Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Not Your Typical Ride Report

I'm an experienced cyclist, aren't I? After all, I ride confidently in heavy traffic, and I ride thousands of miles every year, I know my Highway Code, my commute is 12 miles one way and I'll often go out on my bike for a whole day's riding.

And yet, I feel like a complete novice!

When I get on my bike, I reach for the brakes. It's what I do, it's what I've done for years and years. Only I miss the brakes, because they're in a different place!
When I ride, I get aches and cramps!

And why is all this happening?

I'll tell you! Because I got a new bike, that's why!

See, for years and years I've been riding a mountain bike, then a hybrid. For almost ten years I've been riding with straight bars and a reasonably upright position.

My friend Simon warned me that it would probably take a bit of time to get used to the new bike. That was good, honest advice that I acknowledged, but filed away under "oh, but I'm a very experienced cyclist and I know what I'm doing!" and thought no more of it.

Untill I took my new bike out on the road. In case you didn't know, I got a road bike, racing red with dropped bars, skinny wheels and all. Specifically, I got a B'Twin Triban 3.

The first ride I knew was going to be an "adjustment" ride, to get the seat position just right and adjust the handlebars, so I didn't have any high expectations. Just as well, for as I started swinging my leg over, the bike moved. The bike moved because I was on a downhill and though I grabbed for the brake, I grabbed where the brakes are on my hybrid. As a result, I grabbed some air instead of brakes!

Setting off was OK, though I immediately noticed how dramatically different the balance and handling was. Let me put it this way: compared to the Triban 3, my hybrid is like a rather docile horse next to a racehorse. The hybrid is forgiving and the 700c 35 wheels absorb a great deal of road bumps.

With the Triban, when riding over a penny you can almost feel which side of the coin is facing up! And while I have a lot of praise for the Triban, "forgiving" doesn't immediately spring to mind when I think of riding it.

Then there's the position. As you'd expect, the riding position is far more forward and with my hands on the brake hoods, a lot of my body weight is supported by my hands, and I'm simply not used to it.

Where I live we have MANY hills. In fact, finding a level road is almost impossible. That means, when going down hills I need to use the brakes. A lot! Only, as my body isn't used to the riding position, it wasn't all that long before my hands started complaining a bit, especially when using the brakes on a downhill.

I stopped a fair few times during the very first ride to make various adjustments, then rode home again. Later I took it out for a second, shortish test ride and made a few more small adjustments.

The following day was Sunday, which offered a chance to go out for a longer ride. This was the first "proper" ride on the new bike and I was in for at least one more surprise: when riding up a hill, I rose off the seat to stand and pedal and for a moment the bike was all over the place!

Now this sounds like a negative review - it isn't. Rather, it is a realistic review highlighting issues that I didn't anticipate despite having been forewarned.

Most of the ride was very nice, especially seeing as the long-absent sun came out to play for the duration and on the biggest uphill of my commute I set a new personal record, even if I did have cramps in my hands and forearms, from braking when riding down that hill first.

Overall I think it is a fantastic bike and any quirks I encountered I am sure are due to my not being used to riding a finely-balanced road bike. As such, things are sure to improve over time. My biggest bugbear are the hand cramps, but I'm sure that won't last very long before my body adjusted to the new bike.

If you decide to make the transition to a road bike and (like me) you hadn't ridden one since the 80's, can I suggest you mentally prepare yourself for the changes?