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Nothing Good Comes Easy: How I Learned to Love the Road Bike

Above Photo By: Tommy Chandler

Road riding isn’t the most welcoming discipline in cycling. Between snooty shops, a cultural fascination with ghastly-expensive bikes, and the endless judgment at the hands of those more experienced, it’s a wonder that anyone hops on a road bike at all.

As a lifelong mountain biker, it’s easy to dismiss roadies as Euro-obsessed snobs and fitness geeks. At the same time, early-season trail rides have made it immediately clear who has logged thousands of road miles over the winter. And as we’ve all experienced, at one point or another, few things are worse than getting your ass handed to you by a friend who’s barely broken a sweat.

It took many years, but eventually, enough was enough. With a few hundred bucks, and some parts from generous friends, my first road bike came together. It wasn’t a sleek Italian masterpiece, it posed little risk of being stolen, and frankly, I wasn’t sure why I had bothered. But after pulling some Lycra over my hairy legs, it was time for the maiden voyage. With low expectations, the first flat miles melted away. Then there was the first hill, a two-mile winding climb that no amount of time on the mountain bike had prepared me for. The cathartic discomfort that roadies love to glamorize began to set in, as the importance of cadence became painfully obvious. On a mountain bike, it’s easy to imagine that you’re beating the hill when you crest the top. On the road, the measured, methodical pace makes it unmistakably obvious that the only thing you’re defeating is yourself — the voice that tells you that it’s too hard, that it’s time to quit.

The hill was miles behind, and the road kept winding through the sun-streaked fall forest. The loop traversed by homes nestled behind rows of trees, picturesque farms, and a meandering river. I was lost in the scenery, and the beginning of the first descent snuck up without warning. Clicking through the last of my gears, the wind started whipping through my helmet. It was then that I saw a car ahead, and I was closing in. The first taste of that white-hot speed was like taking off the training wheels, my first adolescent fistfight, and my fumbling first kiss rolled into one. Tuck your head, look for a passing opportunity, and drop the hammer. Diving into the first chicane, it dawned on me—riding road bikes is insanely fun. There’s nothing quite like descending flat out, clad in a foam hard hat, and otherwise, essentially naked. The immediacy of the task at hand drowns out everything else.

That’s how it began. Since then, there’s been more painful climbs, faster white knuckle descents, frightening moments with cars, and close encounters with wildlife. There have been swims in rivers, back road explorations, and well-deserved coffee breaks. There’ve been new bikes, worn-out clothing, and road rash.The following season’s mountain bike rides got significantly faster and proved that it’s better to be the one putting the hurt on your friends then the one receiving it. Not that I’d ever tell them that, of course. Cadence and rhythmic breathing transferred seamlessly from the road to the trail, which augmented the considerable gains in strength. The biggest surprise, however, is that every time I hop on a road bike, it feels every bit as fresh and as real as that first ride on a crisp fall day.

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