Today as I rode home listening to my chain plead loudly for me to lube it, I thought back to my return to cycling as an adult. I had used my bike some for transportation in college, but after graduating and moving to Des Moines, Iowa, I essentially stopped cycling and drove most places even when they were only a few miles away. I have never been a fan of driving, but I lapsed into accepting that it was a necessary way of life. I did not seek an alternate transportation method.
After moving to Washington, D.C., driving was less palatable. Narrow streets, overcrowded roads, limited parking, and a (mostly) reliable system of mass transit opened the door to a new way of life where a car did not figure into the equation.
Initially, I used Metro and my own two feet to take me all the places I needed to go. Eventually, though, I dusted off my old Ross mountain bike and decided to give transportation and recreational cycling another whirl. I packed up a backpack and hopped on my bike.
At first, I was pretty hopeless with the whole cycling thing.
I over-lubed my chain and essentially drowned the rear cassette, certain it would solve any shifting problems I might encounter. I aired up my tires, but somehow convinced myself that tires only need to be inflated once a year. Why did I believe that? I really have no idea.
After a pinch flat and a trip to the bike shop, a mechanic informed me that tires should be aired up more than once a year. I am so glad he did not laugh at my ignorance.
My insane chain lube application did not help my shifting problems, and I learned that dousing the gears with lube was not the answer. A bit of maintenance was required.
I initially chose some heavily trafficked roads for my rides to work, and I researched alternate methods that might work better and be somewhat safer for getting me from point A to B.
Weekend routes were primarily via the local paths, as I was scared to venture out onto the roads. And riding beyond the Beltway? Past the Metro lines? What if I got lost? What if I pedaled further than I thought my legs could take me? Then what?
Things eventually started to fall into place. After a couple of bike rides to and from work, I realized that it was the fastest way to get from home to my office. A few weekend rides on the trail showed me that I could explore more of the city on two wheels than by walking.
A couple of bike upgrades later, I realized that I was really enjoying this bicycling thing. It was becoming my main mode of transportation and recreation. As I continued to ride, I developed better confidence with riding in traffic, honed my skills at anticipating what drivers might do, and figured out how to best position myself on the road at any given time. I finally started to feel like I knew what I was doing.
Through trial and error (and meeting Felkerino) I learned basic bicycle maintenance. I bought a floor pump and a multi-tool, and every couple of weeks I aired up my tires.
Weekend rides on the trail evolved into a summer RAGBRAI, rides into the countryside outside D.C., and eventually century rides and longer.
Nine years later and I have a partner who shares my cycling-centric lifestyle. I still commute and recreate by bike, and ride brevets when I can.
As I listened to my chain squeak away today (oil. me. please.), I thought about how far I’ve come from that person who thought she only needed to air up her tires once a year and that lube would was the solution to all things shifting-related. It happened over a period of years, but when I compare where I am to where I started, it seems hard to believe.
I never imagined all of the things that I do by bike, nor how proud and happy they all make me feel.