Adventures on Two Wheels

Training Diary 7 Comments

When I embarked on my crazy well thought through plan to train for a triathlon, I thought I knew all the important things that you need to know about bikes. Like:

  • they have 2 wheels
  • there are different types, like road bikes and mountain bikes and commuter bikes and maybe some others, but who really cares about those
  • boy bikes have a straight bar joining the handle bars to the saddle and ladies have a diagonal one because we are ladies and as ladies we must be able to accomodate our skirts and silk handkerchieves in our lady bags that we bought from a lady in a lady’s shop. And we most certainly can’t be expected to dangle our legs in the air as we alight our chosen mode of transport

  • they have gears and peddles and brakes because starting, stopping and keeping going are all considered pretty important
  • you point your front tyre in the direction you want to go, peddle like billy-o and…
  • … erm…… yep, that’s about it, isn’t it?

I had ridden a bike before, so whilst I might not actually own a bike, I had access to Herbert’s, so really, all I had to worry about was the swimming thing. You know, because, front crawl…

But, here’s the thing. It turns out that cycling is way more involved than that. If you want it to be.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learnt:

  1. Road bikes and mountain bikes have different gearing ratios. And what that means is that a road bike is geared to make it go faster. But a mountain bike is geared to make it easier to go up hills. (Not as easy as if you attach a motor, but easier than a road bike, at least).
  2. Road bikes and mountain bikes have very different weight frames. Even a light mountain bike will feel like you’re handling an elephant after you’ve lifted a road bike a few times.
  3. Cleats are a thing. I hadn’t even heard of them 2 months ago, and now I’ve actually cycled ON ROADS wearing them. Yes, really!
  4. Cycle kits are created to make the larger lady feel like she is said elephant.
  5. Socks halfway up your calf is a fashion statement in cycling circles, even if you won’t necessarily see it featured on everyday style blogs.
  6. I have a half-forgotten love for quirky socks. I foresee serious (and potentially expensive) repercussions emanating from this.

So, having started my triathlon career on a mountain bike, it quickly became apparent that flat bar cycling (as opposed to curly bars like you get on a road bike) wasn’t going to cut the mustard. Luckily, I have been loaned a road bike by the lovely Melissa. And cycling shoes. Complete with cleats.  (At which point I started to question her good nature and all round loveliness, I have to confess).

Having survived a trip to Murarrie’s bike track, I still hadn’t actually plucked up the courage to use cleats on the road. Which resulted in road based trips seeing me cycling in trainers and peddles you’re supposed to clip into, (because I was too lazy to change the peddles for standard ones). I am living proof that it is possible, people!

But Melissa was having none of my “I can’t and won’t even try-baby” attitude and offered to cycle the River Loop with me, so I could practice clipping in and out without the pressure of being part of a group ride.

Me, scared? No, I was delighted! (*cough*).

And why cycle the truncated course round the River Loop, cutting across the Green Bridge? There were just the two of us and no deadlines, so we took the longer route past the golf course, which I’d cycled once before as part of a club Sunday ride with Glen.

I guess after Cootha, the golf course hills had felt pretty tame and I managed them fine.

But intimidated by cleats, I kind of forgot how to change gear going up the steepest one. And realising that I’d actually managed to get into the BIGGEST gear, instead of the SMALLEST gear, I managed a feat of near gymnastic agility (to my mind, at least) and unclipped before I actually fell! #winning.

Not falling wasn’t the only stroke of luck. The place I came unstuck just happened to be the precise spot that some other poor cyclist had lost his credit card. Who just happens to be a whizz triathlete, who just happens to be friends with one of Melissa’s friends on FB, and she was able to track him down. The joy of STALKERBOOK!! So, slipping the card into my zip pocket, I clipped back in and off we tootled to take in the mansions of southern Brisbane.

I had another shot at tackling gears and cleats and a very steep hill before the ride was done. Cemetery Hill is notorious. And steep. Notoriously steep.

Did I mention it is steep?

It’s not steep for very long. But you climb a reasonable hill, turn a bend, and immediately the real steepness hits you. I wanted to jump off and walk. But I realised that my near gymnastic agility of my previous unclipping was pure fluke. If I wanted to unclip now, I would most certainly fall. Or I could keep peddling like the flesh on my legs and arms depended on it. Because – well – it did. So I did. To the point just before a lung popped. And then we reached the top. And all was well with the world. Once I got my breath back.

Buoyed by the triumph of riding round Brisbane clipped to a bike without major incident, I responded to another offer of cycle coaching at the weekend.

Melissa – the other one – volunteered a ride up Cootha (joy?) but followed by some off-roading. Using mountain bikes. Because FUN. And it would be much easier going up on the MTB, she said.

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I heard the word FUN.

All memories of how bloody hard cycling up Cootha was last time vanished from my mind. (No they didn’t. I made that bit up). But Mel assured me that it would be much easier. Repeatedly. Like a mantra. And FUN!!!

I had no idea if it really would be fun. I’d seen mountain bikers before in the Alps. And they just looked like a bunch of nutters to me.

But I am a triathlete-in-training. Hills are good for me. I would do this thing!

And Mel was 100% correct. About going up hills on a MTB. It actually is much easier. Having access to not just SMALL gears, but actual TEANY WEANY gears really does make all the difference.

We got to the top, took the obligatory selfie. (There needs to be documented proof for EVERY SINGLE TIME you summit Mount Cootha, because it is a veritable ACHIEVEMENT in my book). And set off again in search of a track.

adventures on two wheels

The fear of the climb had actually eliminated any real thought of the descent being off road.

So, it was only as I was sitting on the bike, clinging on for dear life as I scuttled down a gravel bank wondering WHAT THE ACTUAL F**K, aware that braking was making my back wheel skitter, but too damn scared to take the pressure off the brakes and trying to chant “believe in your bike, believe in your bike” to myself and remember the other advice Mel had given me.

And so we descended the Three Sisters track. Which is only a fire track.

(But rated black for advanced, I found out later. Much later).

Then we got onto the actual single track that we were aiming for. Which was initially challenging. I’m not used to having to steer round corners, deal with tree roots and peddle all at the same time. As well as trying to stay aware of other cyclists. And upright.

I found a new respect for off-road riders right then.

Cycling at the speed of your average not-very-speedy granny, I eventually got a vague hang of it. Mel patiently waited for me at strategic points. Kept reminding me to look forward. (But with roots and rocks and stuff in front of your wheel – it’s hard to keep focussing ahead!!)

And suddenly, as she told me we’d nearly reached the end of the track, I was actually disappointed.

Because I was having FUN.

And we were cycling through stunning forest glades with sun tilting through the branches that you couldn’t reach on 4 wheels, and would only see a fraction of in the same amount of time on 2 legs. I should probably describe it. But I’d rather you just headed out to the Cootha trails and surround yourself in the beauty. Let it soak into your soul. Have an adventure of your own. On two wheels or two legs (if you must).

And talking of 2 legs, WHY do people clip in to MTB pedals? My legs needed to be free. For much rebalancing and prevention of falls.

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Momentum is your friend in mountain biking. I just didn’t always have momentum. But I did have fantastic fun.

So, do yourself a favour. Dig out your bike from the back of the shed and go for a ride. Many happy adventures on two wheels await.


And in case you’re wondering… the credit card was returned to Tim, its rightful owner. And no, my coffee bill was not on there by the time he was able to retrieve it.

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