Big Bike Week

The past eight days have been nearly jammed packed with biking, swimming, weight lifting, cooking, work, and a bit of house cleaning. That's why I haven't written in almost ten days! First things first - on Sunday, June 8th, well over a week ago, I finally attended the big Philadelphia bike race - Commerce Bank's Triple Crown of Cycling. Back in the day (like when I was young and fit and new to cycling - we are talking a long time ago) this race was called the CoreStates Bank Race; that's how old this race is - nearly 25 years old. I had long hair, tight thighs and no problems wearing spandex. I always wanted to go up to the Art Museum and Parkway to watch the race but for one stupid reason or another, I never went. I wasted 25 years missing out on the most spectacular bike race event in the country, right here in Philadelphia. So, I made up for all the lost years and thoroughly enjoyed the race, starting at 7 am to bike and enjoy hours of the hot crazy cycling day.

At 7 am on the start of the morning, I entered a "Family Fun Ride" along the bike race course from the Art Museum to Mannayunk and up to the "Wall". The Wall is on Levering Street, which is a 17% grade steep street that the racers climb 10 times during the course of their 10 laps of the 156 mile race. The women racers do 4 laps, climbing the wall only 4 times. I know it's possible to drive and walk up Levering Street, though I barely could do either. As for biking it, not in my lifetime, or at least, not on the bike I rode on Sunday.

Because I missed the meet-up start of the morning ride by about 5 minutes I was 5 miles behind the pack. I don't know if I've ever ridden quite so fast before. I huffed and puffed my way along Kelly Drive, a route I bike on a regular basis. Between the late start, the frantic riding to find the meet-up, the heat, and just sheer nervousness, I felt like I was weighted down by anchors. I couldn't catch up to the riders until near the end of the race. Small consolation that I wasn't dead friggin' last - I managed to pass two sets of fathers and their young sons, though the first family only rode into Mannayunk and smartly decided to by-pass the Wall; the second family left me in the dust along the pavement of Levering Street while I was heaving out of breath trying to haul my 40 pound albatross of a mountain bike-hybrid up the street. Luckily I only had to traverse the mountain once; my reward was a ride down Mannayunk's wide open streets blissfully fast.
When I reached Kelly Drive again, I caught up with Rabbi Stone and his wife, Annie. The Rabbi is an amazing bicyclist. I credit him for reigniting my bicycling passion. He started riding in 2006 and has been going strong over these past two years. I purchased his old Trek Navigator last August, when he wisely upgraded to a lighter road-style bicycle. Rabbi is in great shape and had no problem climbing the Wall. As a matter of fact, Sunday morning was his third ride in as many days. On the Friday prior to the race and rides, he actually rode up the Wall on a Brompton Folding Bike, setting a biking record. Though he said it wasn't a great record, as he came in last, but still, he did it, and on a folding bike! Whoa! Color me impressed.

Our amateur ride ended around 8:30 and we were treated to sports drinks, orange juice, bagels and t-shirts. After a quick stop, I went over to the front of the Art Museum and watched the real racers. The men complete three laps around Eakins' Oval and Logan Circle before riding the ten laps of the race. The start of the race is great fun to watch. There are motorcycle police escorts; pace cars and camera film crews in cars and on motorcycles. Then the hundred or more riders come flying by in a close knit pack, blurring together in spandex and whippet thin bodies on two wheels. After the cyclists there are the team cars loaded with bicycle on roof racks. Along the streets and grass islands are party tents, vendors, concessions and bike clubs set up all along the Parkway, at the Art museum and along Lemon Hill. There are all kinds of cyclists and wannabes out and about clanging cow bells and enjoying the rush of it all. In any direction near the Parkway or along Kelly Drive it is a non-stop cycling event from 7 am until 5 pm. And it's glorious. I was out with my people! I felt as though I found myself all over again; reconnecting to a world I had only glimpsed before and now I am finally entering. I figure it's not too late for me, at 41 to be rejoining the cycling sport.
After watching the start of the race and catching the racers' first lap back from Mannayunk, I rode up to Lemon Hill to meet up with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia. Somehow I found the energy to head out on another ride. I went on a 20 mile ride with a BCP leader, through Fairmount Park; past Memorial Hall, the Mann Center, the Japanese Tea Gardens and through Merion out to Wynnefield (or was it Wynnewood?) I kept hydrated, I went slowly when it was necessary, which was a lot, and made it in once piece. Jeff, the bike leader, was another one of those great riders, encouraging me along the way and giving me biking tips. The best of which was, to get a faster lighter bike. He said that the small inclines we took would be so much easier if I didn't have the heavy mountain bike. It could have been the heat stroke, but I was convinced. Among the many things I learned on Sunday about my physical abilities and lack thereof, I realized that there was no way I could ride the bike portion of the triathlon and not be dead friggin' last or laughed out of the competition.

The rest of the day I spent hanging out with the Bicycle Club and watched more laps of the race along Lemon Hill. Then mid-day I went home to recuperate after logging in almost 44 miles for the day. I didn't pass out and I had energy for a concert and event we attended that evening.

The rest of the week I spent working out, and figuring out what to do about the bicycle situation. I posted the Trek Bike on Craig's list Wednesday morning. By Wednesday night I sold it. Thursday and Friday I visited bike shops and test rode a few road bikes. On Saturday I bought a new Fuji Newest 3.0 road bike, with toe clips, shoes and assorted gear. I gave it a test spin up Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue and did well using the new shoes and pedals. The bike rides fast - hardly have to put any effort into pedaling, it just flies. Except for one mishap in town when I tried to stop suddenly and I couldn't get my foot out of the pedal clip, I did well on my maiden voyage. I have a nasty gash on my knee and a bruised finger, small scrap on the bike break and gear, but otherwise, Fuji and I are just fine. Gearing up for another good week of triathlon training and exciting tales about rediscovering my passion for cycling. Now if I could only managed to make it up the Wall once without killing myself...


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