Peter McGraw is joined by two cyclists (and friends) for an impromptu episode on cycling. Bikes are associated with autonomy and adventure–the same ideals that differentiate solos from singles.
Listen to Episode #107 here
I’m joined by two cyclists and friends for an impromptu conversation. Julie Nirvelli was born and raised in San Jose, California. She earned a college degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and has lived in Colorado for years. As a strong, independent, and fun-loving person, Julie embraces the solo life. She’s also a Solo sponsor with her company, Bachelor Girl Productions, which offers you fun, flirty t-shirts.
Eric Lassahn, who also goes by EL, whereas I like to call him, Calassahn, is an old friend from California. In his professional life, Eric seeks to strengthen the greater Willamette University community, but for any community in which he participates, he strives through relationship-building to foster a sense of belonging while advocating for social and environmental justice. He’s an avid cyclist, a drummer, and also dabbles in home design and renovation. Although Eric is part of a happy family of four, he is a regular audience of Solo and does so to learn how to support singles in his life.
My guests start by talking about the two different types of cycling, road versus off-road, and the various subcategories they’re in. They discuss best practices and give advice for cyclists. I’m not an avid cyclist myself, but I like this topic. Bikes are associated with autonomy and adventure, the characteristics that differentiate the Solo from the single person. Moreover, biking contributes to your foundation for good health and can be a source of flourishing via engagement and achievement. I hope you enjoy this episode. Let’s get started.
How’s it going?
I’m good. Welcome back, Julie.
Thank you. I always love to be here.
Julie is a guest, not a guest cohost, so behave appropriately. We are here in a place that’s not terribly amenable to cycling to talk about cycling. We are in Hollywood, California. If you’re wondering why the three of us are in Hollywood, California, you’re going to have to go to PeterMcGraw.org/Solo and sign up for the Solo Community to know the bonus material for what brings the three of us together for an impromptu Solo episode on cycling. We’re going to be covering a vast array of topics, including some of the basics as well as some of the issues if you want to do some cycling on your own. Why don’t we start with how you got here? Why are you two experts? I am clearly not an expert and have done no research.
I met EL, and instantly, I was like, “You’re a cyclist.” He had the hat and the look, so we started talking about cycling right away, then you said, “Let’s do a show.”
EL, why don’t you start? How long have you been cycling? What kind of cyclist are you? I’ve known you for many years, and you’ve been cycling at least that long.
I got into cycling seriously shortly after graduate school. In 1992, I got a mountain bike. A lot of people start off with road biking. I jumped right into mountain biking and fell in love immediately with it. I decided that I would try racing. To get in better shape for mountain bike racing, I got a road bike, so I did the reverse that some people do. Ever since then, I’ve been riding bikes however and whenever I can.
How often do you ride?
Anywhere from 4 to 7 times a week.
Where do you live in Oregon?
You’ve biked wherever you live. It doesn’t matter. Does your cycling affect where you live?
Where I live affects my cycling.
How many bikes do you own?
Five and a half. I count the tandem as a half.
EL is one of the great allies of Solo. He has been reading since the very beginning. He’s a family man but picked up very quickly on the movement, so thank you for that.
I love to be part of the movement and solidarity with the Solo Community.
How about you, Julie?
I have a similar story. I was given my stepdad’s hand-me-down mountain bike. It was too big for me. It was the best bike money could buy in its day, but I got it years later. Even so, I instantly loved mountain biking as soon as I started riding.
Are you a mountain biker primarily?
How many bikes do you own?
No half for you?
I don’t have a half.
The frequent readers know that Julie is a proud solo. Before we get into this, we’re going to talk a little bit about the basics. For those of you who are advanced cyclists, a lot of this will be very familiar, but for those who might be contemplating this world, this will be a primer or a crash course of sorts. Let me ask you first about your childhood experience biking. What was that like?
My very first cycling experience was riding around our neighborhood on BMX bikes with my buddies. It was a way to get out, get around the neighborhood, see each other and go from place to place. Sometimes, we would fancy ourselves as BMXers and try to set up jumps.
Did you have pegs on your bike?
My brothers had pegs on their bikes. I didn’t have pegs on my bike.
Describe what a peg is for people who have no idea.
They stick off the wheels, so you can either do tricks. If they’re on the back wheels, you can also have somebody stand on the pegs behind you in the seat and ride along with you. The other thing about me growing up with cycling was my dad commuted to work. He was a great role model for me in cycling. I would be riding on the school bus in the morning, and sometimes, we’d pass him as he was riding his bicycle to work. That’s a big memory for me and something that ultimately might have inspired me to get more into cycling.
I know EL’s dad, and he’s a fit man, so I’m not surprised to hear that. He was ahead of his time commuting to work on a bike. That’s amazing. How about you, Julie?
I remember as a kid always wanting to be on my bike riding all around the neighborhood, going to the mall, or riding to the movies. It felt so freeing. I feel like it’s a shame that our kids can’t do that as much as we did. The world is such a different place now.
