In middle school, when I was really struggling, my mom and I went for a ride in a park near the bay in the industrial part of Richmond. I felt like I could bike out all of my anger and sadness and leave it there. I've never been back, even though I often drive by it (It's just off the Richmond Parkway). I kind of lost track of my bike in high school, but rediscovered it in a big way when I moved to Davis.
When I decided to go to UC Davis, I knew that there was a lot of biking there, but it wasn't really something that influenced my decision. Before leaving for college, I bought an old red Specialized mountain bike with no shocks. I put a Pineapple Sails "Powered by Pineapples" sticker on the back post and biked over to the Piedmont fire station to register it. I never had a car (or a cell phone..."OMG, how did you survive!") while in college so the bike was my sole means of transportation for the next four years. I biked to class on it, to practice at 7pm and home from practice at 10pm, to work at the primate center 4 miles out in the middle of the farm fields, to the grocery store and then home while balancing three bags on each handlebar, and from house to house around town, often with friends in a "bike gang." Over the course of four years of leaving the bike outside day and night 365 days per year, it became more and more rusted and squeaky, and while I did all of the minimal repairs to keep it running, during my senior year, you could hear the bike coming about a block away. I got a lot of odd looks.
For parts of college, we also had a shared bike amongst some friends. It was a white and neon yellow 20 inch kids bike called White Lightning. The handlebars and the seat were both loose so you could turn the handlebars without actually turning the bike, and the seat could flip all the way around to backwards, so you had to ride it carefully. Instead of locking the bike when we parked it, we'd just turn the seat to the side so it didn't look appealing to steal and ride. After a year or two, the front wheel got bent so it wobbled when you rode it as well. Because we never locked it, every once in a while, I'd ride it to class, only to come out a couple of hours later to find it gone, only to reappear downtown a couple of weeks later. It was a spectacular way to get around town.
When I was in the credential program, White Lightning had long disappeared on campus and my Pineapple bike was fighting through a series of flat tires and mechanical difficulties, so I often rode Melissa's old Motobecane cruiser, a beautiful blue bike that rode like a hybrid between a road bike and a cruiser with a big metal basket on the front and a leather seat. We fixed it up a couple of years later and it's still running strong, although with a different front basket after the first one fell off and jammed the front wheel causing the bike to crash.
When Melissa and I moved to San Rafael, we were just a couple of miles from China Camp State park, so I bought a hardtail Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike and retired the rusted remains of my old "Powered by Pineapples" frame after cannibalizing it for all of its (very, very few) useable parts. On weekends, I'd bike down to China Camp and get some single-track riding in, sometimes going over the hill to meet Melissa as she worked weekends at Glenwood. I also took the Hoo Koo E Koo to the Marin headlands and rode around Muir Beach and Tennessee Valley, discovering the spot I'd later propose at the top of Tennessee Valley.
In the summer of 2009, Melissa and I got married and bought our house in Novato. That summer, a couple of days before school began, I had a coaches meeting on San Marin's campus and my bike was stolen from the outdoor bike racks. It was crushing, but it got me to get a new mountain bike and a road bike. Both are older bikes, but run beautifully. As much as I can, I try to ride them to school. Last year, for the first time, I went on a real road ride to do the Tour of Novato. It was a blast. Road bikes can get you going so fast and I found it really satisfying to be able to crank through 35 miles in just a couple of hours. Then I pretty much abandoned road biking, except for commuting to and from school for the last year. A couple of weeks ago, Tour of Novato came around again and again I remembered how much I like riding. Although technically it's not a race and there was no official start or end time, I'm going to go ahead and declare myself the winner of the 2012 tour since I passed 12 or so people and was never passed, myself.
Here's an excellent picture courtesy of Sue McQuinn that shows me surging into the lead of Tour of Novato 2012 (although the quick shutter speed doesn't accurately capture my roaring speed. Imagine the picture with speed lines coming off my back and you'll get a better idea):
- Tire pressure is really important. Riding on under-inflated tires is really, really difficult. This becomes especially obvious when you actually take the time to fill them up and suddenly the ride home from work is twice as easy.
- Even a slight uphill takes way more energy than a slight downhill. I had no idea that my house is at a slightly higher elevation than San Marin. When I'm driving it, or walking it, the entire trip seems to be pretty much entirely flat, but on a bike, the elevation change becomes really obvious. The ride to school takes very little effort; I could probably do the entire thing without pedaling. The ride home, however, is much more difficult; I've got to expend a lot of energy to push myself up the barely visible hill that we apparently live on.
- The steeper the hill, the more difficult to climb. Duh. (Ok, I didn't actually have to learn that one on a bike...)
- Acceleration is where all of the energy is used. Once you're up to speed on a bike, it's easy to maintain your speed, but getting started from a full stop takes a few good hard pushes to get you going.
- Riding on a smooth road is much easier than dealing with bumps or cracks. The little bumps your tires have to deal with increase the friction and slow you down a lot.
- Wind is the most difficult condition to deal with. Rain gets you wet and is unpleasant, but riding into the wind will make the trip twice as difficult. It's truly amazing how cars can drive at the same speed regardless of wind.
All of this has made me really appreciate the energy it takes to power a car and the small things you can do to make your gas go a little bit further.