“You are one ride away from a good mood” – Sarah Bentley
At least, I usually am.
This is the tale of how I went from zero to 100 miles over 158 days. This is absolutely an exaggeration, mostly because I don’t want to do the math of when I first technically started biking. Was it in July of 2017, when I got a Trek FX 2 hybrid and started riding seven point five miles one-way to work? Was it when I got my first (and current) road bike, a Specialized Allez Sport, in August 2018? Or was it when I first learned to ride a bike, way back at the age of… five? Six? I’ll need to ask my parents. Anyway, the 158 came from December 2018 -> June 2019, because the former is when I did my first ride of enough length that a seasoned cyclist wouldn’t scoff at. :)
Sidebar: I’m going to continue on in story-telling vein here. There will be pictures. If you want to skip down to the bottom to look at m e t r i c s (for what they’re worth), be my guest! This is a portal to that part of the page -> metrics. Other portals of interest include traps and what next.
My first long-ish ride was in December 2018. I’m not entirely sure what came over me - maybe I was trying to escape the holiday season or something. I’d just moved into a new place in Mountain View, and my housemate had other plans.
Run Ride for the hills! I decided to attempt a three-day trip, going from Mountain View to Santa Cruz to Pescadero and finally back home. In hindsight, I probably could have squished at least two of those segments into a single day, but it doesn’t hurt to be overcautious at first.
I went to an aquarium in Santa Cruz, slept in a rustic cabin in Pescadero, and bore a wide grin on my face when I managed to get back to my neighborhood without a single ‘incident’. Speaking of which, here’s a portal for incidents.
On January 19th I benchmarked myself on Old La Honda and found that I’d be a ‘Group C’ rider if I chose to ride with the Western Wheelers. And so I did! Eight days later, I did my first WW ride, a forty-mile jaunt to Los Gatos and back with Craig, Laura, Lisa, and Mr. Hinkle.
On February 9th, I joined the South Bay Blaze group on a ride. These folks were training to ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles over a week in June, in an event called AIDS/LifeCycle. I didn’t do the week-long ride, but in the early months, SBB was instrumental in helping me increase my mileage. I ended up dropping out of the later training sessions because it felt slightly disingenuous to take advantage of their open rider policy when it was very clear that the goal was the event and that fundraising (something I wasn’t particularly interested in) was a major part of it.
In the last week of February, I got ‘bike-fitted’ at Specialized in San Mateo. This is a process wherein experts will adjust and optimize every aspect of your bicycle that could possibly affect your comfort and well-being - cleat positions, seat height, handlebar angle, and the like. To be honest, it took a while to get used to the new configuration, but over the long-term I think it helped me with pain in my lower back and legs on climbs and lengthy rides. Digression: I was cat-sitting Drunk Cat for my friend Justin at the time, and you can view his gorgeous photos here.
March was when I got serious serious. I took a Friday off of work, and carpooled with Bill Sherwin up to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. This was a Western Wheelers “Long Distance Training” (LDT) weekend, with a shorter ride on Friday, a long one on Saturday, and a ‘recovery’ ride (30 miles) on Sunday. On riding back into town on Friday, I encountered my first (and only) flat of the year. Luckily, I was within walking distance of Spoke Folk Cyclery, and all was well. Saturday’s ride had the most elevation I’d encountered in any ride before - a whopping 4,900 feet! It’s also where I discovered that I’m a glutton for punishment and vastly prefer climbing to descending.
The week after Healdsburg, we rode in the hills bordering Berkeley. Despite it being the same elevation (4,900ft) over roughly 20% fewer miles, it felt easy! The descents were still harrowing, but yay, progress! A week after that, we were riding in Pacific Grove - it was yet another LDT weekend, and an amazing one at that. Saturday was my first metric century (100 km / 62 mi). Clear skies, the sea a mesmerizing blue, and the siren call of Monterey’s beautiful hills could not be escaped. I was discovering that riding with the Wheelers was (and is) a guaranteed method for alleviating the humdrum of weekly life, punctuating it with gripping landscapes and fun company. I also had a lot to learn - the D’s and E’s and (on rough days) the faster C’s would often leave me in the dust. Until the next regroup, sure, but humbling either way.
