Figuring out how to keep my pandemic-fueled bicycle momentum going

From a ride on July 6, 2022

I’ve ridden my bike a lot less this year than last. I’m not happy about it. There are a few causes:

I have less time to ride. In 2020, I worked from home every day and my duties were lighter. I could get out every day the weather supported it. Last year I worked in the office occasionally. This year I’m in the office every Tuesday and Thursday, which takes two days out of the mix. I looked into commuting by bicycle, but ruled it out. The office is a solid two-hour ride from home, and large sections of the ride are on roads and streets that are unfriendly to riders.

It’s wicked hot this summer. Some days it’s dangerously hot. Even when it’s merely very hot, I come home drenched to the bone in sweat. I don’t enjoy that at all, and for me, riding is supposed to be fun.

No extrinsic motivations propel me anymore. In 2020, I was stuck at home a lot because of lockdown. Riding was a great, pandemic-safe way to be out of the house. In 2021, I was building strength and stamina for my Ride Across Indiana. I’m glad I did that four-day tour, but I feel the same way now as I did when I reached the end: I never need to do anything like this again. This year there is no extrinsic motivation to ride.

My bike feels old and tired. My bike is a 1986 Schwinn 3-speed that I bought used in 2009. It was in good condition and rode well, and I’ve loved riding it. But after all of these years of service, culminating in my 150-mile trek across Indiana last year, my bike feels worn out. It’s just not the pleasure to ride it was even last year at this time.

I rode more in 2020 and 2021 than in the previous ten years combined. The pandemic rekindled my desire to ride, and I want to keep it going. I may not ever ride as much again as I did in the previous two years, but I want to ride a lot more than I did in the ten years before that.

It’s time for me to build the intrinsic motivation to ride, and to block out time for it rather than let it happen when I come upon a hole in my schedule. I have always loved to ride, and I think the more I plan for it the more of a habit it will become.

But I also think it’s finally time for a new bike.

I haven’t bought a brand-new bike since about 1990, when I upgraded my beloved 1982-ish AMF Nimble 3-speed for a shiny new Schwinn hybrid bike. You still had to buy Schwinn bikes from Schwinn dealers then, but the bikes were all made in Taiwan and China by this time. Within a couple years, Schwinn would be bankrupt.

I was excited to own that Schwinn at first, but as the miles rolled by I increasingly realized that it wasn’t the right kind of bike for me. It was my first derailleur bike and I didn’t enjoy the times the chain wouldn’t cleanly slip from one sprocket ring to the other. A few times that the chain bound up on, or fell off, a sprocket ring. I also didn’t need 21 speeds. I found myself using the same four or five gears all the time. I missed the simplicity of my old 3-speed’s internally-geared hub. I also came to see that I was a road rider all the way, and didn’t need the frame geometry or knobby tires of that hybrid. My lower back didn’t enjoy the riding position that hybrid bike forced me into. After a while, I wished I had kept my AMF Nimble.

Remembering all of that, I’m looking for a modern version of the traditional 3-speed. I’d like it to have a lighter frame than my current bike’s all-steel frame. I’d also like it to I’d like it to have a first gear with a much lower ratio than that of my Schwinn so that I can handle steep hills more easily. On my Ride Across Indiana, I had to walk my bike up some hills and that made me crabby.

Unfortunately, internally-geared-hub bikes are hard to come by these days. I know of only a couple manufacturers that still feature them. Right now I’m weighing two models from Public Bikes. The first is the V7i, a bicycle with traditional frame geometry and a 7-speed internally-geared hub. It is offered in this nifty British Racing Green. It’s also $900, which to me is an eye-popping amount of money for a bike like this.

Photo credit: Public Bikes

I’m also looking at Public’s D8i, which has an 8-speed internally-geared hub plus disc brakes, which promise sure stopping even in the rain. That would have been a huge help on my Ride Across Indiana, as it rained on me most of the last day and my bike’s stopping ability went to nil. It comes only in one color, chrome, which isn’t my favorite. It’s a lot more expensive than the V7i at $1,400.

Photo credit: Public Bikes

If I buy one of these, I’ll have them fit a rear rack onto it, which will add $60 to the total price. But first, I have to get comfy with what these bikes cost. The most I’ve ever spent on a bike is about $250! Maybe I’ll stumble upon a sale.

I’ll stick with my 3-speed this year, but next year it’s a new bike for sure.

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6 bicycles

Decorative bicycle
Nikon N2000, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 400
The bicycle planters of Knightstown
Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200
Nikon N2000, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 400
Schwinn Collegiate
Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/1.8 F. Zuiko Auto-S, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
Bicycle locked
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Efke 100
1973 Schwinn Collegiate
Miranda Sensorex II, 50mm f/1.8 Auto Miranda, Kodak Ektar 100

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COVID-19, Personal

Freshly tuned bicycles

Picking up our bikes from the bike shop

I picked our bikes up from the shop on Monday after having them tuned up. The shop was inundated with repairs. The owner told me that she had 450 bikes for repair hanging in the back, plus a hundred or so in the front of the store. There was a single path from the door to the counter, there were so many bikes in there. She said it has just been crazy this season with people wanting their bikes made ready for the warm months.

I like my Schwinn but it is 35 years old and has old-bike issues. I hoped the shop could resolve, or at least improve, some of them.

I had to air up my tires every few days last season. The tires and tubes dated to my last tuneup in 2011, so I asked for replacements. I was thrilled when they said they had gumwall tires in stock for it, since that’s what my Schwinn had on it originally. But then they called to say my tires were in fine shape and didn’t need to be replaced, unless I was dying to have gumwalls. I decided to save a little money and just had new tubes fitted.

