Sunday, July 24, 2005

Armstrong's Magnificent Seventh

I just read on SI.com that Lance finished his seventh tour and won it as expected. I ride as a "recreational rider" or as some of the locals I ride with jokingly call me, a "clydesdale". At 6ft 4in and 245 lbs, I dwarf riders like Lance. I'm lucky to go reasonably fast on the flats of Florida, dodging potholes and asshole drivers. When Lance wins I feel a great vicarious thrill. I know I'll never ride in competition, especially at the pinnacle of athleticism that Lance has attained, but I respect and admire Lance because of world-class riding and winning in style.

I've always ridden a bike, and when I was in college I actually ran a J.C. Penney's bike shop in Atlanta, GA. But the sport in America was virtually unknown in the early 70's. I didn't really begin to get serious about riding until my late 40's and my friend Sterling Hall. Sterling got me back out seriously and consistently riding in 1999. I picked up a Huffey at a local Walmart , and tried to keep up with Sterling on his Cannondale. Sterling was kind enough to ride slow with me. I stayed on that Huffey until Christmas 1999, when I finally went down to a local bike shop and picked up a Canondale hybrid. It was one of the least expensive ones I could afford.

From that point forward I rode pretty regularly on a bike trail close to where I live, West Orange. Sterling introduced me to that trail when I picked up the Cannondale as well as riding long distances. I soon reached the point where I'd ride by myself or with Sterling, but I rode. My pace picked up and my weight began to drop. Then, I started to work at a Lockheed/Martin facility where I ran across two hard-core riders, Richard "Crutch" Crutchfield and Tim O'Mally.

Tim is the more serious of the two. He rides Treks and competes in local competitions. Both look like Lance clones with their whipcord lean and muscled bodies. Crutch was a lot like me in that he got pulled into riding by Tim. The difference is that Crutch started a lot younger and on a true road bike (a Giant). By the time I hooked up with them they were riding together at lunch around the L/M facility. Tim convinced me to ride with them. Little did I realize what I was being set up for.

The L/M facility has a circular access road that measures 2.33 miles (yes I measured it). Those two would get out there and average around 25 miles/hour riding for 45 minutes to an hour. I'd be lucky to average 16 on my hybrid. No matter how hard I tried they just effortlessly pulled away. While it was always embarrassing, pride forced me to go out no matter what. I reached a point where if they passed me on the first lap (and they always did), it took at least five more laps before they could chase me down and pass me again. You take your comfort from the small things, and I was happy I was increasing my speed.

Over time I picked up riding tips, especially from Tim. I changed my tires to ride more efficiently. I changed the height of my seat. I got new clips and pedals. And eventually I got so tired of being lapped on the hybrid I purchased a Trek 2200. I still got lapped by the Dynamic Duo but not nearly as often. Riding that Trek was like riding a rocket compared to the Cannondale, just like the Cannondale had been a rocket compared to the Huffey. I kept that up until I left L/M and the project I was on in December of last year.

Since January I've fallen into a rut. Because of my change in projects I worked at a different location where it's a lot more difficult and dangerous to find a place to ride. Seeing Lance win his seventh tour reminds me that if a man like that can overcome cancer and win seven tours, then what excuse do I have to let my bikes sit in the garage and collect spider webs? None, really. Since Lance started his seventh tour I've discovered a gym in the building where I work that has two riding machines. During the week I spend 45 minutes to an hour on the machines, three days/week, and then ride the trail on the weekend. I've been off riding for over six months, so I need to work back up again. But I've made a promise to myself. No more excuses. I've invested six years into riding. No more spider webs on the bike frames. From this point forward, no matter how old I get, I will always be riding my bike. I'll ride for fun, for health, and out of respect for Lance Armstrong. But I'll ride.

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