COLUMN: Two-wheel experience hurts so good

Reporter's Viewpoint

Allow me to indulge in a little whining.

I’ve spent a lot of time perched on bicycles the last few months and have come to one main conclusion about them. They’re the most painful, torturous devices mankind has invented so far.

Road bikes are especially painful and I’m pretty certain whoever did the original basic design layout for the road/racing bike had at least one ancestor who played a major role in the Spanish Inquisition.

I’ve ridden bikes all my life and have had my share of racing-style bikes – starting in 1972 when the first Sekine bikes from Japan hit B.C.’s shores. Sadly, that company’s manufacturing history was short-lived because it made really good bikes.

You still see a lot them around today 40 years later. They were relatively comfortable too. Sekine gave us those funky diamond-pattern, padded saddles and brake lever extensions so the rider could sit upright with hands on top of the handlebars and still be able to stop. And with their Shimano gear systems – that were also new to the market – those bikes worked better than everything else in their price range.

Those were the days when you hopped on your bike, in your blue jeans and whatever else you happened to be wearing, and rode wherever you were going. No helmet, no special Lycra or spandex padded shorts, no special shoes that clip into your pedals or expensive sunglasses to keep the bugs and wind out of your eyes. You just pedalled, squinted and if it was an early evening ride, you picked the bugs out of your teeth at the end of it.

Not so today. Through major advancements in technology – and slick marketing – just riding a couple kilometres down to the store and back can mean suiting up like you’re going on a space mission. By the time you get everything on, it’s probably faster to just walk there and back.

We used to do a lot of long-distance riding when we were young and I don’t remember it being as painful as it is today. These days even with a pair of $100 padded cycling shorts, $60 padded gloves, $150 and up special shoes and a $100 seat, any ride more than 20 kilometres means your hands and feet go numb and your unmentionable nether regions eagerly remind you that they never should have been perched in the position they find themselves balanced upon.

This whole assembly is set gingerly on top of a carbon or aluminum frame rolling on two skinny little tires – packed with about 120 pounds per square inch air pressure and waiting to explode like cannons if you so much as look at the right bump the wrong way – which transmit and, I swear, amplify every jolt from every pebble and grain of sand you roll over.

Cycling experts will read this, cluck their tongues and say, “Well, he doesn’t have his bike set up right.”

After endless adjustments, equipment swaps and experimenting, I’ve come to conclude there ain’t no way to set up these machines for any measure of comfort. They’re designed to transfer as much power from – another way of saying “suck the life out of” – the rider to extract as much speed as possible for as long a distance as possible until the rider expires.

All you can do is hope to minimize the agony and get the ride over with. Which is why, I’ve also concluded, that road cyclists ride so fast … they just want the pain to end.

And yet in spite of all the torment, cycling is still my favourite sport. Psychologically and emotionally, at least, I always feel really good whenever I’m riding a bike. It’s the result of some genetic twitch that happened somewhere between conception and birth I guess – like mild colour blindness or a mole in just the wrong place.

Maybe if I reincarnate I’ll take up cross-country running next time around.

photos@nanaimobulletin.com

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