This is my first blog on cycling this season, excuse my absence, but a lot has happened and I'm excited to fill you in!
Last season, I ended with a 75 mile ride, which is the Twin Lights ride. I was really hoping to do 100 (a Century, as it's known by cyclists) but opted to do 75 because I didn't think I could handle another 25, especially if it had a lot of climbs. Anyways, the 2018 season was a success and changed my life significantly by having an outlet for my body and mind. A good long bike ride really clears the mind. Especially if you suffer a little and grind out to the end. You can't be obsessing over menial life issues when you're out on the road in the hot sun, your legs are gone and you've still got 15 miles to go. Then, the mind goes into a kind of survival trance and all your problems fade away. I found that I needed this. Needed it at least two or three times a week.
In the off season, I discovered the spin bikes at the gym and had never done spin before. There's a big screen, video tutorials and rides thru Corsica, Belgium and other Euro landscapes. It's cool! So, I did those thru the winter. Spin is challenging because the bikes don't have freewheel, so you have to pedal all the time, no coasting.
So, after a winter of spin classes, I hit the bike fresh in March and bested all my previous times on the first day out. I was shocked. The spin classes had put me in "go mode". My average speed increased about 2 or 3 mph. that's big!
Also, I made the switch to real cycling cleats and clip-in pedals. Another game changer. Being clipped in connects you to the bike and gives you power on the up-stroke of your pedal stroke and uses more muscles. Not to mention, now I feel like a real cyclist!
Another thing that has helped is weight training. I decided to start doing squats in the gym and as awkward as they feel, eventually I can do them comfortably and man, they make a big difference. The power in your legs in key for cycling and by adding some strength to your lower body; quads, hamstrings, glutes, the power you can generate dramatically increases.
The length of my rides went up. Last year my norm was 25. Now, this season the new bench mark became 45. After several 40 mile rides this season, I felt like I could do a century. My goal was to do one in June, but the wife and I moved into a new house and my riding took a backseat to packing, moving, unpacking. That's ok, because we love the new house and life is much better. But, the Twin Lights ride was approaching and now I gotta do make the dream come true. The century!
Oh yeah, a week before the big ride, I got a different bike. The 1981 Schwinn I was riding just wsan't cutting it. It weighed 28 pounds, was squeaky and the gearing was getting worse and worse. So, Steve at the local North Plainfield bike shop, The Bike Stand, hooked me up with an aluminum frame Trek from the 90s. A huge improvement. Who knew that indexed shifting was so awesome! It's not totally modern brake lever shifting, but still, a big improvement. But, I was really apprehensive about riding 100 miles on a bike I'd not ridden that much.
So the Twin Lights Ride was upon me. I was nervous and wondered if my legs were gonna have it in them. But, I figured, what have I got to lose? Nothing. Let's go for it.
All shapes and sizes of riders were out there doing the century. Teams of guys with matching jerseys flew bike in single file as if they were sprinting for the yellow jersey in the Tour De France. People in their 60s who clearly have experience, were just clicking along like it was nothing. And, there were some pretty big folks out there, with big bellies, sweating it out and I was frankly amazed at their resolve. It was a reminder that everybody has their place, and as long as you're out there going for it, then more power to ya.
Somewhere around 57 miles, my hamstrings locked up and at a rest stop I wondered if they'd open up again. And, that wasn't the worst of it, the worst was my shoulders, they were just killing me, my neck and shoulders were in serious pain and no amount of stretching and moving around was helping.
At mile 75 I took a rest and laid in the grass, staring at the blue sky. 25 more miles.... and there are a few big climbs at the end... shit! Well, ya do what ya gotta do. I got on the bike and continued.
I don't have a bike computer, by choice, I ride to escape technology, I don't wanna know the mileage, I just wanna be out there. So I was estimating where I was. Around this point I got a second wind. My legs opened back up and I was able to climb a lot faster than most the other riders. People were cramping up and pulling over. I felt bad for them. I just kept my gear low and kept "spinning" at a high cadence, surprised at being able to even pedal that fast, but it kept the legs open.
