So how did I find myself before the sun came up last Saturday morning, sitting on a hard, painfully narrow bicycle seat, waiting with my wife and thousands of other cyclists for the start of a 50-plus mile “fun ride” through the Santa Inez Valley, in 38-degree, fog-laden air with nothing more than a micro-thin layer of stretchy polyester fabric between the near-freezing morning air and my pasty white, goose-bumpy skin? Glad you asked.
It began with the first bike I can remember owning – a beautiful, candy apple, metal-flake green Schwinn Stingray with a white faux leather banana seat and sissy bar in the back and often-waxed, chrome “ape hanger” handle bars up front. My radical, ’60s-vintage ride had a smaller front wheel to make it look more dragster-like and big, fat, “cheater slick” tire on the rear wheel. My other grade school biker buds and I would ride our bikes as fast as we could down the street, then stand hard on the pedals to lock up the coaster brake and see who could leave the longest skid mark.
Granted, riding a bike in the Crescenta Valley is no easy task at any age. Our unavoidable hillsides quickly build up one’s leg muscles and fondness for a good set of brakes. Nevertheless, my childhood home was within a few pedal strokes of Two Strike Park with its racetrack-like layout of smooth, mostly flat concrete sidewalks, quick turns and endless loops of bike-riding fun. When someone (I won’t say who and you can’t make me) would scoop piles of sand from the swing set area up onto the sidewalk, the resulting skid pad effect made for hours and hours of thrills, spills and skinned up appendages. Good times, indeed – and we didn’t even have to wear helmets in those wild frontier days. Imagine that.
Until I learned that it would ultimately loosen my spokes, I would clothespin stiff playing cards to the forks of my Stingray to get that cool “revving motor” noise. The faster I rode, the louder and more motor-like the cards slapping against the spokes would sound. I was a Harley rider wannabe even then, I guess. And as it so happened, from my early teenage years until well into middle age, I temporarily traded my love of bikes for motorcycles of all different kinds, including torquey off-road 4-strokers, snarly 2-stroke motocross-racers and eventually a massive, rumbling V-twin cruiser that I rode like Dennis Hopper for many years.
Then, some 10 years ago, a good friend from church introduced me to the wonderful world of road biking and I was hopelessly hooked on pedal power once again.
There are some things you have to get used to when taking up the sport of road biking, like the seemingly silly and oh-so-stretchy clothing that serious cyclists wear. Or the bent over, low-center-of-gravity position you assume in order to achieve optimal wind-resistance. Or feeling like a kid learning to ride all over again as you learn to use the bizarre clipless pedals (or “scary pedals” as I heard one cyclist call them) that lock your feet to the pedal and make you fall over at stop lights. I did say this was great fun, right?
It’s all been more than worth it, however, as my wife and I have enjoyed unforgettable rides together from Azusa to Seal Beach and back, or on a deserted stretch of blacktop skirting Crowley Lake in the Sierras where it’s hard to tell if it’s the altitude or the views that so quickly take your breath away. Or on the annual Solvang Prelude ride (our third time riding this 50-mile event) last weekend.
Yes, it was freezing cold. Yes, it was one of our most exhausting rides ever. And yes, it was as much fun as sticking playing cards in your spokes or laying a big honkin’ skid mark down the middle of Harmony Place.
I’ll see you ’round town.