In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to biking

It’s said that during the springtime, a young man’s fancy turns to love.  Well, I’m not young but I’m not old …so where does that leave me?   I can tell you where…Biking!  The thaw and sunny weather – even if it is still chilly out, has me enjoying being outside after many months of confinement.  No, I didn’t just do a stretch in Joliet…I lived through a Minnesota winter.  It’s almost the same thing.  But spring, as a season of rebirth and growth, means a lot here.  So in a way, spring is about love for everyone! – At least in one way or another.

biking
View from the Luce Line

The Winter Blahs:

Around here, something happens to all of us that endure winter.  In Minnesota our winters are notoriously bleak.  It’s not the cold …although that doesn’t help, it’s the lack of sunshine.  Our skies are constantly overcast and gloomy.  Once in a rare while we see sunshine in the midst of the winter season and our reaction is almost universally similar: “Huh? …whazzat??” The confusion of seeing the sun after so many days of gloom fools us for a split second.  We are tempted to smile, and brighten up.  We may even start to feel a sense of happiness that is triggered by nothing more than a brief glimpse of the sun. 

Then it dawns on us that we still have 3 months of winter to go, so we end up doing the next best thing:  We put on our Sorels and Parkas, hop on the Ski-doo and head to Ole & Lena’s Coffee Shop for a cup of coffee and the chance to complain about the cold to our neighbors.  We might even get a piece of lefse or some krumkake! 

Skidoo

A Brief Respite

Many refer to winter blahs as Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a real thing here.  When the sun peeks out, to foil the blowing cold and the worst of what Alberta dumps on us, it sincerely has a positive emotional impact.  And so, when spring actually makes an appearance, we can hardy contain ourselves.  I never realized how severe it was until I started biking and really enjoying my time outside.  All the hurdles of this winter left me craving the breeze and freedom of biking. The idea of getting exercise at the same time I was enjoying our brief summer brings so much happiness and joy, that it’s clearly irreplaceable.  It has me now, very seriously, thinking of taking vacation in the winter to someplace warm simply so I can have a break from what we go through seasonally. 

How I Got Into Biking:

Back in 2009 I was convinced to buy a bike for exercise. Fred Finch is an avid biker and was pivotal in his support of this decision.  He provided me with much valuable advice and put me in touch with Jim Thill, who at the time, owned a bike shop and lent his considerable common-sense biking knowledge to the local biking community.  Jim figured out a good solution for a bike that would do everything I needed it to do and be rock solid under my considerable weight at the time.  It’s the very same bike I still use today. That serves as a testament to the wisdom of these two gentlemen (yes, I just referred to you both as “gentlemen”, but don’t let that go to your heads, boys.)

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View from the Luce Line

Why Biking?

While dealing with knee issues that were brought on by some patellar dislocations, and the simple byproduct of weight, walking as a form of exercise had too much impact on my body. So the idea of finding some kind of exercise that was low-impact and wouldn’t aggravate those issues was paramount.  That’s where Fred and Jim came to the rescue.  Fred had been doing considerable biking.  Much like I am now.  Although I am not so much of a fan that I will bike all year-round here.  I have seen people do that…and frankly, they are crazy.

From 2009 until I started biking last year, I used my Torker T120 sparingly. At this point, I enjoy it so much I also bought the factory bike rack for my Mini Paceman and now I take my bike to remote locales for a few hours of fun on regional or state trails. True to their counsel, biking has proved to be excellent all-around exercise without the pounding of running or walking. It provides a good cardio workout while still exercising lower body muscle groups. I do still enjoy a good 3 mile walk, however you won’t catch me running …not unless I want to create problems for my knees, which I do not.   

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View from the Luce Line

More on the Benefits of Biking:    

While low impact cardio was the primary reason I started biking, the benefits far exceed that.  Rather than trying to explain everything I have encountered, which is still short of a comprehensive list, I will refer you to an article from Cycling Weekly magazine.  For those of you who have additional questions about the suitability of biking, the article below provides a great list of the benefits.

