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My Other Pickup’s A Bike
Jul 8, 2015
Banana seats, motorcycle handlebars and losing the training wheels are rites of passage in South Dakota. In a land where our children roam free about our communities, the bike is the ticket to independence. It was that great invention that gave you speed and distance for the first time in your life. Cruising across town to visit a buddy, get to the pool, or drive by the cute girl's house were now all within the realm of possibility. But somewhere around sweet 16 and the longed for driver’s license, the Schwinn Flyer was relegated to that back part of the garage that new found maturity had passed by. Or so I thought.
My Next Bike
I don't know when the last bike was a part of my life, but I know how the current one came to be. We married in 1987 and that next spring, for my 30th birthday, my wife thought I needed a bike so we could go riding together. My Schwinn World Sport was state of the art and ready to rock. It came with those cool curved handlebars, two sets of brakes and 10 speeds. Life on two wheels couldn't get any better. I think the Europeans were the inspiration for the touring bikes of that time period, which brings up one strange item. Those bikes had seats so hard that to find them comfortable only made sense if you compared them to life with two World Wars in your backyard. But Americans weren't about to be accused of being soft in the rear, and so for a few decades that stuck too.
That bike is still my only bike, but it isn't the oldest bike at our home. My wife got a Schwinn Traveler from her parents for her 16th birthday, and it's still the bike she uses. I don't know much about the economics of the bike business, but two bikes that are going strong after a combined 63 years sounds like a tough business to be in. I have heard rumors that the product has been improved through the years, but you can't believe everything you hear.
A few years back, the Tour Dakota was doing a leg from De Smet to Watertown and a buddy asked me to join him. I dusted off the old steel Schwinn and was ready to tour. That was the beginning of the lesson.
He gave me a water bottle, which I couldn't quite understand since we were only riding about 65 miles. You can do that in the pickup in an hour, without a water bottle. About half way through the tour I commented on not having opened the water bottle yet. My friend’s response? "This isn't going to be good." With about 15 miles to go, I experienced cramps that must be something like labor pains without the good ending. That day I learned a new respect for those people in the funny spandex pants. I also found out they are athletes, even if they look kind of odd in their funny gear, some of which I promptly went out and bought.
Equipment: It's Function, Not Fashion
If you're going to ride for more than a little bit, here are a few tips. Bike shorts are a must. I realize they look goofy, and at first they feel worse. It will be your first opportunity to get a feel for adult Depends. But if you are traveling any distance, you will soon sing the praises of the person that designed the well-placed padding. The next key item is the bike seat. Forget the Europeans, these babies now come with padding and well placed indentations. Bike gloves look like they were stolen from a homeless person, but again make the trip more comfortable. A good grip is a good thing. A water bottle that you can open with your teeth is another critical component.
There are these cool devices you can add to your handlebars that allow you to rest your arms and weight on them while cruising. For speed, you need to look at your feet and you have choices. Wear tennis shoes with no special bike gear and bring up the rear of the peloton forever or put on special shoes that clip you in like it’s the electric chair and hope you and your bike stay one with gravity. My preference — and this is old school — is option three: the toe basket things you can put your foot in and get out of just as easily if you and the rules of gravity have a conflict. The reason for all this foot attention is that being strapped into the pedal allows you to take advantage of the power of the pull on the upstroke.
Finally, but most importantly, is the helmet. Riding bike without a helmet is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute — great thrill, but eventually, splat.
Cycling aficionados surely have more and better explanations for the gear. I'm just saying there's more to biking than a pretty paint job and tires filled with air.
Apparently somewhere between 1987 and the present, they came up with various featherweight materials from which to build bikes. You won't see many of those good steel bikes around anymore. The serious bikers spend thousands on carbon or titanium bikes. Their bikes come with computers, speedometers and rear-view mirrors.
This spring Rep. Fred Deutsch asked me to join him on the Webster to Milbank leg of the Ride Across South Dakota (RASDAK), and this time I was ready for the 65 mile jaunt. The first thing was to carbo load. I don't know if it matters, but my mind and body think it does. Also, drink lots of water, and hydrate through the whole trip (I'm not stupid. One trip through bike labor pains was enough for me).
The tour came off the Coteau at Whipple's Hill, which is the Wilmot rest stop on I-29. Peddling up the final incline before going over the top is like reaching Heaven. I'm not sure of a view or a cycling experience than can match cresting the last hill and seeing three states stretched out in front of you as you start a 900-foot descent.
Now about that descent. Cycling gear isn't exactly biker leathers. I'm now holding on for my life wondering what parts of me they'll find if my tire blows. My eyes are glued to the road right in front of my tire, until I briefly look up to see Fred, pedaling his butt off trying to find the top end speed for his bike. At this point I'm thinking I need new friends. We survived the descent, and I learned that we hit 42 miles an hour, which means the ink spot would have been about a foot square if the tire blew. Some of these bikers clearly have a different mindset, or lack thereof.
RASDAK gave Fred and I an opportunity to see the new bike passing law in action. Because I volunteered to solve an impasse in a legislative committee, where Fred and I serve, I ended up drafting the new law that went into effect July 1. Fred and the cycling community shepherded it through the legislature, and apparently cyclists in the 5-7 zip code have the safest highway passing law on the books. Vehicles need to allow 3 feet when passing a cyclist in areas of 35 mph speed limits or less, and 6 feet if the speed limit is greater than 35 mph.
Potential For South Dakota
Cycling appears to have a good future in South Dakota. Our state manages 337 miles of trails, of which the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills is the most famous (and a great ride). Many communities have constructed their own trails. Here in Watertown, the city has built over 20 miles of bike trails that follow the Big Sioux River in town, and loop around Lake Kampeska for a great work out.
RASDAK is annual event that treks across South Dakota from west to east, and is worth a week of your life next summer.
GET A BIKE And GRAB SOME FUN EXERCISE
Biking isn’t just for kids anymore. It’s an adult activity, without the hangover. Look for a friend or a trail near you and give it a go. You might get addicted and start buying all that fancy stuff to go with your inevitable biker shorts. I’m thinking about one of those cool rearview mirrors ….
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.