My life

Snobbery and bicycles

At some point in my life, I discovered that I was guilty of being a snob. My attitudes regarding bicycles will serve as a case in point.

When I was a kid in Colombia, our family bikes were a girl’s Schwinn and a man’s bike. The Schwinn had coaster brakes and was about the right size for most of us (24″ wheels). I rode it a lot, in spite of it being a girl’s bike, because the man’s bike was too big for me. It had hand brakes linked by rods rather than cables and looked a lot like this:

My best friend and his brothers received Monareta bikes for Christmas in 1969. Monark was Colombia’s premier bike manufacturer and made excellent road bikes. The Monareta was similar to what we now call a hybrid; it had the lines of a road bike but with a straight handlebar.

Shortly after that we spent a year in KC, and my dad bought my brother a cool 20″ Western Flyer with a banana seat and high handlebars. He bought me a 26″ three-speed, which was a great disappointment until I actually rode it and realized that what it lacked in coolness, it made up for in speed and comfort. We had a lot of adventures with those bikes.

In college is when my snobbishness began. I rode an old Schwinn ten-speed inherited from a brother-in-law, and found that I looked down my nose at two general categories of people. On the one side were the kind of people who turned their handlebars over to make them comfortable. They were dweebs.

On the other side were people who bought biking jerseys, biking shorts, gloves, cleats… The most annoying of all were those who rode recumbent bicycles. They were insufferable, like vegans or the guy who checks you in at the Apple store.

I didn’t actually know anyone with a recumbent bicycle; I just saw them at occasional events. The first one I became friends with many years later was a fellow blogger who was a brilliant artist and toured Europe with his wife by bicycle, which happened to be recumbent. A very nice guy, and far cooler than I was.

At the age of 60, I have again taken up bicycling as my main means of exercise. I find that, to mitigate the discomforts of biking at my age and weight, I have changed the handlebar style, used thick handlebar tape, padded the seat, and bought padded gloves. I am also looking into gel-lined shorts. In short, I have become an insufferable dweeb.

And now I look at pictures of recumbent bikes and note that the rider’s weight does not rest on his crotch and hands, but is distributed along his back. His hands are resting rather than supporting his weight, and he doesn’t really look any dweebier than I do. Hmm…

My life

My bike

Last fall, one of the nice mountain bikes I inherited from my dad got stolen. In order to ride with my stepson, it became necessary to fix up my old 1986 Raleigh Pursuit, which meant tires and inner tubes and oil and a better seat.

It rode pretty nice (once I figured out the correct way to install the seat, which is wrong in the picture) and I used it for a couple of months until one evening in early June, I stepped hard on the pedal to enter the street, and the chain snapped. My foot shot down as the pedal spun, and I rolled the bike to the right.

When I got up, my finger was bleeding from a bad cut on one side and a massive scrape on the other. Fortunately I was only four blocks from home and hadn’t hurt anything else.

The injury to my finger involved stitches and then a splint when it started to develop a Boutonniere deformity (finger gets pulled into a stair-step configuration), since ligaments were also damaged.

As a result, I decided I’d better upgrade the bike, so nothing else will give out on me. The handlebar was bent from the accident, and decades-old brakes and cables are not as reliable as new ones.

Since I never used the lower part of the traditional handlebars, I decided to go for bullhorns this time. I changed the cables and brakes and chain, put new gearshift levers up on the goose neck (they had been down on the frame, well below my knees), and replaced the old rat-trap pedals (which were always upside down since I took the rat-traps off long ago) with nice mountain-bike ones. Aldi was selling a gel seat-cover for cheap, and I have discovered that you can never have too much gel between you and a bike seat, so that’s on there too. The outcome is pretty cool for an old fat guy’s bike.

And of course the old bike helmet needed the padding replaced… and I discovered that one more downside of putting on 80 pounds in middle age is that your hands get to hurting really bad when you lean forward and support your weight on the handlebars. Gloves with gel pads in the palm are a necessity.

