Before my old Peugeot was stolen, I began riding it again around 2004 in order to fulfill a little dream I had. I am fortunate enough to work about 5 miles from my home in a bicycle-friendly town. For some time, an idea had been germinating in my brain: with all the traffic congestion along the main east-west thoroughfare, why not ride my bike to work? There were so many reasons to do it — one less car on the road, saving gas, getting exercise and fresh air — and few reasons not to. One morning I hopped on and made it happen. I’ll never forget the first time I labored up “hospital hill” heading west toward downtown; I thought I was in decent shape, but what now is a minor incline to me at that time seemed like a mountain. I huffed and puffed my way to work but felt great about it. The office building had showers next to a small exercise room, so I was able to clean up before work. I began commuting more and more, taking changes of work clothes on the days I drove my car and storing them in my office.
Bit by bit I began trying longer rides on the weekends and building up strength and endurance. Typically I favored mainly flat out-and-back rides south through Alamo and Danville. I quickly reached the point where I could do 30-mile rides to San Ramon and back. Again, the inclines I encountered seemed like really good workouts at the time, whereas now they are really nothing. I was enjoying riding my Peugeot to a point, but I realized it was too old of a bike for serious cycling. I began saving up my money and researching new road bikes. Also, I bought an inexpensive pair of those silly-looking, black, padded cycling shorts that I used to poke fun at.
In April 2005, I purchased a Giant OCRC2 road bike for about $2,000 (including tax) at Hank & Frank’s in Lafayette — not a high-end store, more of a family-oriented shop with young mechanics more into mountain biking. A guy named Josh fitted me on the bike, and I was ready to go (although I later found out my geometry was off and needed to be re-fitted). It was a sweet-looking carbon-composite frame with a killer paint-job: metallic charcoal base with a pattern of little squares in it, highlighted by stripes of metallic blue. The components were Shimano Ultegra, which are very good and second only to Dura-Ace in quality. I had taken it for a test ride on a steep hill nearby and loved it.
The problem with cycling is that if you are more than casual about it and want to feel cool and fast, the gear can add up to a small fortune. Not only do you need the helmet and padded pants and gloves, but there is whole host of other accessories that are not absolutely necessary but which substantially add to the enjoyment of riding. Road biking for distance on routes that have hills, it really is best to have clip-on pedals. Why? Because technically good cycling involves not simply pushing down on the pedals but also pulling up and generating a full range of spin, and regular pedals aren’t conducive to that. Those special pedals cost money, and then you need cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom to hook onto the pedals.
I am not what I would call a shoe-lover, but anybody who is can appreciate that once you try on the best kinds of shoes, it’s damn near impossible to settle for cheap shoes. In cycling, one of the top brands of shoes is Sidi. Well, they are Italian-made, and for me they fit like a glove. I spent well over $200 for a model that I tried on in a store but ordered over the internet. I’m not being a snob about this. They fit perfectly, and they are so well-made that I still have them, and they are in great shape, 6 years later.
As for the other clothing, it was like an awakening for me when I discovered wicking fabrics. I love my cycling clothes, because they make me feel like a superhero. Skin-tight and aerodynamic. None of that sweaty feeling you get from cotton. I want all my clothes to feel that great. I started buying cycling socks and Under Armour-type base layers in addition to cycling pants and jerseys, and since then I have added more and more polo shirts from REI and elsewhere to my wardrobe, and I wear them to work.
Thus, the $2 grand for the bike itself probably grew to $3 grand or more once all the accessories were added in, and it really never stops. I still have and use nearly every stitch of cycling clothing I’ve ever bought, but I add to my collection, and other equipment does break or wear out. It can be an expensive hobby, although I doubt it’s as expensive as golf.
Another dream was to bicycle to the top of Mount Diablo, which is very close to my house. I have always loved the mountain, and it represents one of the most difficult climbs in the Bay Area. From my house, using the “northgate” route, it is about 12.5 miles to the summit. In June 2005 I decided to tackle it for the first time. Wow. Despite the fact that the first few miles are the easiest part, I was shocked when I struggled for what seemed like an eternity and discovered I was merely at the 1,000-foot level! At that point, the grade is fairly steep, and I groaned. That day I was content to stop and turn back toward home after I reached a ranch at 1,500 feet. Later that month, I pushed myself to the “junction” where the northgate route meets the “southgate” route out of Alamo; the junction is at approximately 2,100 feet and about 8 miles from my house. In August 2005 I decided to reach the summit, but I set one more intermediate goal of reaching the 3,000-foot level at the Juniper turnout. Alan, a friend of mine and a strong cyclist, rode with me that day, and he was a great help. The mental aspect of climbing is in some ways tougher than the physical. Alan described what he called the “black hole of depression” — a feeling that one can’t go on. I didn’t exactly feel that way, perhaps in part because he talked me through the ride. Once we reached Juniper, he encouraged me to continue to the top, but I needed to get home to do go somewhere with the family, so I was content with meeting my original goal. Finally, a week later in 85-degree heat and again riding with Alan, I reached the summit of Mount Diablo and was ecstatic. It was a great feeling, a real sense of accomplishment, and an awesome view to boot!
Since then, I have been to the top many times, and it does not seem like a very big deal. I think most people without serious physical impediments can do it if they put their minds to it. Nevertheless, for me it was a nice challenge and an experience of which I am proud.