Monday, August 31, 2009
Always a fan of labels, I have added another one to my list. I’m a commuter. Dior, Gucci, Prada and Cannondale? I have decided to use my powers for good and now cycle to work. Make no mistake; this was not an immediate decision. FIRST, there was the gear. Shopping for a new bicycle is not an easy task. This is made even more difficult when your last bicycle was a Schwinn Cruiser Deluxe one speed with a banana seat and pink tassels on the handlebars. Apparently, tassels are to a bicycle what socks are to sandals; cute on a child insulting on an adult. Thus tassels be gone, I was in need of a respectable bicycle and a trip to the local specialty bicycle store was made in order to achieve cycling maturity.
Make no mistake I did not “cold call” the bike store and walk in without the faintest idea of what I wanted. I was, at the time, training for my first triathlon and was fully aware that Lance Armstrong had won the Tour de France for the seventh time while riding a Trek. If it was good enough for Lance…
So when the lovely woman at the cycling shop asked if she could help me find something, I spoke with an air of confidence. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I was talking about. I wanted a Trek racing bike. This would seem simple enough to the non-cyclist. Apparently asking for a Trek racing bike at a specialty bike store is like asking for an ice cream cone at Baskin and Robbins.
“What kind of Trek racing bike are you looking for,” the woman asked. Her name was Hannah or Anna, I really can’t remember. I think it was Hannah or at least that it what I called her for the rest of the interaction and she never corrected me either because that WAS in fact her name or she was being polite and desperate for a sale.
“I’d like a really nice Trek racing bike.” I replied confidently. What kind of an idiot did she take me for? No, Hannah/Anna I’d like a piece of crap Trek if you have one?
“Okay,” she said with trepidation knowing full well this was going to be a sale she’d have to walk me through. I should point out that in my defense, Hannah/Anna should have seen this coming. I do not own “sporty clothes” as they are often called. I go shopping in heels and to me “casual wear” could easily be anything formal as long as it paired with a jean jacket. So there I was shopping for my Trek in a fabulous little black dress and a jean jacket. I mean really! Did Hannah/Anna think I actually knew what I was talking about?
“What would you like to use your bike for?” Hannah/Anna asked coming closer to me. It was then that I realized she was very petite. At five feet tall and maybe 90 pounds I could easily take this woman. My confidence immediately grew. She would clearly kick my butt cycling up a an incline but in an arm wrestle I would be the victor.
“I have a triathlon coming up and would like a proper racing bike.” I said with an athlete’s pride. She smiled and I watched her eyes look me up and down. Hannah/Anna was giving me the “you are a triathlete?” look. I get this a lot. I do not have an athlete’s body. Yes I am built more for comfort than for speed however I do get extra points for both effort and fashion. I may not finish in a timely manner but I do finish and pride myself on looking impossibly fresh in the photo afterwards.
“Okay,” said Hanna/Anna, after her once over was complete and she walked to the back of the store to find the first bike for me to try. She emerged a few seconds later and I knew that Hanna/Anna was going to need more than just a little arm wresting contest for me to show her my point of view. There in front of me was a Bumble Bee Yellow Cannondale with black writing and a red seat.
“Hanna?” I said, although the “H” might have been silent, “we need to have a chat.”
“Try it for size.” She said confidently.
“Yah, I don’t think so.” I said surveying the large lemon of a thing.
Allow me to explain...Yellow is the kind of color that is great in food and bad in everything else.
Yellow fruit, fabulous, yellow shirt, not so good. Yellow pie is delicious; a yellow bike is a migraine. And so when my little Hanna/Anna tried to soothe me by suggesting that there were even yellow jerseys to go with the yellow bike, I decided to school her in the colour wheel according to Ali Zentner.
“Hannah, I know you are really trying to help and I am not what you would call knowledgeable in the bike department but I must tell you, I need a pretty racing bike. Black or blue, maybe even turquoise with a lovely accent colour. Something that would look sporty but still is fabulous. Do I look like someone who would be happy on a big bumble bee of a bike?” I was trying to get through to this woman when I looked down at the floor and noticed she was in Birkenstock sandals with, yes, woolen socks in the middle of June.