We are three Gen X-ers here. I was a latchkey kid, so there was a lot of freedom. I remember my first and second bikes. I was talking about Christmases and how one of my second favorite Christmas was a very simple Christmas. It was one of our most lean years. I got a baseball mitt, a hockey goalie face mask, and I was over the moon. They were simple gifts, and they were what I wanted, but my best Christmas ever was my first bike. I talk about solos being autonomous but also adventurous. Bikes for children create an adventure and lead to autonomy because before, you could only walk so far, and a bike allows you to go ten times farther if you want. It covers ten times the amount of distance, so I think that oftentimes, the seeds get planted.
It was a whole new world to be able to go around the neighborhood like that. It’s similar to growing up in an environment where you’re set free in the morning and can come back for dinner. Fast forward, what I’ve found is as an adult, there are many times when I’m having a little bit of a freedom moment. Maybe I’m out on a trail somewhere, or I’m on a ride, and then I see my local brewery over there. I’ll stop over there and have a beer because I’m out on my bike, and I’m free. I can do whatever I want. We’ll talk more about all the different bikes there are and the ways that you can use them. Those are a lot of fun for me.
I want to add something, and I’m guessing. I’m not a cyclist. I’m a hiker. You can’t be on your phone when you’re biking. It seems to me that it has the potential for a meditative-focused world. We spend a lot of time not very focused because we have this distraction in our pocket or on our wrist. Do you share that perspective?
Sometimes, I’m on my phone. If I get a call, I usually pull over. Sometimes, I pull up my phone, so I can take a photo. To be fully transparent, oftentimes, when I’m tuning in to the podcast is when I’m riding my bicycle.
You are connected in some way. It sounds like from an auditory standpoint.
I am most likely to be free from my phone when I’m on my bike.
How about you, Julie?
EL mountain bikes less than I do, and since I’m primarily a mountain biker, I’m not listening to podcasts or doing anything. I’ll pull over to take a picture. Otherwise, one of the great things about mountain biking is focus and escape. You’re not thinking about all the things running through your brain and feeling free. For me, climbing is great because I like the fitness part of that, but flying downhill, I’m all about speed and going as fast as I can. That feels so fun and freeing to me.
I want to make an observation, and we’re going to get into this difference between road and off-road. The road has very much of a fitness element to it, as you were saying, EL. When you’re flat, you’re working hard to go as fast as you can. You’re working hard to climb, and then you do have those exhilarating moments as you head downhill. Mountain biking seems to have that to a greater degree.
It’s high intensity. For those who want the best workout, you can possibly get, get on a mountain bike and go uphill on a mountain bike trail. It is serious business. You are fully engaged when you’re coming down. It’s hard to describe how cool the feeling is. You’re so focused. Whether you’re flying down or picking your way down carefully, you have to be super focused. There’s a lot of skill involved either way.
What is the ratio of you biking solo to biking with one or more others as a group?
I bike solo 25% of the time.
There’s a famous story on the show that Julie had shared about her desire to, at times, bike solo when she had met a man. Do you want to fill in the story where he wanted to bike with you?
He wasn’t a mountain biker. It was a three-day weekend, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to ride. We would plan some live music and most of the weekend together. I said, “Sunday, I’m going to go for a three-hour ride.” He got his feelings very hurt that I didn’t want to take him on his first mountain bike ride ever when I hadn’t been able to ride. He threw a fit about that rather than being happy for me. Forty-eight hours later, he was out of my life.
He was not practicing what we call compersion, which is anti-jealousy. She set a firm boundary. He’s not going to have a good day because it’s his first time, and she’s not going to have a good day because it’s his first time. It’s a lot like sex.
The skill levels are way different in sex and cycling. If you want to go out and have an advanced-level ride, you can’t do that with a beginner.
You might need to leave someone.
To answer that earlier question, I don’t know if I’m 50% solo versus with other people. I have a lot of different folks that I ride with relatively frequently at different times. I’ve got neighbors. My wife, Jennifer, and I ride. I’ve got some guys who are as advanced as I am, or I have trouble keeping up with them when we ride. I’ve got certain people that I ride mountain bikes with, and there are other people that I ride road bikes with.
The riding that I want to do is part of the fun for me. I’m like, “Do I want to do it with people, or do I want to do it myself?” It goes back to that freedom element again. At any moment, I know that I can go out and get on my bike alone as long as I can work it out in my schedule. There’s a lot that goes along with that, but if I can make that happen, I can go out any moment, hop on the bike, and get out there and do it.
I love going to group fitness classes because I like the competition and the energy. The problem with the group fitness classes is it starts at 5:00 PM on a Thursday, and sometimes, the best time for me to work out is at 6:00 PM, so I do it on my own. I get it.
For me, one of the reasons I ride with other people so often is I’m an extrovert. I work at home alone, so I’m always looking for opportunities to be with other people. My goal is to ride with other people. Sometimes, I enjoy riding by myself, but it’s usually a last-minute thing, or no one could go at the time I could go, and I was committed to going, so I would go by myself. For me, it’s a great time to connect with friends.
