I have recently taken up bike riding as a way to stay fit. I dusted off my old Trek 4100 trail bike last month and put it to good use. I changed the tires to ones more suitable for the road, then started riding early weekday mornings (as schedules permit) and occasionally on the weekends. I also decided that I wanted to try a "group ride", where hundreds of cyclists get together and go on a long ride. My original plan was to ride 30 miles in the group ride, but I ended up doing 50 miles! Here is the story.
I signed up for a group ride called the "Cartersville Century". It is held annually in Cartersville, GA, and the proceeds (entry fees) benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Bartow County. The organizers map out several routes of varying lengths, and they set up rest stops along the routes. The longest route is 100 miles, called in cyclist lingo "a century". The other options included 15, 30, and 50 miles. Naturally there was no way I was going to be able to ride 100 miles on my trail bike after only 6 weeks of riding. So I signed up for the 30 mile ride as that was about the longest I have been able to do in one day.
The ride was held yesterday (Saturday June 27). Lots of folks attended, around 700 I think. As I looked around the parking lot, everybody (and I mean everybody) was on a road bike. My trail bike stuck out like a sore thumb. I was almost too embarrassed to stay and actually considered just heading home. I did eventually see one other trail bike, which made me feel not quite so foolish.
The ride began at 8 AM and we had police assistance at several intersections on the way out of town. It was fun to ride amidst so many bikers and not care quite so much about the automobiles on the road. The countryside was beautiful and the temperature was not yet hot. I was riding well but was being passed by lots of folks (all on their road bikes of course). There was one group in particular that I remember. As they passed by one of the women called out to me: "you are really kicking butt on that trail bike, I'm having a hard time keeping up with you!"
At the 15 mile mark we came to our first rest stop. It was well stocked with water, Powerade, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, bananas, and (my favorite) Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuits! This rest stop was the turnaround point for the 30 mile route. But I was feeling good and wasn't ready to head back yet. So on the spur of the moment I decided to keep going and do the 50 mile course. On the next leg I met up with some folks and pretty much stayed with them up to the next rest stop. They too were surprised and complimentary of my efforts on a trail bike. This rest stop was at 25 miles: the halfway point for the 50. We rested there for awhile (this stop had candy bars!) then began the ride back. I was able to keep up with them and even managed some pleasant conversation while riding. We hit one more rest stop and started the last leg (15 miles) back to the starting point. The last 10 miles were the worst. The hills became that much tougher and I was very much ready to be done. The road finally smoothed out for the final 4 miles but if the finish line wasn't so close I would have stopped for a long rest!
I rode 50 miles in 3 hours and 32 minutes (not including stops) for an average rate of 14.1 miles per hour. Not too bad for an old guy like me. My usual rate is more like 15.8, but I was getting very slow towards the end.
I met some nice folks and had a great time. At first I expected to be thought of as silly for showing up on my trail bike. Instead I was admired for the attempt and the success.
But I really need a road bike.
For those who are wondering, here are the differences. A trail bike, also called all-terrain or a mountain bike, has flat (or "upright") handlebars and wider gear ratios for climbing really steep hills. It also has wide tires and a heavy duty suspension on the front for going over (and through) holes. Consequently, trail bikes are heavy. A road bike is very light and has lightweight and skinny wheels. It has drop handlebars so that the rider can easily get in to a streamlined position for those fast downhills. The gearing is also tighter and smaller so that the bike can be pedalled at faster speeds. The road bike is what you would see in races and tours.