Mid-April, we rode in Livermore. I tried riding with the D’s - it was fine initially, but post-lunch I was definitely slowing them down. Lunch legs! The wildflowers on the hills kicked my sinuses into overdrive for several days. I also participated in the Primavera metric century; the weather was rainy/foggy at the start, but it turns out that that helps you from overheating when you have hills to climb! The rest stops had sumptuous arrays of food. At the end of the month, I figured it’s finally time to get a car - battling with rental car trunks and back-seats was getting old. I figured I’d get a convertible and a trunk rack; after all, what better time than my early twenties? Later on, it might get ‘inconvenient’, assuming I have more friends/family to ferry. And if I waited too long, people would be quick to spout the dreaded “midlife crisis” phrase. I like to think that I follow the Feynman way of life (‘what do you care what other people think?’), but hey, my armor’s got chinks too.
In May I did another organized metric century - the I-Care Classic down in Morgan Hill. I got divebombed by insects, and it was hot, but otherwise very fun. This was the month I experimented with weekday rides with the Wheelers after work, but I found that those folks are fast and dedicated to speed. Still, it was a way for me to maintain mileage as my planned century in June approached.
June 2nd was my century ride. 100 miles of smooth sailing, clockwise around Lake Tahoe. I was tired at the end, definitely, but I wasn’t dropping dead! Potatoes and pickle juice should be a mandate everywhere, in my opinion. No mechanical breakdowns either, despite me having committed the cardinal sin of swapping out a component the day prior. I did a warm-up ride (15 miles, nothing fancy) to Pope Beach two days before the event, and lounged about the day before. The rest of June was fairly unremarkable - I think I was floating around on the happy feeling the century gave me.
In fact, most of the rest of the year was fairly unremarkable from a cycling point of view! My summer got dominated by hanging out with friends who were on the West Coast for their internships. We hiked a fair amount, my favorite day involving the Clouds Rest trail in Yosemite National Park. I was at home in Bangalore for three weeks in September, and the month also brought with it the Oktoberfest BBQ ride, courtesy of the Wheelers. I rode up and down Mt. Hamilton in October, and completed the Cycle of Hope metric century in November, but both of those days left me feeling like I’d been run over by a bus. It went a long way to show that practice - regular practice - is everything.
Let’s take a look at some graphs. Yay, graphs! The first is miles vs months.
The second is feet climbed vs months.
We… don’t speak about August. August never happened. Shh.
Strava has a nice training calendar which gives me a birds-eye view of 2019.
So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not get into any accidents. At least, not any that I didn’t deserve - there was one time back when I still rode the hybrid where I was trying to navigate home on my phone, had to brake one-handed, and ended up somersaulting over the front wheel… but the only damage I suffered was to my ego, so it wasn’t too bad.
I’ve found that there are some traps you can fall into on the road to 100. I know this because, to an extent, I’ve fallen into them. :)
- Overoptimizing training: Once I got into the groove of riding, I started worrying quite a bit about what the “right” strength training program looked like. I would spend an hour a week trying to design the best progressive legs and core programs, but I’m someone who ends up getting bored after a few weeks at the gym. If you can fit in legs and core exercises and don’t hate it, do it, but nothing beats spending more time on your bike.
- The rabbit hole known as “gettin’ more gear”: In case you didn’t read the last point, nothing beats time on bike. It honestly doesn’t matter if you have a carbon road bike or not, or disc brakes or not, or electronic shifters or not. If you’re just starting out, the maximum RoI you get is when you ride, and then ride some more. Get stronger! It’s easier on your wallet. :)
“Thanks for sharing the story of your early peak and rapid decline!”, you say. Now what? Well…
Anyone looking at Strava will see that I’ve been rather lazy this year. My first ride of the year in January was a) a metric century, but b) involved two flats and a bus ride for eight miles, so maybe it’s not a metric. Also, I’m finding it rather hard to find the motivation to get up early for a ride these days, especially if the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve been thinking about riding at lunch whenever I ride into work - that would be a quick and easy way to up my mileage. I don’t have a target mile count or goal this year, though. Maybe my ‘goal’ is to prioritize quality over quantity. Maybe I’m just making excuses.
Another thing I tried this year was volunteering at the Silicon Valley Bike Exchange’s bike repair. It was a fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday, and I learned a good chunk. I definitely need to get better (read: faster) at repairing punctured tubes, but that should come with practice.
An acquaintance at work has been trying to get me to sign up for the Death Ride this year. Five peaks, fifteen thousand feet… I don’t think I’d survive without training, so I need to make a decision soonish.
Finally, I’ve been dwelling more and more on an REI presentation I attended last year. In it, Klaus Komenda talked about his journey from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., via the TransAmerica trail. His journey of ~five thousand miles is inspiring, and I’d love to be able to do that one day. I’d need to take time off work, so I don’t know that it’ll happen any time soon, but a boy can dream.