At mile 93 I stopped at a rest stop. I heard a guy say "Only 7 more miles" and I got excited. I'm gonna make it! I ate some cookies and drank a bunch of "Nuun" hydration water. The "Bike New York" organization really has your back on these rides, there were mountains of peanut butter sandwiches, energy bars, trail mix, bananas, oranges and good stuff. They were cheerful and supportive. I needed it. One woman saw me and said "Have some of this Nuun water... I can see it in your face, you need it."
The final two climbs that everybody was dreading were not that bad. Nothing close to the climbs in the highlands down by Sandy Hook I'd been training on all summer. To my surprise, they felt easy. The training paid off.
At the finish line my wife Laurie, who did the 30 mile ride was waiting. She'd been training too. Her ride had finished four hours earlier. She'd been at the park at the finish line hanging out with the cycling people. She knew it meant a lot to me. It was a happy moment that I'll never forget. I'm happy she's into cycling now, too. It's a great thing, a wonderful community of people.
We took photos, listened to the band, sampled some of the health foods and watched riders come in, exhausted and happy. Groups of riders were taking selfies and smiling and celebrating. What a scene.
Having now ridden a century I feel a sense of accomplishment that I've never felt before. It took two seasons to do it, but it was worth it. I'll do more of them, maybe in some different locales. Cycling has changed my life and after 33 years of being a professional musician has given me a new outlet. Now I feel more confident. And happy.
A quick blog post on the cycling topic. If you're here reading this blog, there's pretty good chance you know I'm a drummer by trade and cycling is one of my hobbies. Recently I discovered something interesting on the effect of cycling on my drumming.
I found after a few long distance rides of 40 miles that my endurance had increased significantly and my mental focus and momentum could be held for longer periods of time while playing.
When you're cycling long distances, once you get out there 20 miles or more, well, you have no choice but to ride back. Unless you wanna call an uber. Which I don't. Anyways, cycling kind of forces you to deal with it. and that mentality, once you've broken thru a few mental walls that tell you to stop, you'll likely find that on the other side of that wall you can go a lot further than you might have thought.
Bring that mindset to the drums and holding a groove. Cyclists hold what they call a cadence for hours. It's hypnotizing. After a few rides, I sat down at the drums and that hypnotizing feeling was still there. It was like I was already totally in a pocket, and I think that's maybe because I HAD been in a pocket for hours at a time already.
I don't have any other major revelations to add. I'm still sussing it all out. This is my first summer back on a bike in many years. But Hey! Nevermind that, the important thing is that "groove sports" like cycling, jump rope, speed bag... that kind of stuff, is very interesting to me and I have found them all to be beneficial to my playing physicality.
More to come on this topic soon...
When I was a kid growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, I practically lived on a bicycle. There was no better feeling than to jump on the bike and feel the cool breeze on my face as I sped away from home, down the giant hill on Flora Av, past Mark Twain Elementary, down St. Mary's Av. and off to wherever my will wished. It was simple, yet it required effort in the hills of Hannibal.
The bike expanded one's horizons, circle of friends, possibilities, and it represented your spirit of freedom. Sometimes, when you see somebody on a bike, they look as if they haven't a care in the world, yet they are determined, they are moving forward. They are going somewhere.
Adventuring out on a bike would have it's challenges. I have a big scar on my chin from attempting to ride down Flora Av. hill. At five or six years old, I thought it was time. I probably thought: What would Spiderman or Luke Skywalker do? So I tried it. On this bike:
Despite an epic crash and several stitches to the chin, I tried again and succeeded.
When I was 10 I started racing. BMX. We hauled the bike up to Quincy, Ill to the dirt race track and I competed in three "motos" a day. Sometimes it was glorious, winning a trophy against the Quincy boys. Other times, a devastating crash would send me back to Hannibal with bruises and broken ego. But it was an adventure. When the lights went from red, to yellow, to green, a horn blasted and the gate dropped. What a rush!
My bike afforded me acceptance into a group of older boys who, rode the bike trails in Hannibal and raced at Quincy. We became pretty tight and the summers were adventures in dare-devil jumps, muddy trails, racing down St. Mary's avenue, searching for that next awesome ramp or natural berm to jump on.