With all the money I put into replacements and upgrades, I could have bought a bike off the rack at Walmart, but it wouldn’t be as nice as this one is now, and it wouldn’t be designed for my height.

I also looked into a speedometer. The last one I bought cost under $10, but now everything is $50 or more. Fortunately, there are apps that are just as good, and will also map your ride.

My speed is pathetic (18.2 kph is just over 11 mph); probably some of you can ride faster uphill in the Rockies than I do on flat land in Florida, but I don’t care, I get 45-60 minutes of exercise a day touring the neighborhood and it’s doing me good.

My life

Exercise and me

Those who know me well (my kids) know that I’m the world’s biggest slob. Well, not the biggest, but definitely in the top quarter of the class. I used to work several nights a week plus Saturdays on my handyman business. Once there was less financial need for that, I started spending my evenings on my recliner watching TV and blogging, while dishes piled up in the sink, cat hair collected in the corners, and my weight crept up and up.

I played in a church summer softball league for nine years. Each year I’d vow that by next year I would have lost weight and worked out so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. And each year I was several pounds heavier and slower.

Then I got reacquainted with the world’s most wonderful woman, and suddenly had to deal with the responsibilities of being the world’s most fortunate man.¬†

We got married in December and joined a gym in February. YouFit is the cheapest gym I’ve seen (about $15 a month) and has great equipment. They offer a free one-hour “coaching” session, which turned out to be a sales pitch for personal training. We got talked into four training sessions a month for a year.

The training didn’t go that well. We didn’t hit it off with our first trainer, and then had trouble finding anyone else available in the evenings, so eventually I begged off the contract. But I learned a handful of things that have been helpful.

I learned that weight training burns more fat than a cardio workout, and that the body needs to be stressed for the exercise to have an impact. Variety is good. It keeps the body off balance. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect the same results because the body adapts. And it’s better to work out with weights first and then follow up with cardio.

In the last month, I’ve lost about 8 pounds. I spend five minutes warming up on the elliptical, then do a circuit of 5-6 weight machines or free weights, 12-20 repetitions depending on what I can handle, plus sit-ups, three times around the circuit as fast as I can. I invariably work up a sweat and am panting by the middle of the second circuit. Then I go back to the elliptical machine, set resistance to 15, and plug away for 22-25 minutes until I’ve burned at least 325-350 ¬†calories. I’m usually done with everything in 45-50 minutes.

I’ve increased weights as I’ve progressed, to keep my body stressed, and I alternate between working the upper body one day and legs the next. If I happen to set a machine’s weight too low, I do more reps. I try to complete my weight routine in 15-20 minutes, so it’s very annoying when other people sit at a machine and rest between sets instead of moving on. But rather than talk to them, I skip that exercise and come back to it at the end of the circuit, or I find a similar machine.

The nice thing about doing cardio on the elliptical machine is that it keeps my arms and legs both moving smoothly, so I never end up sore from the weights. I usually feel exhausted when I start, but after ten minutes it gets easier and I can pick up the pace. After 20 minutes I set myself a series of small goals so I’ll keep going: 3 miles, 300 calories, 22 minutes, 3.25 miles, 24 minutes, 350 calories, next commercial break, finish this inning… The machines have a screen where you can watch TV. (If it wasn’t for TV sports, I might have quit the gym months ago.)

I’ve also changed my eating habits since Alicia left on her trip to Colombia. I skip supper or make a salad, and after working out I make a massive fruit shake with whatever is in the house, usually 4-6 fruits: strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, orange, lemon, kiwi, apple, whatever I have, plus crushed ice and milk or fruit juice and maybe a little ice cream. I put the leftovers in the freezer to be blended up another day. It tastes like dessert and is very refreshing, and is full of fiber and vitamins since I use nearly the whole fruit.

The difference is notable. My waist is smaller and I feel energetic and youthful. I still don’t like going to the gym, but it’s part of my schedule now.¬†