Sizing up me and the bike

It’s nice to have expert help.

I spend a lot of time on my road bike, just not in the past month, mind you. I’m willing to push the temperature threshold pretty low but have to draw the line when it dips into the teens. Or worse. One of the best things about living in this area is the large number of enthusiastic bicyclists. In season, I ride with one group or another on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The Tuesday/Thursday group rides fast and hard and takes no prisoners. The Sunday/Wednesday group drinks beer after the ride so it’s pretty much win/win no matter which group I’m with.

Recently one of the Sunday/Wednesday regulars proposed a ride for a limited number of us on the Great Allegheny Path (GAP). Since all (well, OK … since most) riding is fun I wanted to learn more about this. What this man is organizing is a four-day self-supported ride through the mountains of the eastern U.S. There are two key phrases in that sentence and the first of them is “self-supported.” For you novices, like I was last week, “self-supported” means you strap everything you need to your bike and start pedaling. Because like begets like, the previous sentence also contains a vital phrase. “Everything you need” means everything you need. Every thing. Clothes, tent, tools, sleeping bag, food, a way to cook the food (about which more in a minute), spare parts, and, apparently, quadriceps made of steel. Because the second crucial part of the original sentence is “through the mountains.”

Around here, we laughingly call that bump over by Bellefountaine a mountain. It has, I believe, a 300 foot vertical rise. The Alleghenies have a vertical rise in excess of 4,000 feet. Due to some good planning or a sense of mercy on someone’s part, the portion of the GAP we are riding has a vertical rise of only about 1,200 feet. That’s the good news. The bad news is, every inch of it is on the first day of the trip.

My current bike has very, very narrow tires and weighs about 24 pounds. It is built for speed … a thoroughbred, not a pack mule. This obviously is not the vehicle for the trip. So the first thing I need is another bike. This sounds extravagant on the face of it, not to mention a gross misuse of the word “need.” Compared to some of these guys, though, I am woefully inadequate in the bike ownership category. One guy has, and I am not making this up, 11 bikes. When I foolishly questioned him about the care and feeding of 11 bicycles, he looked askance at me and asked if I weren’t the same girl who at one point last year owned four airplanes. So yes, I need another bike. But not just any bike. I need a touring bike.

One of our group is a man who has done long — really long — self-supported rides. This is one of those endeavors that sounds great and adventurous and liberating and fulfilling until the reality of powering a heavily-laden one hundred ten pound bike across America hits you right in the face, along with an inevitable and relentless headwind. When he found out I was in the market for a touring bike, he leapt (maybe rose slowly) into action. He provided me with all sorts of info about what sort of gear to look for, what to avoid, and how to make sure I get the right size bike. I bought my bike so long ago I can barely remember the process, but I was in for a quick, thorough refresher course. This nice man sent (and by sent I mean inundated) me with more information about buying a bike than I knew existed. So now I know I need to pay attention to the top tube effective, the head tube length, the fork offset, and the head tube angle. I have no idea what top tube effective, head tube length, fork offset, and head tube angle are, of course, but I know I need to pay attention to it. My present plan is to get on a variety of bikes and make a guess as to the probability of my being able to pedal them, fully loaded, up a mountain.

The idea is to take all the essentials as lightly as possible. This is where the question of food preparation equipment comes in. These guys are serious and have just the right sort of lightweight cooking devices and heat sources. I know from personal experience, though, that I can live on M&Ms for much much longer than four days.

The trip isn’t until May. This is good because one year during a May trip on this very path it snowed. Goodness only knows what would happen in March or April. Fortunately, M&Ms are delicious when chilled.

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By Marla Boone

Contributing Columnist

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.