It’s a cool way to spend time and meet other people, whether you’re thinking about a local club and being part of that or finding cycling events and participating in those. There are so many ways to meet people through cycling and then be able to stay in a relationship based on your mutual love of cycling or suffering on the bike because you can get each other to get out there.
As much as I love to get out and be self-motivated to get on my bicycle, there are other times when riding with other people will get me out earlier in the day than I would have gone. I go a little harder or farther than I would have gone or go a different route that I might not usually take. Besides the social connection, there are a lot of other valuable aspects to riding with other people.
This is as an observer of having lived in Boulder and Denver, especially where there are lots of biking or running clubs and someone who works in a cafe in the morning. These folks often start at a coffee shop or finish at a coffee shop. I’m like, “Shut up.” There’s this huge crowd of people filled with tons of energy chatting up, and they’re so excited.
They’re stoked because they’re about to go, or they just got back and feeling it.
It’s nice to see the camaraderie, and I get it from afar. Almost everyone reading this had a childhood bike, and if you didn’t, you missed out. There are two general categories of bikes. There’s road biking and off-road biking. That covers the whole range of biking. You’re either on the road or not on the road. Let’s start with the road stuff. When I think of road biking, I think of Tour de France and these long, lean individuals. I know that’s elite, but is that the basics of the common road bike?
If you’re a serious road cyclist, that’s who you’re aspiring to be. You want to be that person who’s that incredibly fit and who can ride up the side of a mountain in thousands of feet of elevation gain in a ridiculously fast amount of time.
The average person is not doing that. They’re not heading right up a mountain. They’re on flat roads or rolling hills.
What I learned is how much fun it is not to have to worry about trying to achieve that and riding with whoever you’re with at whatever pace they’re at as long as you’re not pent up from needing to get out and the beginner wants to tag along.
In Denver, there are hundreds of miles of bike paths. To be able to do that is a great way to go at a pace and ride side by side.
The other one that comes to mind is the cruiser bike. It’s the beach bike or the commute-ish bike.
Maybe you had that in college and rode it to class. I remembered I had one in college. I forgot about that. That was a big part of my cycling life at the time because I enjoyed that and didn’t realize necessarily why I liked riding my bike to class from my off-campus house. It was a cool experience to be outside. It was a cool way to commute.
You notice the world a little more at a slower pace.
I feel like a beach cruiser is a feeling that nothing else replicates. It’s this feeling you get when you kick back a little bit, cruising along, enjoying life, and checking things out, and it’s sunny. The cruiser bike is such a fun bike.
We were in Hollywood, but twelve miles West is the strand, Venice, Santa Monica, etc., and there are lots of those cruiser bikes. Is it fair to say that if road biking is running, then the cruiser bike is walking? It slows the pace down. It’s not as much of a workout, but it’s still good for you.
It’s not as intimidating either because your seat is usually low enough to touch the ground easier. It’s a lot easier to accomplish.
Is there any other road biking?
There’s commuting, and that can be on a hybrid bicycle. It could be on a fixed-gear bicycle, your road bike, mountain bike, or whatever bike. Commuting is a little different from riding because it’s a little bit more purposeful, but some people use it as a multi-purpose. They’re like, “I’m going to use it to get from point A to point B to work or school, but I’m also going to get a workout while I’m at it. I’m also going to enjoy the weather and the scenery. I’m going to get to where I’m going and be more refreshed and awake than I would have been if I just would have sat in a car.”
When I was in graduate school, I couldn’t afford a parking permit on campus. I had a hybrid-style bike that I would bike in. I had a little basket where I put my bag and my little helmet and head on in. I remember the moment I started wearing a helmet distinctly. It was after graduate school. I had bad hair, and when you have bad hair, you put a helmet on. I remember thinking that my brain is my number one asset. I could continue to do the job if I was blind or in a wheelchair, but I’m finished if I get a brain injury. It was a cost-benefit. I started popping a helmet on because the roads can be intimidating. You said fixed gears. Those are the hipster bikes.
It only has one speed. If it’s truly a fixed gear, the back wheel moves with it when the pedals move. There’s no coasting. That’s the thing about that. Some people love it, and some are terrified of it. It is a hipster thing. Bike messengers often ride those bikes.
Help me understand. Have you done fixed gear, Julie?
You say that like you never will.
It’s a little subculture, but people who are into it are seriously into it.
Why are they into it? Does it make them special?
You have to be a strong cyclist to ride that bike because you don’t have a gear to change into when you hit a hill. If you run downhill, you can’t coast. Your feet are moving the whole time, so there’s a little bit of bravado or cred that comes along with that. There’s a style element of even though it’s a simplified or a very pure form of the bicycle. There are a lot of different things that people do to make them look cool. Some people hop up in the air, stop pedaling, and then skid stop.
They’re hovering. It’s so distracting when those guys do it.
