September 22nd, 2008

Queen Bike

Girl's Got Race

Originally uploaded by Chris Matthews
Saturday, Ace and I went to the Hellyer Velodrome for the beginner's session.

It's a pretty sweet deal: $5 for the class, $5 to rent a bike if needed. I was handed a sleek black Bianchi Pista to play around on for my first time on a fixie ever. With clipless pedals. And no brakes. And a monstrous gear. During my first few times getting started and stopped on the thing, I never fell down, but yes I did some pretty interesting things staying upright. After a while, it was fairly brainless, and only in a panic situation did I instinctively reach for handbrakes and get the "bump" from realizing that coasting is rather violently denied.

There were about 20 of us at the peak of the session, running drills around the track. I am forever amazed at how many different ways one can "Go around in a circle a bunch of times" and not get bored with it. Endurance laps for warm-up, team time-trial exercises, sprinting practice, body-contact ("Yes, be prepared to get bodychecked, elbowed, and knocked around out there: know how to handle your bike") and finally an all-out race.

So let's talk about the race. I was initially hesitant to try it, since there were some superstrong cyclists out there (i.e., cat 3 guys) and, well, I was feeling the fact that we had just pedaled the better part of 3 hours. But everybody else was lining up for it, including the slower riders, and I didn't want to be the only one to wimp out at the end. So I slapped on my helmet and gloves and got into the last slot.

"Ok, after rolling out and you guys are mostly grouped together, the whistle will start the race for 8 laps. Go!"

I let go of the rail, clipped in, started leaning into my legs and tried to get some momentum going all without rear-ending the guy ahead of me. Then the whistle blew. Wait, what? Already?

I saw the pack leave and a huge gap opened up in front of me within seconds. Ack! I focused and willed my feet to spin faster, but by the end of the first turn, I realized I was already being left behind. Biting my lip, I put everything into catching up on the flat, but my speed was only matching theirs with them a half-lap up, and no chance of me of doing anything but embarrassing myself. There was the 10 year old inside me that wanted to scream "Hey! Guys! Wait for me!" but instead I could feel my throat close up and my eyeballs ache. Great, now I'm going to *cry*. I'm going to come in absolute dead-last place, dropped a mere half-lap in, and I'm going to cry. This... this is not good.

I pulled off the track and spun-around the warm-up circle a few times, replaying the incident in my head over and over. I was able to keep up just fine during the drills, in fact I was begging some head-to-toe kit to pick up the pace during the time-trial so I wouldn't cross wheels with him. What the hell happened back there? Am I really that weak? Is it even worth trying to race at all, which is admittedly a half-assed goal for next year...? I felt angry and small and tried to laugh it off, but the acidity still burned my chest long after it was all over.

After venting my frustration to Ace (who came in 3rd, hampered more by having a commuter set-up instead of racing gearing), he patiently explained to me the problem of my own gearing, the fault of the rental bike. It's like trying to move a stick-shift car from a stop sign using only third gear, he pointed out. "Once you're at speed, everything's fine, but you have no starting acceleration." We concluded that combined with my starting position plus the abrupt start is what resulted in my putt-putt performance.

Then I felt better. Maybe I will race someday, but dammit I'm going to try a different bike next time!