“Let me get Mike to help you. He is much better with this sort of thing.” She sighed. And with that Hanna/Anna gave up on the sale and on me and walked behind the desk. She turned to the twenty something sitting behind the desk who I could only assume was Mike, pointed in my direction and said “Trek racing”. With that, she picked up a copy of Cycling World magazine and banished me from her memory. Mike was now tag teaming it in her plan and headed in my direction.
“Hey there,” Mike said, “I hear you want a Trek racing bike.”
“Do you guys work on commission?” I asked.
“Yeh,” Mike said.
“Okay,” I answered somewhat vengefully. I was now what my husband would call a “hater”. I was buying a bike from Mike just to give him and not little miss socks and sandals the commission.
Within three minutes, Mike returned from the back with the perfect creamsicle delicious tangerine and white perfection that was to be my Trek.
“Try this one.” He said proudly.
“It’s beautiful.” I said almost with a sigh, “How did you know I wanted a pretty bike?” I asked like a woman opening a Tiffany's box for the first time.
“ My sister is a fashion journalist and I bought her a bike for Christmas. Went through the same thing with her. She has the same purse as you have.” He said shyly.
I did not know what pleased me more; that my new bike fit perfectly, that it really was practical AND pretty, or that there was a fashion journalist out there carrying the same bag as me.
And so my love affair with the bike began. My Trek and I have now been together for over a year. We have shared many highs and lows. I have learned how to signal properly in traffic rather than just swearing at cars about my directional intentions. I have completed a triathlon and lived to tell the tale. I cycled my way through a rain filled Vancouver winter and learned that when you pedal too fast in the rain the water really does fly up your backside and not in a good way. Through a determination bordering on shear stubbornness I have learned how to use “clip in” pedals where you wear special shoes that clip to the pedals of the bike. Truth be told I learned to clip in not for the extra power it offers the cyclist when riding a bike but for the fact that if there was an occasion to buy special shoes- I would NOT be denied. I have fallen off my creamsicle fabulous perfect bike a total of 21 times (all learning how to use the “clip in” pedals) and managed only a nasty scar on my left knee that refuses to heal. I now own four pairs of cycling shorts all with extra padding in the crotch area, two sets of cycling rain gear and all of my cycling jerseys curiously look wonderful with the colour tangerine.
So, when the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study about the results of cardiovascular benefits of commuters I felt all of my hard work would be now justified. The trial done out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina by Dr. P. Gordon-Larsen and colleagues studied young people who commuted to work by walking or cycling over a one year period versus those who drove their cars. This cross-sectional study included 2364 participants enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study who worked outside the home. The study looked at the relationship between walking or biking to work with body weight, obesity, fitness levels, and risk factors for heart disease. A total of 16.7% of participants used any means of active commuting to work. All other things being equal, male commuters had 50% less like likelihood of obesity than men who drove to work. Unfortunately this difference was not observed in female commuters which only proves my theory that God is a woman without a sense of sisterhood. Female commuters however did have significantly greater fitness levels than non-commuters. So as I ride my Trek rain or shine over the Lion’s Gate bridge and back again day in and day out I can rest assured in the scientific knowledge that I am losing absolutely no weight but if ever I decided to have a foot race with the “old me” (the one who used to drive her car to work) I would definitely kick her ass. No, I may not live longer (the evidence remains to be seen, the studies about longevity are still ongoing) but I do feel better about my cycling ability and my relationship with spandex.
As for the future? Studies come and go and science changes as often as hemlines. Health is transient and we all have to do our part. Someday my love affair with all things tangerine will be replaced with a carbon-fibre turquoise Trek that I can neither afford nor justify at this moment. Someday there will be a study that shows that women who cycle to work on said carbon-fibre turquoise bicycles not only live longer but also are easier to live with. And on that glorious day tassels will be affixed to bicycles everywhere and all will be right in the world once more. No one will go hungry and no one will wear leggings ever again. So it is written, so it shall be done.