That’s mostly in a metropolitan setting. You don’t see fixies on bike paths. They’re not trying to get mileage in.
You have to be very present if you’re doing that.
They do say that for a road cyclist, it improves your cadence. Here’s an advance tip for those of you who are already cyclists looking for something to take your game up a little bit. Ride a fixie, and it will improve your cadence.
They have been new on the scene for the last couple of years.
They have become popular in the last couple of years. Think about the original bicycles. They were fixie bicycles. That’s what’s so cool, but bike messengers started to make them popular.
We already hit four. Road bikes, cruisers, fixies, and then some mix of those for commuting.
If we talk about adventure cycling a little later, it’s a road bike that goes on a tour versus an off-road bike that goes on a backpacking trip, but since you’re on a bike, it’s a bike-packing trip.
Let’s jump in. Both of you talked about how you are mountain bikers and own mountain bikes. Julie owns multiple mountain bikes. What is it that makes a mountain bike different than a road bike?
A lot of things. In Colorado, especially, you want some suspension. When you’re going over rocks, roots, and technical areas, the bike absorbs. Your body is not absorbing all of that.
Is that mostly useful on the way down, or is it both up and down that it matters?
Up is not as much, but down is more important.
How else are they different?
They have bigger tires. There’s more tread on the tires, and they’re knobbier. If you think about a motorcycle and a dirt bike, there are a lot of similarities in terms of the difference between them.
It has a more substantial frame.
Are you in a different position?
The bars are much wider to help you get your center of gravity lower.
There’s more stability in steering, and you’re in a little bit more upright position.
This might be getting a little too technical, but it has a dropper seat post. With the push of a button, you can drop your seat down so your center of gravity can be even lower when you’re descending.
What about the gears? Is the gear similar, or is it different?
Technology has changed. As a kid, you had a ten-speed. It had 2 or 3 rings in the front and in the back. Now, the mountain bike technology is one ring in the front and then more in the back. When you have multiple rings in the front and back, then you’re shifting on both sides of your handlebars. It’s a lot easier when you have one ring in the front because all you are shifting is in the back.
The idea for someone who’s never done this before is that you want to peddle more revolutions to get your tire to move forward when you’re going up.
You’re trying to be in easier gear so you can make it up that technical hill.
Whoever invented gears, that person gave a great gift to the world. Most people would be like, “Get on with it. I know what a mountain bike is.” What’s a fat bike?
A fat bike is versatile because you could ride it in snow, dirt, or mixture. We only ride that when we have some snow, but it’s not snow everywhere.
The fatness refers to the tires. They’re big for a bicycle.
Is it twice the size of a normal tire?
It gives you more stability.
It gives more buoyancy too. Through the snow, you can ride in powder.
You stay top on the surface a little more. You can’t do that on most other bikes. If you’ve ever been snowshoeing, enjoy being out, and it’s quiet. It’s a different experience that’s even different than hiking. Fat biking is like that. It’s not the adrenaline of mountain biking.
It’s like the cruiser biking of mountain biking.
It is. You’re enjoying the scenery, the friends, and exploring. It’s a beautiful way to be out and cover a little more ground than you would if you were snowshoeing.
Do you know why I like the idea? When I fall over, it’s softer.
Crashing is a little easier on the bones, especially in this age group.
I have a lot to live for. Do you want to add anything about fat biking?
My only close experience with that was a while back. It was a plus-sized tire mountain bike. I got an experience over the holidays on a mountain bike ride with a bigger tire. There is a big difference, and it is cool. It was a lot of fun, but this also makes me think about gravel riding because it’s a similar situation. I had only heard of it in the last few years. I’ve read somewhere that it started in 2012, and gravel cycling got its own bicycle in 2015. It has been around longer than I thought.
If you want to become a pro, this is the sport to become a pro in. It’s a sport that no one knows about, like ax throwing.
Gravel racing is the newest up-and-coming thing. You could be a national champion a lot easier than you could in a road or mountain biking race. We didn’t talk about the cyclo-cross pre-show. That’s a sport that has been around for a long time. That was an up-and-coming sport, and people would get in and do well before they got into a more popularized mountain biking or road biking.
What is that?
Cyclo-cross is a sport where it’s in the worst conditions possible typically. The course is designed like a mountain bike course, but there are obstacles where you have to get off the bike and carry it up a hill or truck it over top of barriers. It’s the Tough Mudder of cycling sports. You can watch these things on YouTube. It takes some of the most skilled cyclists in the world and makes them look like they don’t know how to ride a bicycle because the course is so technical.
I would love to see Lance Armstrong do this.
He would fall on his face a couple of times, and you’d be able to laugh at him. He would look slow, and it would be fun.
Let’s get back to gravel.
Not only is gravel a new thing, but also a sport that’s come along with it. For those of you who are into backpacking, That’s typically done either on a mountain bike or one of these gravel bikes. As we were talking about in terms of being able to get out and go farther and see more, a lot of people who are into hiking have discovered bike packing as a way to pack up their bike. They do it in a similar way that they would backpack on their back and get out and cover way more distance. You’re out in the Backcountry. You can be on gravel roads, fire roads, timber roads, or even single track and find places to camp and get out there and experience nature.
