Last week, a friend of
mine -- a friend who shall remain anonymous here, in order to protect
her privacy (although she might
be a fellow Internet journaler, and her initials might
-- wrote to ask me for some advice. She has recently taken up
bike-riding, for fun and for fitness, and she had a question about a
rather *sensitive* issue:
... Since you're now the expert,"
she wrote, "I have a question
for you. I have just been out for my first 20 minutes of bike riding.
There are parts of your body that you use a lot more than I do. Uh--how
do you make such parts...uh...'comfortable' on a ride longer than 20
minutes??? I have a feeling I'm going to be walking like a cowboy at
the end of a long cattle drive by the time I get around the lake
I wrote her back
immediately, all about how everybody is sore for the first few days.
"The only thing that really helps is time and practice," I told her,
with all the smug superiority of the one-year *veteran* counseling the
cycling newbie. Plus, I said, once you're broken in -- so to speak -- a
decent pair of Spandex riding pants are a girl's best friend. As I was
writing to her, I remember thinking Thank
god I don't have to worry about stuff like THAT anymore.
I assumed that all of that beginner's discomfort was *behind* me
And then I went out and
rode my new bike.
It's amazing how the
smallest changes can wreak the most havoc. It's sort of like new shoes.
Say you've been wearing the same *Shoes-R-Us* one-and-a-half-inch
platform-heeled open-toed sandals for a couple of years. They're cheap,
they're comfortable, they've become your favorite all-purpose
schlep-around-the-office shoes. When they wear out, you just
them away and go back to the mall to buy another pair. What could be
simpler? Except that one day you go to the shoe store, only to discover
that they've tragically discontinued the line. The closest thing
they've got is a two-inch stack heel. They're not nearly as nice as
your old favorites, but you buy them anyway, figuring How
bad can they be?
Two days later you're
hobbling around the office like The Agony of Defeat Guy, feeling
pain in leg muscles you didn't even know you had.
That's how it's been,
switching from the Schwinn to the Trek. Minor changes in things like
posture and position have HUGE
physical repercussions. I am sore in places I assumed would never be
sore again -- now that I'm this fabulously accomplished, experienced
cyclist and everything -- plus I'm sore in a few other places
I'd never even considered vulnerable to riding-related pain. My upper
arms, for instance. Now that I'm forced to lean forward more -- now
that I'm gripping an entirely different kind of handlebar -- it
stretches my arm muscles in entirely different ways. My arms were never
sore after riding the Schwinn, not even in the beginning. But
a couple of hours on the new bike, merely lifting the Aquafina bottle
to my lips was agonizing.
This new riding posture
also puts more pressure on my right wrist, exacerbating the carpal
tunnel stuff. I have to consciously force myself to adjust my grip
every few minutes -- move it to the left, move it to the right, let go
altogether and shake it all about. Otherwise my hand goes completely
numb after five minutes. I can't even feel myself gripping the hand
brake ... which is downright scary when you're attempting to navigate a
skittish new 27-speed on a rain-soaked bike trail.
My right foot is going
numb occasionally, too, although for different reasons. I've got a
lumpy knot of bone growth on the instep side of my right foot, just
below the big toe ... the result, no doubt, of years of dropping phones
and pallets and six-packs of rootbeer on my foot. I first noticed the
lump when I was living in Oregon a few years ago, and since then it's
been quietly acquiring mass and density and (*I* believe) a will of its
own. (Lumpy Knot of Bone Growth:
"Tell her to quit shopping at *SHOES
R US,* forcryingoutloud.")
Now that I'm on the groovy new bike, the combination of tight athletic
shoes/stoopid goddamn TOE CLIP
is putting pressure directly on the bone growth. When that happens, it
compresses the nerves in my foot, and after a few minutes I'm dead from
the ankle down. I'm sure it's nothing that a little surgery -- and a
pair of bazillion-dollar cycling shoes -- can't fix.
However, the portion of
my anatomy most profoundly affected by the new bike is ... uhh ... my
Or, more accurately, the
portion of my anatomy that SITS on one.
When we were buying the
new bike, two weekends ago, the Groovy Bike Store Salesgrrl in
Berkeley talked us into swapping out the factory-issued plain vanilla
bike seat for an ultra-trendy Avocet 02 Genuine Leather Saddle. "This
is the very best women's bike saddle on the market," she said earnestly
and sincerely, tacking another $87.50 onto the credit card bill.
Privately I wasn't convinced. How was my ample (albeit fit and
attractively-proportioned) rear end going to fit on this hard, bumpy,
teeny-tiny bike seat? And how comfortable could it possibly be?
All I can tell you is
this: it's been forty-eight hours since our last ride and I STILL
can't sit down.
Don't get me wrong. The
benefits of having a groovy new bike vastly outweigh any temporary
negatives. I love its responsiveness and maneuverability. I love its
streamlined good looks. I love how light it is: I can lift it in and
out of the trunk of the Subaru all by myself. I love being able to not
only keep up with David on the trail, but to pass him occasionally.
Plus I'm sure that most of this discomfort is temporary. Eventually my
arm muscles will get used to the reach. Eventually I'll take out that
bank loan and buy a decent pair of bike shoes. Eventually I'll learn
how to grip the handlebars correctly.
Eventually my rear end
will grow accustomed to riding on something that feels like an
Still, maybe I won't be
quite so quick to act smug and superior, next time someone writes to
ask me for advice ... especially advice about bike-riding. Smug isn't a
good look for me, and superior almost always comes back to bite me in
And frankly, that's
an added discomfort my poor aching derriere can't take right now.
in 2002 index