. so nice post, thanks for sharing.