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Do it for your knees

Today was my first “normal” ride (commute!) with my new clipless pedals and SPD shoes. After the mechanic installed the pedals and wheeled my bike back to me last week, he gushed about clipless, telling me what a world of difference it will be, how much more efficiently I’ll be riding, the new muscles I’ll be using to pedal. Yeah, yeah, I thought, I’ve heard it all before.

Boy, was he right!

I first noticed a difference when I was descending into the Staten Island Ferry parking area. At the bottom of the modest hill, there was a slight incline to get to the bike loading area. I pushed only slightly: my riding was much more fluid than previously so I didn’t have to put in as much effort. My body and my bike were a single unit, working together to move through space.

Then, on the other side of the ferry, I also felt like I was exerting less effort but moving faster. I only had to unclip once at a red light at the beginning of my ride. After that, it was smooth sailing. I compared this ride to a pre-clipless ride two weeks ago:

Monday, July 22, 2014

Monday, July 22, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

I went a little bit faster (up to 13.8 from 12.6 MPH) and shaved 3 minutes off my commute time! And this was me taking it easy (and trying not to mow down other commuters and pedestrians, despite their sometimes suicidal tendencies). I’m excited to see what kind of improvement I’ll see in hill-climbing!

…Having said all this, it was a little bit of an adjustment getting the hang of the pedals. It took me a while to figure out how the whole “clipping in” thing worked, though clipping out was easy enough with the multidirectional cleats I installed. I did fall during a quick lunchtime ride over the weekend, though, when I had to stop at a red light and, in a moment of panic, forgot which foot I lean on when stopped. The thing with clipless pedals? They become a part of your foot and you can’t help but feel that the pedal is “stuck” so you try to shake it off when it feels bothersome to have it under your foot. Don’t be like me, don’t try to shake off your clipless pedals. Unclip, folks, and you won’t bang up your knee.

And who knows where your adventures will take you next? My quick ride to Ft. Wadsworth had the unexpected bonus of goats (including some kids!). Alex captured this gorgeous photo of our view:

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You just have to keep your eyes peeled

I cycle through my hobbies pretty regularly: I was seriously into knitting, then vegan cooking & baking, then gardening, and now biking. Each is a part of my daily life but I have periods where I FREAKIN’ LOVE [insert hobby of the month here].

With my most recent interest in biking, I decided to sign up for a metric century (100km or 62mi) with a women’s cycling group for the Rapha Women’s 100 Challenge. I was wary of the distance as the longest ride I’d done prior to this was the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, which is just around 42 miles. I’d also never ridden outside of NYC proper and this ride would take us into Long Island. I’d also never ridden long distance without Alex so I was going to be all alone.

All of the worrying was for naught! The ride was a lot of fun and I was surprised by my ability to ride almost 80 miles in one day and the seeming ease with which I was able to do it.

womens100

I ended up doing over 122km since I needed to get to the starting location from the Staten Island Ferry terminal (and back). I felt great! I was sweaty, covered head-to-toe in sunblock, and surrounded by like-minded ladies. We passed by three beaches, walked across two bridges, and biked through three counties. (I actually biked through 5, including Manhattan’s New York county and Staten Island’s Richmond county.) It was glorious!

I loved it so much that, a week later, I embarked on my own pseudo-long-distance ride. I biked along the eastern coast of Staten Island through two beaches down to the southern-most part of New York State. I then biked up to Bloomingdale Park before making my way back home. All-in-all, I rode 38.9 miles on Staten Island’s horrible roads with some heavy traffic on Hylan Boulevard. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again because, honestly, it’s hard biking on Staten Island streets. There’s debris, potholes, and psychotic motorists.

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The one upside of this terrible ride was that, as a result, I needed new tires. I’ve been riding on my bike’s stock tires since I got it back in January 2012. I estimate that I’ve ridden somewhere around 4500 miles on its tires. It’s about time that I replaced them! But it wasn’t until after this Staten Island ride that I really had a reason to: the threading on the sidewalls wore down to the point where multiple bulges had developed. It was no longer safe to ride on them so I got myself a pair of Gatorskin tires—and then installed them myself, like the badass that I am.

At the same time, I also got myself a couple of Castelli cycling jerseys, a pair of Louis Garneau cycling shoes, and a set of Shimano PD-A530 combination clipless/platform pedals. I look like a serious cyclist now, ready to tackle more long distance rides!

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We’re good

My first biking experience every morning is a short but speedy descent down a hill. It’s a 72-foot drop over 539 feet (with a traffic light at the foot of the hill so I really have to be alert). It’s a fantastic way to wake up in the mornings. However, early on, I knew it wasn’t going to be all fun and games:

If every morning started off with a descent, every evening would end with an ascent. I’d have to climb a 13% grade every day. At first, I couldn’t do it. There’s a certain point where it becomes extremely difficult—when I can see the end in sight but my lungs and legs refuse to work any harder.

Gradually, I was able to conquer the hill. I would huff and puff up this tiny but mighty hill, with my legs turning into jelly when I finally get off my bike. These days, I’m much better but it’s still a struggle. I’m still out of breath and panting at the top of the hill, with a slight wobble to my gait when I dismount my bike.

…But not this guy:

This guy climbed a 38% grade (that’s 3 times as steep as my tiny hill!) and he didn’t even break a sweat. Ah, to be a tiny man on a lightweight steed who rides a bike for a living…

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