Link: Cycling Weekly: 15 Benefits of cycling

What do I Ride? 

Bike on Rack
My Torker on the rack for spring maintenance

It’s the same Torker T520 I bought back in 2009 or 2010, as I mentioned.  Although, I have made a few modifications.  I needed a stronger rear wheel so Jim Thill built me a strong custom rear wheel based on a Kris Holm unicycle rim.  I can never say enough about the merits of a hand-built rim as opposed to machine-built products.  For me, there was no other option.  I ruined the factory rim that came with it from just my weight alone.  That was the bike’s weak point, however. 

I also added a Brooks B190 saddle.  I have also never regretted that decision.  Brooks makes amazing bike seats and they only get more comfortable the older they get.  They are a leather traditional saddle, so you need to spend a little time breaking them in…but once you do they are so comfortable! 

Link: Brooks B190 Saddle

I also changed up the pedals on my bike, opting for a lightweight, wider set with small studs on them for more secure footing. They were pretty inexpensive and made by Rock Bros.

Link: Rock Bros Mountain Bike Pedals

Lastly I added a small plethora of accessories:  Panniers by Banjo Bros., back rack, fenders, tool bag, handlebar bag and a bike computer.  Collectively it makes for a great exercise machine, or grocery getter, or even a tourer.  I’m very happy with it.  Sadly, I don’t believe Torker makes bikes anymore.  At any rate, there are a ton of alternatives out there. 

What if 2 Wheels is Too Few?   

Catrike Trail

I’ve actually toyed with idea of getting a tadpole trike just for fun and potentially some long haul biking.  I’m very intrigued by the design and the potential upsides to the tadpole design.  Specifically, the stability, reclined riding position, ergonomics, and potential of putting more power to the pavement.  While that would be something I would consider for the future, I’ll share a couple models I have been debating: 

Sunseeker T3 CX

Sunseeker Fat Tad

Catrike Villager

Click on the links and take a look!  They are interesting and are certainly fuel for the imagination!

Where I Bike:

My daily route starts at my house.  Basically I travel through my neighborhood and down a long bike path for about 2 miles.  That brings me to the Luce Line.  The Luce Line is an old railway line that’s been converted into a state trail system.  Going one direction it is paved, going the other direction it is gravel.  That trail goes for miles in either direction.   So I will go one way or the other, and bike anywhere from 10 to 20 miles depending on how I feel that day.  It’s a great trail that’s close and easy to access. 

http://luceline.com/

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Luce Line West

Baker Park: One of my favorite places to go when I need to load my bike on the car is Baker Park.  It’s a very nice local park that features a 6 mile bike track around a small lake.  That track features a great variety of hills so it’s pretty hard work.  But the time you are done with that 6 mile ride, you do think twice about doing it consecutively! 

https://www.threeriversparks.org/location/baker-park-reserve

Exploring:

I love exploring the area on my bike.  It’s fun and it makes me feel great being outside.  So often, in the suburbs, you don’t even get to know your neighbors.  Especially in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, I notice that people lead very insular lives.  So while being out biking, I take the opportunity to go places I normally wouldn’t go …see neighborhoods, people and locales that I otherwise wouldn’t take the time to see. It is strangely fulfilling for me.  It’s like my friend Johnny Hoy occasionally says – that we have to remind ourselves that we deserve to be happy.

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View from the Luce Line

It’s also a reward to myself for doing the hard work of losing as much weight as I have.  These are the fruits of my labor. I’m now capable of so much more than I ever was before.  It’s hard to see that or come to that realization when you are heavy.  It’s easy to become defensive, and it’s a little difficult to admit that to myself…even now. But it is the truth.  As an obese person, we have many mechanisms of defense.  We construct shields against judgement, discrimination, stereotyping, and limited opportunity.  We learn to live within those confines.  It is the same kind of prison in which many Minnesotans feel confined during winter. 

It’s not winter anymore.  I’m not in ANY prison anymore.  Biking reminds me of the freedom I have earned.      

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