September 15, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Filed under: health,sports,transportation — origamifreak @ 3:35 pm
Tags: , ,

I used to be a long-distance cyclist.

I bought my first (and only) bicycle, a Peugeot U-O9, around 1981 with babysitting money.  I earned $1.50/hour.  The bike cost $250.

Over the years with the help of my brother and later a boyfriend I modified things – Saturae rims from Wheelsmith in Palo Alto, side-pull brakes, various incarnations of seats and pedals, and most notably – a custom repaint and braze-add-on job by JP Weigle when I lived in CT.

In high school the bike represented freedom.  Freedom from the restricted city weekend bus schedules, freedom from asking for rides from people with cars.  I even commuted to school on my bike a few times – a very hilly 7-mile round trip on busy streets, leapfrogging with buses, etc.

In college I rode with the team on their easy days (and with the boyfriend with whom breaking down and rebuilding things on our bikes became a hobby).  I learned how to ride in a pace line.  I learned to pedal even when going downhill.  I learned how to tuck myself into an aerodynamic shape when descending.  In those days I used to sign up for 100-mile club rides, called Centuries.  My first was the Pajaro Valley Century, noted for a 2000 ft climb within the first 25 miles.

In grad school I continued to ride my trusty Peugeot with a friend, until life got the better of me, I was spending too many days in the lab and the library, and started gaining weight.  At one point I pushed it down to 144, but then gained it all back plus some.  That was in the 1990s.

Fast forward to four months ago. I’d been losing weight steadily since December and doing water aerobics 4x/week.  Eventually I noticed that one of my classes was not challenging me very much.  So I decided to investigate other arthritis-friendly options.

On April 23 I tried a spinning class for the first time.  I thought I was just about going to DIE.  At times my heart rate monitor was spiking so high I wondered if I might be at risk for a heart attack.  I deliberately slowed down, just in case – I didn’t want to keel over right there!

The  class lasted 45 minutes.  They were jumping up and down, sprinting, and standing out of the saddle in simulated hill climbs.  All to music.  And using resistance bands for upper body strength “as a break.”  The instructor seemed more like a machine than a human.  And that tiny little seat was KILLING my rear.  By the time 45 minutes were up and it was time to stretch, I begged the instructor in a small voice, to get off and stand next to the bike for the stretching.

It took me a week to recover.  Working at my desk while NOT sitting down was a challenge.  During that 45 minutes of pain I’d had ample opportunity to observe the other people in the class (I was in the back).  They all looked really really fit.  I decided that I would try and stick with it, because maybe the REASON they were fit was that they were in there doing this thing.  I figured, even if I couldn’t keep UP, at least I could keep GOING.

So a week later I went back.  By then I’d purchased a gel seat cover, and that helped a lot.  I considered it a victory to simply stay ON THE BIKE for the whole 45 minutes.  A week later I went back again.  By then my rear was recovering pretty quickly – within days rather than weeks.  By the fourth week I decided I was ready to try doing this twice a week.  So I did.

And eventually I started to get better.  I hatched a plan.  I’d supplement with road riding.  If I had improved to the point that I could keep up with the class by the end of the summer, I’d one day ride to work (14 miles one way), go to spinning class afterward, and then ride home.  My instructor said I was crazy.  So did the other students.

Last week I went to see Lisa and Steve in the UK.  I rented a bike and we went on lots of nice rides.  Outside.  On the road.  On the LEFT (but nevermind that).  I discovered that all the spinning had translated into very strong legs and cardiovascular system.  Once I got my balance and my road habits back, I was good to go.

So today, four months after starting spinning and 70 lbs lighter, I’m DOING it.  I rode this morning 13.73 miles in less than an hour on a bike that weights 30 lbs (still my trusty Peugeot), carrying 20 lbs of gear.  In a few minutes I’ll change back into my jersey and shorts and ride over to the spinning class and ride in there (on my bike on a trainer, for a fun change of pace) for 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of crunches.  And then I’ll ride the 13.73 miles home.

By God, I think I’m back!

Edit: I’m home now.  Here are my final numbers:

To work

  • 13.73 miles
  • 57 minutes
  • 13.7 mph average
  • 535 cal
  • 142 bpm average
  • 155 bpm max


  • 19.47 miles
  • 61 minutes
  • 18.5 mph average
  • 642 cal
  • 126 bpm average
  • 153 bpm max

Note: I discovered that the bike + trainer does not provide enough resistance to satisfactorily support jumping and standing at tempo.  So spinning is best done on a real spinning bike, at least in my limited experience.


  • 13.03 miles
  • 55 minutes
  • 14.2 mph average
  • 402 cal
  • 125 bpm average
  • 141 bpm max


  1. Report on how you are this evening upon returning home.
    My guess is you will sleep very well tonight.

    Congratulations! Yahoo!

    Comment by Deborah — September 15, 2009 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  2. Guess it is downhill on the way home.

    Did you get home before dark?

    And how do you feel two days after?

    Comment by jpm14 — September 18, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

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