Way back in 2003, I decided that it might be interesting to try triathlon. But it didn’t start well. I took my first couple swim lessons and lost one of my contact lenses in the pool while taking my goggles off. Rookie mistake.
A week later I actually tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. Thus my triathlon dreams were put on a semi-permanent hold. I waited six months to have surgery and then did a year’s worth of rehab. Something in me wanted to prove that I could return to playing soccer and played for two more years before tearing the ACL again.
That convinced me the days of ballistic sports were through. So I started a bit more serious riding on the Trek 400 road bike that my brother-in-law had given me. It was the same bike he’d used to start his cycling career, so I gave it my best shot tooling around with that open frame and the shifters on the down tube.
A real road bike
But eventually I saw the need for a “real” ride to support my Road Child persona and purchased a Felt 4C Carbon fiber road bike. The transformation from struggling rider to an eager new Road Child was instant. I’d never owned a bike that smooth and fast. So I started racing criterium events and learned through experience the joys, thrills and dangers of riding at top speed in a field of 20-30 riders.
That bike took me through many seasons and plenty of challenges outside the world of riding. That bike was my therapy during years as caregiver to a wife with cancer and a father who was a stroke victim. Being the simultaneous guide to both those loved ones was a test of mental strength, spirit and resolve.
There were days when I barely had the will to ride. My competitive verve was essentially flattened by the combination of work, health-related finances and caregiving. There were more than a few times that I simply gave up and got dropped on the weekend group rides because my determination was wicked away by that roll call of obligations.
This is not to say that I regret any of those circumstances or experiences. But it was rather symbolic that my Felt road bike finally succumbed to an absent-minded moment. I returned from a fall road ride on a cold October day when I wasn’t feeling well and drove my car into the garage with the Felt still on the roof rack. The impact broke the front fork at the top.
It was such a depressing little moment that I hung the disassembled bike up in the garage and didn’t ride at all for two whole months. By then my brother-in-law had willed me another of his bikes, this time a beautiful blue classic Waterford, but the frame was slightly small for my long torso and try as I might, that bike was not destined to be my main ride.
My relationship and resulting marriage to a triathlete drew me into the worlds of duathlon and then triathlon. Thus after the Felt got crunched I went searching for a new bike and found a Specialized Venge. I thought I’d struck on the perfect combination of an aero bike for road and triathlon racing.
Ooops on the aero
There was just one problem. Specialized at that time did not make acceptable aero bars for use on the Venge. So I raced the best I could on that road bike and was able to compete at just over 20 mph in Sprint and duathlon races. But I sensed there was a missing component in my racing as people on aero bikes flew by. So I tried attaching aero bars to the Waterford, but that did not work.
So this past winter I pulled the Felt frame back down from the wall and took it to the bike shop for a thorough inspection of the frame. A close friend and bike mechanic insists that I should never ride the Felt again on grounds that the frame could be cracked and possibly dissipate under my weight.
But I was no so sure about that. So several people at Prairie Path Cycles looked at the Felt and determined that the only real damage done to the bike was the front fork. So we bought a new fork and installed it along with aero bars. Now I’m not only a Road Child, I have an alternate identity as Aero Boy.
Aero Boy can really fly
And that bike can fly. It was always a smooth ride. The Felt 4C was originally named Bike of the Year and called the Red Rocket by Bicycling Magazine in 2006. So it’s nice to have that sweet ride underneath me again. In aero position, I’ve been able to ride more capably with Sue on days when we both ride the aero bikes. It was always difficult to draft behind her on my road bike, especially on longer rides when the 20% factor of greater wind resistance sooner or later wore me down.
Yesterday we finished together after 35 miles of riding during a windy day. That would not have happened on the Specialized road bike as Road Child.
Just last week I was mentioning this history during a visit to Mill Race Cyclery (I like to resource with several local bike shops) That’s where I met the Specialized rep. He looked at me funny as I told him about rigging the Felt for aero riding and he pulled out his iPad and called up several options for aero bars on the Specialized Venge.
I’d called Specialized a few years back when I bought the bike and they told me not to put aero bars on the flat handlebars provided with the bike. But now they’ve overcome that issue with new designs and I’m curious how that bike would feel in aero position as well.
So-called purists can stuff it
Sure, there are people who would scoff and say, “Just buy a goddamned tri-bike and be done with it.” But I know plenty of folks who race quite well with the road-aero configuration. So this is my path for now.
Ironically, as Sue and I were riding south on Deerpath road to start our ride, a group of ten roadie cyclists caught and passed us. Sue was riding in zone 2-3 so we didn’t attempt to trail those boys. Yet a part of me wanted to yell out, “Hey, I’m not just a tri-guy!” See, there’s a bit of prejudice among real roadies toward tri-bikes and that whole hunched over posture common to aero riders.
But I’m happy with my dual personality. Some days I’ll go out as Road Child and other days be happy riding like a bullet as Aero Boy. Every superhero needs a couple personalities, do they not?