March 26, 2002
Saddle Up

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 be BEV) -- 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 tomorrow."

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 forever.

And then I went out and rode my new bike.

don't even get me started on the TOE CLIPS

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 throw 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 after 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 'saddle.'

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 $87.50 shoehorn.

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 the butt.

And frankly, that's an added discomfort my poor aching derriere can't take right now.

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what can i tell you?
last year it was 'all wedding chat/all the time.'
this year ... it's bikes.