Julie, do you have a gravel bike?
I have a gravel bike, and I was in my head thinking of this analogy. I’m like that dog that all it wants to do is chase a tennis ball over and over again. I want a mountain bike always. The gravel bike for me is when it’s too muddy to mountain bike, or there’s no snow yet, and I can’t ride my fat bike. I have not gotten into the whole gravel biking movement as I’m not driven to do it. It’s more of my backup plan.
I have never heard of this before. This sounds like a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. I’ve underplayed a little bit of my cycling experience, but when I was in college, I did a little bit of mountain biking. I was in New Jersey. It’s not like I was bombing down hills as Julie does in Denver, seeing these beautiful vistas and rolling hills of Oregon like where you are, EL. There was a towpath between New Brunswick. I was at Rutgers and Princeton, where I eventually went and did my postdoc there. There’s this literal and figurative connection between these two places.
When I say towpath, there used to be a path next to a canal that would have donkeys, oxen, or something that would pull barges along. They don’t do that anymore because we have tractor-trailers, but the towpath remains and it is connected to two places. There were very few crossing roads, so we would take our mountain bikes and bike down. We would eat these enormous sandwiches for lunch at this great sandwich place, and then we would bike back. It was a big day. On a mountain bike, it was a little bit of a tough commute of sorts.
A gravel bike would be perfect for that.
If you had a gravel bike, I would not say you would double your speed, but you would probably be 25% faster and feel better.
I love the gravel bike because I can set out on a road ride that turns into an off-road ride. I’m not one of those people that if I can avoid it, I don’t want to put my bike in my car and drive it someplace to ride it. I like to walk out my front door, get on my bike, and go. A gravel bike is good for that. You can go on the road to ride it to the off-road that you want to ride, but you can set out on any given day without any route in your head and go wherever because the bike is suited for almost anything.
There’s a bike we have not talked about, and I can’t believe you two have not brought it up.
That’s an interesting thing. Explain what that is for someone who doesn’t know what that means.
It has a battery assist, and you can control the amount of help you get.
This can be both on a road bike and an off-road bike.
For folks who are riding uphill, the reason that cycling hasn’t taken hold for you, then an eBike is for you because riding an eBike up a hill makes it feel like you’re still riding on flat ground. I’m glad you brought that up.
It is battery-powered. That’s excellent, but that’s not what I was thinking about. I rode on one of those ones, and I was like, “If I were a commuter, I would get this,” because I sweat too much. I want to walk versus the run.
They have grocery-getter bikes too that are eAssist and have a battery in. Imagine going to the store, loading up with groceries, and still being able to pedal home even if it’s uphill without killing yourself, then eBikes are something worth exploring.
Here’s the one I can’t believe you two haven’t brought it up. You clearly don’t own one. It’s a unicycle.
We were talking about the bicycle.
Have you ever ridden one?
I tried for a while. I could not master the unicycle.
It seems like a commitment.
It takes serious business. On that mountain biking excursion that I did over the holidays that I mentioned, we were going uphill on our mountain bikes, and a unicyclist misses on a mountain bike trail came by us the other way.
Did you high-five that person?
I wanted to high-five him, and we cheered him on. As he went by, he said, “You have too many wheels.”
Let’s talk about it from someone who’s a novice. What advice would you give them to help them get started or bring them up to speed pretty quickly?
For mountain biking, it’s important to become familiar with the rules of the trail, so you’re playing nice with other people. There are lots of ways to figure those out through Facebook, rules like who you yield to and who has the right of way. This story always cracks me up. There were some hikers coming up the trail. I was in the lead of my group of two, so we stopped to let these hikers come up.
Isn’t there a saying of hikers come first, or is it horses?
Horses are always first. Hikers are second. Cyclists are last.
It gets confusing when the hikers get out of the way. They don’t know the rules, or they don’t want to be polite.
Sometimes, they’re trying to be polite, but then you get the diehard hikers who are tired of standing to the side for mountain bikers. Anyway, we stopped to let these hikers come up, and another mountain biker came down behind us. The etiquette would have been for him to stop behind our group. I was in the lead. I would go next, but he took off past me. I was like, “You didn’t,” and I rode on his tail because it’s upsetting to me when men assume that they’re going to be faster than I am. He took the lead. If I were slower, I would offer that like, “Do you want to go ahead?”
It’s like golfers. You let better golfers play through.
Some more hikers came up. I was going to stop for them. He didn’t, and I said,” Next time, ladies first.”
Did you see him down at the bottom later?
No, I would have had some words. That type of rule is if you come up behind somebody and they were there first, then they have the option to go down first, or they can pass it off to you.
It’s the same as if you’re going to drive a car on the road. You’ve got to learn the rules of the road. You should learn the biking rules of the road and the off-road.