My bike became a part of my identity. I never wanted to go anywhere without it.
BMX was my passion. I raced for three seasons, first on a Mongoose (I cut a lot of lawns and raked a lot of leaves to save up for it), then on a Kuwahara (the bike that was made famous in the movie E.T.). Even after a major crash landed me in the hospital with potentially ruptured intestines (luckily they were not) the racing continued until adolescence came on.
Then, adolescence came. Jr. High. Jazz Band. Drumline. Big Changes.
As music became my main focus, I sold the Kuwaraha for a Zildjian ride cymbal. My first Zildjian! Exciting times!
However, I still needed to get around Hannibal autonomously, so started riding my brother's Schwinn touring bike. A very nice machine from the early 80s. It was, of course, much easier to pedal over the hills of Hannibal, a welcome upgrade!
I saw a couple cycling movies that inspired me. "Quicksilver" with Kevin Bacon playing a down and out wall street trader to takes to cycling around NYC and "American Flyers" with Kevin Costner about a couple guys bent on riding. And of course one of my favorite movies of all time "Breaking Away", a coming of age movie about kids in a small town who are looked down upon because they are poor, but in the end they win the big cycling race. I still love that movie and will watch it over and over. I wanted badly to cycle, but the gear was so expensive, I had to choose between cycling gear and drums. It was no contest. The drums won.
I chose music. Moved to Kansas City. No time for the bike. And besides, I couldn't carry a drum kit on a bike!
In college my beloved old Schwinn fell to the wayside as I joined a band, moved into a bachelor pad, and simply couldn't afford to maintain the bike. It rusted. I moved out and left the bike where it lay. A hasty decision as life as a musician picked up full steam.
I moved to NYC. Lived in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan for 10 years. Riding a bike seemed like suicide, human beings speeding around in traffic seemed so vulnerable, not to mention I still couldn't afford to spend money on one. Anyways, I worked non-stop on my music and survival in NYC, a bike was last on the list. But still, somewhere in my mind I thought it would be so cool to ride again, even if only on the bike path around the city. But I didn't act on it.
Then I moved to New Jersey. The traffic is so dense and moves so fast, I figured I couldn't trust my life to these people. Thoughts of buying a bike were quickly dismissed. Another 10 years went by as I worked non-stop on my music.
Then my wife and I discovered the Greenway at Metuchen: a 3.5 mile paved trail, specifically for bikes and walking. How intriguing! I began thinking about getting a bike now. Maybe this is the ticket! No traffic! And I figured, I deserve to treat myself. Life in NYC/NJ has been stressful as hell and relentless and draining. I needed a new view. Some oxygen. Some freedom.
A quick scan of bikes on Craigslist revealed a shocking and exciting prospect: The same exact Schwinn Sports Tourer that I rode in high school, even the same colors, was for sale, renovated and ready to ride. I jumped in the car, drove to Brooklyn and bought it on the spot.
After taking it to Jay's Cycles in Westfield for a tune up, new pedals and a new seat, I set out on my first ride. It was such a rush to feel that freedom again, that youthful adventure, the feeling of exploration and challenge. Let's see what this bike can do!
I took it on the Greenway and I'll tell you what, man, the wind, the sound of the bike, that familiar feel, the freedom... something in me woke up that had been asleep for, lemme see, almost 30 years. The kid in me came bursting to the surface like a person held underwater coming up for air. A grin came over my face. The cool air on my skin felt so good. The fluidity of the bike, the grace of it, being one with the machine. I almost started crying, man!
Since that day a few weeks ago I have increased my rides. I've ridden The 12 mile stretch at Sandy Hook Beach. Then the 20 mile stretch from Keyport to Sandy Hook. Then I did 40 miles from Freehold to Sandy Hook to Asbury. Feel fine afterwards. Im taking it slow. It's getting better and better. If I prove to myself that I will stick with it, which I can't imagine letting this go again, I will invest in a modern bike next year and head to the mountains of Pennsylvania or upstate NY.
How could I have let this go? Well, it doesn't matter. Why? Because bikes don't go in reverse. They only go FORWARD.