Antique Bike, Antique Muscles

March 18th, 2012 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Is there an equivalent cliché along the line of  a day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine, one for a week without cycling?

I grieved the past seven days with an inoperable road bike. I’ve been waiting for crucial parts to arrive. Today, I lugged out the old, very heavy mountain bike from over 20 years ago, just to get back in the saddle. Wow, it was a lot of work.

I think of my mother complaining when she drove the family car that I had taken off her hands and had out of state for several years in college. When I returned for a visit, she drove it instead of her company-issued new sedan. She returned puzzled and a little angry, asking, “What did you do to the steering?” She said it was so hard that she could barely turn, much less park.

We quickly figured out that it wasn’t the steering, rather it was the contrast with the new one, with power steering. The old one was light and to me easy to handle, but it had manual. Likewise, when I see a manual typewriter set up, I use it if I can, just to recall the feeling of having to use some muscle (particularly with the little fingers) to press keys that move levers.

Today, I was on a bike that weighs over twice my usual, well over 40 pounds. It has a steel frame, no suspension, and very inefficient gears. The Sierra was Schwinn’s first try at a mountain bike. It did what it did well, mostly being tough enough to rumble down hills strewn with boulders, to crash without bending, and to have a crank with low enough gears to hump up steep roads and paths.

After taking a hilly road route that I hum along with my road bike, I find my quads burning. That’s definitely good and should serve to remind me that tech and related advances can be enemies of fitness.

Intellectually, I knew that the road bike has by far the most efficient gears and is lighter than any other bike I’ve owned. However, experiencing that knowledge for over 20 miles is far, far more meaningful. My body as well as mind knows that a much heavier bike with clunky gears is one devil of a lot more work.

The good aspect of that is that many of us cyclists claim to want to bike in part for the exercise. A set of wheels that is too easy deludes us into thinking the same 20 or 30 or 50 miles traveled is real work, with real benefits.

I promise to make trips around the Boston area, including the huge humping hills around this part on the old Schwinn at least once a week. It can only be good for me physically and remind me, as manual typewriters do, of how easy we often make things for ourselves.


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