There is a lot of animosity in Colorado between hikers and mountain bikers, so that’s important for mountain bikers to understand the rules not to cause more problems.
We talked about this a lot on the show when it comes to dating, which is don’t poison the waters and behave well. Even though you’re never going to interact with that person again, your behavior has downstream effects. It sounds like this is a similar thing. Learning the rules seems like a good starting point.
The way to learn the rules or learn a lot about cycling or cycling in your area is to join a cycling club or even show up at group rides that cycling clubs organize. A lot of local clubs have rides that are geared towards different levels of riders. Usually, they’re going to have a website. You can look on the website. They’ll have a calendar that says what rides.
If they do have it broken out by levels of cycling, they’ll make that clear, and then you can choose like, “I want a shorter ride,” or, “I want to ride at a slower pace.” What you’re doing is you’re getting out there and meeting other folks or at least putting yourself in a situation where you can learn more or get up to speed, or get in shape. That’s a great way of getting more into biking.
Facebook has great resources. You can join all kinds of groups. People will post, “What’s a good beginner trail?” Then everyone will chime in with great beginner trails. In Denver, there is a Facebook group called Single Trackers. I was like, “Is this a group for singles who are single trackers or just a single tracker?” It is a singles group for mountain bikers. That’s a great way. People on that singles group will post, “Does anybody want to ride on Tuesday at lunch? I’m planning on going to this place.” It’s a great way to get lots of opportunities to get involved with communities if that’s what you want or use it as a resource to find new routes and trails.
I want to ask a follow-up to this. EL, 50% of your riding is solo. Julie, 25% of your riding is solo. It seems to me that if you desire solo riding and suppose you want to be 75% and you like to get out on your own, this seems like good advice to help get you up to speed. You’re going to learn the tricks of the trade. You’re going to learn the ropes and the trails. At some point, you can break away from the group.
There are group rides that I’ve been on where I’ve learned a whole different route and then gone by myself and enjoyed it in a whole different way. If a club or an organized ride twice a week isn’t your jam, it’s still worth going out there and maybe meeting some other folks, but even more so, you can up your skill game or fitness game and find some different places to ride.
One of the nice things to your point, Julie, about this guy heading down there and you’re bombing down by him, you probably got a better workout and pushed yourself harder.
He was slowing me down. I turned on my downhill bell, so he knew I was behind him. He should have pulled over and let me pass because I was faster than he was. That was another etiquette.
What else do you have?
There are also one-off cycling events that happen throughout the year in most areas. Look up your local cycling club or your local web resource or talk to your local folks at your local bike shop, and that goes for places to ride, organized events, cycling clubs, gear, or what bike you should even start out with. Your local bike shop is going to be a great resource for that. Local riding events are a great way to get out and see another place. The fun thing about those is they’re usually supported to some degree. There are rest stops with food and an after-event. It’s another way to experience cycling.
Sometimes, they have dress-ups. People wear tutus. It’s a fun party and a different way to experience cycling and meet other people. Sometimes, they also have a charity element for proceeds or raising money for something.
I have two quick follow-ups to that. When you say these events, if you’re a runner, it’s like the Turkey Trot. There’s a 5k run that happens so-and-so. It’s an organized thing. You sign up for it, you get a bib, you go off and do it, support it, and you meet other people. There’s a camaraderie and sometimes an after-party.
There was one that we did. We did the half-century version. That’s another cool thing about these events. Often there are different distances. You can sign up for a 25-mile ride or a 50-mile ride. This particular one had a full century, which is a 100-mile course on the ride. To be out there with a whole bunch of folks, you’re a little bit more visible to motorists because there are a lot of cyclists on the road, so they’re paying a little bit more attention. You know that there’s a prescribed route. That’s supported, so there are places to stop and get food and top off your water. Having an after-party at the end is a fun way to celebrate, especially if you went for it and cycled a distance that’s a little bit farther than your comfort zone.
Also, there’s a sag wagon if you can’t finish for some reason. You can always jump in the van.
That’s the other thing. We had a flat tire, and one of the volunteers pulled up in her car, jumped out, and helped us change the flat. We were out of there in a lickety-split. It was awesome.
This is important to talk about. One of the things that’s unappealing about road biking is the cars. America is such a car-focused place. I spent time in Holland, and there are dedicated bike lanes. People are super vigilant, etc. I’ve seen these take back the streets.
It’s critical mass. They’re wall-to-wall cyclists that go to the city and shut down traffic.
I’ve seen that happen in Hollywood and other places in Los Angeles.
That’s like a protest movement. Those are cyclists trying to get some visibility and make sure people know that we exist and should legally have the right to share the road.
That’s very community-based.
Riding with cars terrifies me. There are so many bad stories.
They make the news too, so they’re super vivid in a sense.
