My short-lived career as a triathlete ended last summer when I discovered that I had worn out the cartilage in my knees, and the doctor strongly suggested I stay away from high-impact activities like running.
It came at an unfortunate time, as I had finally gotten myself fit enough that running was enjoyable again. The doctor told me that the other two parts of a triathlon — swimming and cycling — would be great activities that wouldn’t beat up my knees.
I don’t mind swimming, but I also can’t say that I enjoy it. Indeed, the appeal of a triathlon to me was that at some point, you get out of the water and move on to other things.
So that left cycling. On the face of it, it sounds like a great idea. It’s good exercise, you get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and see the world from a different perspective. And since the completion of the bike paths along the Kenai Spur Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road, the cycling scene in the area is growing.
But there’s a dark side to cycling. Those who know me may be aware that I’m an avid collector of gear — a gear hound, if you will. In fact, collecting the gear is almost as much fun— and in some cases more fun — than the activity itself.
And when it comes to cycling, the gear possibilities are endless. And expensive.
Just for starters, there’s the bike itself. I started out with a 20-year-old mountain bike I bought when I was in college, and a road bike that was even older than that — I got it for my 12th birthday. My parents bought it for me to grow into, and I never outgrew it.
I convinced my wife that a new road bike was in order, as they’ve made wonderful advances in cycling technology over that past 2 1/2 decades. (My argument may have been too convincing; she decided she needed a new bike, too.)
But it’s not as simple as just buying a bike. First, there’s all the different materials to choose from — aluminum, alloys, carbon fiber. Then there’s all the components — you can get lost in the world of shifters, deraileurs, chain wheels and sprockets. My wife set a spending cap that precluded a carbon-fiber frame — but I did manage to convince her that at the very least, I needed a carbon fork.
Then there’s the accessories, which is where a gear hound really gets to enjoy himself. Upgraded components, handlebars, pedals, tires, rims, bike shoes, electronics, helmet, clothing — at some point, a carbon-fiber frame will simply be a reasonable add-on as I will already have acquired high-end versions of every other part of the bike. The guys at the local bike shop always seem happy to see me walk in.
I’ve even enjoyed the actual cycling part of the sport as much as I’ve enjoyed assembling my gear. I got a stationary trainer so I could ride indoors this past winter, and I was introduced to a series of training videos, called “The Sufferfest,” that are almost as much fun as hill repeats.
I’ve been able to ride outside for a few weeks already. I can clock a pretty good time riding “the loop” — Kenai to Soldotna and back again using the Spur, K-Beach and Bridge Access — though I usually lose time watching the snow geese along the way. It is, however, the first time in my life I can claim to be in the loop.
And I’m doing pretty good in terms of improving my cycling fitness — or at least, I like to think I am. The stationary bikes at the gym measure your power output, and after recording some big numbers there, I started thinking I could hang with those Tour de France guys, at least for an hour or so.
Then someone pointed out to me that it’s not just your power output that counts, it’s the power-to-weight ratio. And those Tour de France guys average 150 pounds. The last time I weighed in at 150 pounds was when my parents got me that road bike for my birthday.
But wait — a carbon-fiber frame is much lighter than the aluminum one I have now. Maybe it’s time to collect some more gear …
When Clarion editor Will Morrow isn’t out on his bike or adding things to it, you can reach him at email@example.com.