I used to think that there was nothing better for the human spirit than to feel the fatigue at the end of a long day of hard labor, to feel the deep sleep that follows such fatigue, and to wake rested, but now I know to replace the word labor with "cycling," because I'm not enough of a Puritan or masochist to enjoy work all that much.
After about a year and a half of pondering what bike I'd like to add to my stable, watching countless youtube videos of guys touring the world or playing on singletrack, reading blogs about other folks and their favorite rides, I finally decided on the Surly Long Haul Trucker.
My wife, expecting a good income tax refund, allowed me to order one from my friends at Trinity Bicycles in Fort Worth. Friday, June 3rd, I finished up at school and had my wife drop me off at the bike shop. When I arrived, carrying my dusty old Avenir panniers, I didn't see the bike right away. Bryan, casually behind the counter, nodded and said, "It's being ridden."
"Ah, I see. To..."
"To make sure everything is set up and working all right."
As I was chewing the fat, Gibby, one of the bike shop guys, rolled up to the front door. I held the door open as he brought it through and, after a few adjustments, and the installation of a honey brown Brooks saddle, I was ready to go.
I had never really used drop bars much. There was a time in the late 80's when I may have tooled around on a cheap Schwinn 10 speed, but those memories are dim. I have been riding a Trek FX fitness bike that is basically an aluminum framed hybrid with 700C wheels and a mountain bike riding position. I like being upright as I have visions of using my bike as a tourist would, seeing the sights, taking in the country. It's not about eating up the road for me so much as taking it all in, being connected with the world in which I cycle. This was a factor in picking the LHT. I'm not into cool, but it's hard to deny that Surly bikes are kinda cool. I had read countless adventure stories about riding the LHT down mountain roads, and how they remained sturdy even under full loads, but they were still cool bikes. Bryan, as well as a few of the bloggers I had read, suggested that I might like the riding position of the LHT, affording my the ability to ride high like I was accustomed to or to use the lower positions available with the drop bars.
At first, as I tested the bike, riding it around the shop, I was unsteady and uncomfortable with the bar-end shifters and the sheer heft of the bike. I left the shop, heading north on Main, and pulled up on a curb at Lancaster to affix the lights I had packed in my panniers. I resumed my ride, and Friday night traffic was tricky, so I put some pressure on those pedals and headed to the Jennings tunnel, turning fast and enjoying the smooth acceleration down the hill into the dark, fragrant tunnel. The bike was becoming more comfortable, except for the brand new Brooks saddle, which felt hard as a rock. I pedaled down Hemphill street towards Magnolia and started hearing the music of First Friday on the Green. I knew some of my Night Rider buddies would be there, so I pulled up to the park and surveyed the crowd.
I felt like a kid showing off his new Christmas present. As I started finding friends in the crowd, I let them each take it for a spin. Keith, a long-haired IT guy with a penchant for foul commentary, came back from a ride around the block and shared some suggestions for tuning the bike to his preferences. Another good friend, Mark, compared his Kona Sutra to my LHT and let me know how jealous he was of my racks. We bounced around ideas for a tour of the hill country, and we decided to take a few out and back rides before the tour, to get accustomed to the heat and the bike. I left the concert, heading north on Lipscomb, and enjoyed the firmness of the ride, even as I hit pot holes and cobblestones on my way through downtown Fort Worth. The racks, Surly "nice" chromoly steel and black, hardly made a sound even on the roughest patches of road. I passed the courthouse and headed down the main street bridge, pedaling until gravity took over. By the time I reached the bottom of the bridge, I felt like I was going 40 miles an hour.
Friday night on Fort Worth's Main Street, especially in the Northside, may not be the best time for a lone cyclist. Hordes of partyers line up, cruising and listening to loud stereos; the cacophony of tejano, electronica, dance, hip-hop, country, classic rock...all forming a thick soup of noise pollution that seems almost visible in its vivacity...I passed cars on the right as the cue at each intersection seemed to lengthen. Avoiding glass and pot holes, the Surly seemed much more nimble than many of the bloggers had suggested.
The ride north of Cowtown was quiet as I passed through Diamond Hills. Every neighborhood block, I zipped past young Latino guys crowded around parked cars. Listening to their tunes, they seemed not to notice my blinking lights as I flew by as quickly as I might. All the way up Decatur Road I rolled, until I was forced to get on Blue Mound Road. Its shoulders inconsistent, Blue Mound Road is always a little nerve-wracking for me, but traffic was light and I made good time getting home.
I announced my presence to my wife, got a beer, took a sip, and then got back on the bike and cruised around the neighborhood for another half an hour before I finally put it away for the night. I was amazed that I made the 17 mile trip from downtown to my home in less than 40 minutes. I was also amazed that I didn't really feel fatigued.
The fatigue would come, though. By the time Sunday Night Riders was over, I had ridden the bike for more than ten hours. I rode to my school's graduation ceremony at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Afterwards, I rode around the Trinity Trails in the heat of a real summer-like day. I had ridden around Saginaw on Saturday, as well. Despite the stiffness in my arms and legs, the first thing I thought of when my first day of sleeping in was rudely interrupted by a fan falling off the night stand, was "I need to go ride my bike!"