An important thing for a road cyclist to think about is where you are riding because certain roads are not so safe, other roads are relatively safe, and certain roads I could go. I now know my town well enough that I can go out on a road ride and experience minimal traffic on almost any given day, but it took me a long time to figure out where those roads were. If you’re sick of the traffic and you know your area well enough, then you can go off-road and not deal with any cars at all.
Julie, are you starting to think about the gravel bike more? He’s bringing you over.
It’s fun. I enjoy it, but if I’m going to devote the time and energy, it’s going to be on my mountain bike.
Do you have any others?
I thought it would be important to talk about gear.
When you say gear, you’re talking about bikes.
It’s all the things that you’ve all come along with. Let’s start with a helmet at the top. Pete, you mentioned how important the helmet is to protect the brain. The styrofoam degrades over time in a brand-new helmet, so even if you started with a new helmet, you should replace it often. It’s every couple of years.
After every crash?
If you crash, you should technically replace your helmet if you land on your head.
What is the other gear-type stuff?
Other gear is just weather-appropriate gear. If you’re not a spandex person, the cool news for you is that there are tons of shorts and tops that are not the skin-tight Lycra that is also still wicking material and are flexible and look cool. There’s a lot of different clothing that you can get that is not like either you’re riding in jeans or spandex. There are lots of good clothing that you can use. Gloves are another important thing. Do you have any particular gloves that you like, Julie?
None in particular. Whatever fits well.
Gloves keep you from getting chafed. Is there a little padding?
There’s usually little padding that helps with vibration on your hands, but if you do crash, besides your head being the most valuable asset, imagine a road rash on the palms of your hands and not being able to use your hands for a month. That should be enough said. Wear gloves.
There’s this other alternative gear to the elastics, as I call it. You don’t want to be out there in your tidy whities. You can get chafed like crazy. It sounds like if you are getting started, you should get a good pair of shorts.
They have to be flexible. They don’t have to be skin-tight. They make them out of material now that’s loose-fitting but still flexes with you and often have a liner in it that has the same kind of padding. It’s either a synthetic Shammy cloth that wicks away and keeps that moisture away, so you avoid that chafing.
Here’s a pro tip. If you drive somewhere to ride and wear a Shammy, you should take it off before you drive home when you’re finished with your ride.
Why? Is it because you would be sitting in dampness?
It’s because of the bacteria.
You also don’t want to get home, get off your bike, and sit around the house or do chores. That is a pro tip because it took me a while to figure that out.
Another pro tip is don’t wear underwear with the Shammy shorts.
That’s the little things. Let’s conclude by talking about getting the bike. That seems to be critical.
There’s one more equipment choice that we should mention, and that’s the pedals. Do you want flat pedals and shoes that don’t attach to the pedals? I don’t think anybody rides with toe clips anymore, which is the cage you slide your foot into. I used to have that, and now, clipless is the thing, which doesn’t sound like what it is. Clipless is a cleat that clicks directly onto your pedal and attaches your foot to the pedal, and then you disengage it by turning your foot sideways.
If you have never biked before, do you want to start with that?
Here’s the thing. You might not want to, but you can as long as you figure out what the motion is to get your foot out. If you practice that for five minutes before you start, you could pretty much start with that.
Julie, would you agree with that?
Flat pedals with regular shoes are fine too. You will be a more efficient cyclist if you go with the clicking pedals.
Why does clipping in matter?
Imagine if you were pedaling your bicycle with your hand and a flat palm on a pedal, gripping the pedal with your hand, and then getting a full revolution with your hand gripping the pedal. You can pull up and push forward in addition to pushing down. That’s how you get way more power at all phases of the pedal revolution.
I’ve never heard of it described like that. That is compelling.
When I’m going up a steep hill and feel like I’m losing steam, I pretend that my foot is wrapped around the pedal, and I’m cranking it with my arm because it makes me pedal more efficiently.
I have an instinct here, and I’ve seen this because I’ve lived in Boulder for many years. I’ve seen overweight gentlemen carrying an extra twenty pounds, spend thousands of dollars, and be so freaking proud of it. I have a sense that the average person overbuys their first bike.
I fully agree with that assessment.
Why do people do it? Is it because they’re optimists?
They have big aspirations and think that they will be more committed possibly than they end up being. For me, riding that bike that was too big that was handed down to me, I knew I loved it so much. My grandmother passed away, and I got $5,000. I spent it on my first good mountain bike. My rationale was I’m riding with people who are better than I am on a clunker bike, and I want to be good and be faster. I don’t want my equipment to slow me down at all. It was an investment, and that investment keeps paying for itself. When I sold that bike, it was still worth a fair amount. I upgraded to another bike, but I had a good down payment from the first one.
How long did you have that first clunker bike?
About a year.
You were in it long enough to know that it was a good fit and that you had an aptitude.
If you buy a used bike to start with, it’s going to hold its value enough for you to figure out. If you decide in 6 to 12 months what your skill level is, if you underbought, you could sell that bike for about what you paid for it and upgrade.
Is a bike shop a good place to get started, or is it more like finding my EL or Julie and having a friendly face?
If you have a friend who’s into cycling, that’s an awesome place to start because they know the local shop and can tell you what stuff is there. I’m fortunate enough to have three local shops that I go to. I go to each shop for different reasons because I now know the stuff and the vibe of the shop for different things.
Most local shops are going to do a good job of listening to who you are, what kind of biking you want to do, selling you a bike that’s appropriate for that, and giving you the other tools you also need to be successful. It’s good for their business to sell you the right bike and have you come back to them to buy a better bike.
It’s all the time in between when you want to do an upgrade, bring it in, they’ve changed the parts for you, or when they need to tune it up. Having a relationship is more important to them if they’re a smart bike shop, and I believe that most shops are in it for that reason. You can learn a lot by watching YouTube videos or by those Facebook groups and reading some of the comments that people are posting in these different groups about different types of cycling. For finding bikes, you can go to Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Those are great places if your local bike shop doesn’t happen to sell used bikes. Those other outlets are ways that you can also access used material.
Facebook has groups for each gravel bike group. You can join those specific groups to buy and sell and learn information.
What about buying online versus buying retail in a store?
That’s tough if you want to see if you like it. It seems like a used bike is the way to go because if you buy a bike in a bike shop, it loses value as soon as it becomes used, so I would try to start with something used and then pivot from there.
If, for some reason, you’re thinking, “I want a new bike, but I want the most value for my bike,” I did purchase a road bike off of a site called BikesDirect.com. They are cutting out the retail markup and selling you a nice frame and components at the level you’re looking for for a few hundred dollars less than what you would get in a bike shop.
Let me ask one quick follow-up and I know this from my limited experiences. The angles or the seat height matter, and you need someone, ideally an expert, to help you get that sorted.
You certainly want to buy a bike that is the right size, but there’s so much geometry involved these days. It’s not just between mountain bikes and road bikes, but there’s different geometry among mountain bikes, gravel bikes, and road bikes. It makes the bike handle in different ways and feels different.
I’m sure your body feels different when you’re done riding.
Our bodies are all different from one another, so to have all these millions of bike options out there is great. To your point, having professional help you figure out the right bike size and geometry that fits your body type in the cycling you want to do is super important. All roads might lead back to the local bike shop.
It’s also important to get it fitted. Figuring out the right size is one thing.
When you say size, does that means the height and the length?
It’s the size of the frame, but then to Julie’s point, there’s seat height, how far forward your handlebars are, and different angles that come along with all that stuff.
That makes a huge difference in terms of how comfortable it is and how you feel after a ride. You can have injuries that develop if your bike doesn’t fit properly.
Your knee starts bothering your upper back, etc. By the way, you’re not going to get me to start riding, but it’s still fascinating.
I thought that by the end of this episode, he was going to be sold.
I like the cycling stuff because it can be a solo activity, or it’s what I would call a group solo activity. You still got to do the pedaling and the steering. No one else can do that for you. It’s part of the reason I wanted to do this because it has both of those elements that even when you’re in a group, you’re still on your own versus if you play basketball where someone else can score, and you can win the game. Is there anything special about a solo mindset or someone who either wants to push themselves and go out on their own or maintain their autonomy within this group?
I don’t know if this is the right answer to the question. My brother is super into road cycling, but mostly mountain biking. He also got a gravel bike, but when he goes on a ride by himself, he calls it a soul-o ride. It’s good for his soul. It is his number one way. I’m right behind him with that. It is my number one way to get centered. When you’re busy grinding life, want to get out there, need to get out of your house, or do something different, whether you’re with people or by yourself, for me, the bike is the way to work out my stuff.
I’m going to steal that soul-o because that’s great. I don’t get in a bad mood very often, but if I go for a bike ride, the world is a much brighter place. I always feel fantastic after a ride.
Let’s bring that to a close. For those of you who want to know more about these two wonderful people, read our bonus material. For the Solo Community, go to PeterMcGraw.org/Solo and sign up for it. It’s very easy to do. As always, please rate and review the show. Tell your friends, especially if you have friends who bike. They’ll enjoy this conversation. You can also jump on the Slack channel and tell us what we forgot to talk about. EL, it’s great to see you here in Hollywood, California.
It’s awesome to be here with you.
Julie, as always, thank you for being the number one participant thus far on the show.
Thank you for having me.
About Eric Lassahn
Eric Lassahn (aka eL) seeks to strengthen the greater Willamette University community. For any community in which he participates, he strives through relationship-building to foster a sense of belonging while advocating for social and environmental justice. He is an avid cyclist and drummer who also dabbles in home design and renovation. Eric is part of a happy family of four, yet is a regular listener of Solo and does so to learn how to support singles in his life.
About Julie Nirvelli
Julie Nirvelli was born and raised in San Jose, CA and earned her college degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She has lived in Colorado for 17+ years. As a strong, independent and fun-loving person, Julie embraces the solo life. She is also a Solo sponsor, with her company Bachelor Girl productions, which offers you fun flirty t-shirts.