My brakes were very weak, so much so that I wouldn’t ride this bike in city traffic as there is no way to stop fast. The bike has a front hand brake and a rear coaster brake. The coaster brake is part of the three-speed hub, which is sealed. The remedy is replacement, and I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment in the Schwinn. So I asked them to either tighten or replace the front brakes, whichever it took to make them stop surely.

I also mentioned that the gears came out of true a lot last season and I was constantly adjusting them. They noticed that the cable was very loose and they said they’d tighten it, which should do the trick.

They clearly tightened the shift cable, which I hope lets the bike’s gears stay true this season. They improved the front hand brake slightly, but not nearly enough. Stops are still far too long. I’m disappointed in that. But they didn’t write my instructions for the brakes onto the work order. I feel sure that by the time they put my bike on the bench, they’d forgotten all about what I’d asked. I don’t want to schlep the bike all the way back there, so I’ll see if I can tighten the brakes up a little more myself. There’s plenty of pad left, I think I just need to bring the calipers a little closer to the rim. I used to do that to the 3 speed I had as a teenager.

It’s likely I’ll continue working from home most or all of this summer, which will let me ride a lot again this year. Before the pandemic, I worked in the office every day, and seldom found time to ride. I used to manage a half dozen rides every season. Last season I made that many every week, because I could go out on my lunch hour. It was glorious!

I’d love to buy a new 3 speed, to escape the old-bike blues. I’m fixated on 3-speed bicycles because not only do I love their upright riding position, but I value the simplicity of the sealed gear hub over a derailleur. I’ve owned two bikes with derailleurs and both of them dropped their chain from time to time. What a pain in the rear. Also, I hardly need more than 3, maybe 5, speeds here in flat Indiana. I once had an 18-speed bike and it was just too many speeds. I keep drooling over this Bianchi 3 speed. It looks just right!

I’ve been given the option of working from home full time when the pandemic is over, but I’ve decided not to take it. Instead, I’ll work in the office about four days a week and at home about one day. I can ride on my lunch hour on work-from-home days when the weather supports it, but I’m not sure how I’ll ride as often as I’m getting to now thanks to the pandemic. I’m not sure it makes sense to invest in a new bike unless I’m going to ride it frequently.

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Stories Told

Then there was the time we were visited by Child Protective Services

I think every kid should know how to ride a bike. Kids today probably disagree, as I see few kids on bikes anymore. They must all be inside playing video games. I taught my sons nevertheless.

Neither was excited about it, but at least my older son tolerated it. My younger son resisted. After I took his training wheels off, he fought me every time we went out to practice. He told me he wouldn’t do it. He cried. He refused to get on the bike. Each time, I cajoled and wheedled until he gave in.

The divorce was final but still fresh. My stress had been off the charts and my fuse was still short. Each time I took my younger son out on his bike, I pulled together all of the patience I had.

He crashed a lot. Then I realized that he was deliberately crashing, hoping that it would shake me off, make me give up. One particular day he had crashed at least three times in five minutes and was visibly agitated. My patience had run out and I had grown angry.

I made him go again, but this time I kept my hand on the back of his seat. My plan was to steady him when he tried to crash. He shortly did just that and I grabbed the seat to keep him upright. Not only did it not work, but it made matters worse — he went right over the handlebars and landed hard on the street.

He was stunned, and he had skinned himself in a couple places. He cried a little. But after a few minutes he seemed okay.

I certainly didn’t mean to send him flying, and I felt bad about it. But I’ll admit it: much more, I was angry with him for not cooperating.

I had visions of my sons riding for the sheer joy of it, as I had when I was their age. My bicycle took me everywhere and was my constant companion. I wanted them to experience the same! I wanted them to have a great childhood, even though it was no longer in an intact family.

But after my sons learned to ride, my older son rode once in a great while and my younger son never rode again. It just wasn’t for them. If I had it all to do over again, I would have still bought them bikes and tried to teach them, but when especially the younger son started fighting me on it, I would have let it go.

If I had that day to do over again, after the second or third time my son deliberately crashed I would have sat on the curb with him and said, “Seems like today’s not the best day or this. Why don’t we call it for today. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.” It would have given us both a break, and would have let me regain my calm.

A week later, or maybe it was two, I heard from Child Protective Services. I’m pretty sure they sent me a letter. If so, I’m sure it’s in my divorce file box. It’s been twelve years; some details have faded from memory. But I remember crystal clear that there was an allegation that I had abused my son, and they wanted to come talk with me about it.

There had recently been a headline-grabbing case of a child murdered by his father (I think it was), after CPS investigated abuse claims but decided to leave the child in the home. It generated outrage all over the city, and CPS responded by hiring a horde of additional investigators and cracking down hard.

I panicked. The end of my marriage and my divorce were so brutal that I needed serious professional help to cope. My mental health had been the focus of my divorce trial. It was partly why the judge awarded me no custody, not physical, not legal. At least he granted me the usual amount of parenting time. Losing custody hurt like hell, but I was grateful not to lose my sons entirely. When CPS came to call, I was still under psychiatric care. I had visions of losing my parenting time and seeing my sons no more.

There was no way I wanted to face CPS alone, so I called my pastor, Ed. He readily agreed to be there when the investigator arrived.

I don’t know why I remember that she pulled into my driveway in an old and worn-out car, a gray sedan. I also remember that she looked too young, probably 21 or 22. Ed and I met her at the door and she asked if we could sit and talk for a few minutes. I led them to the dining table.

She got right down to business. “So I understand after talking with your ex-wife that you’re mentally ill, and that you take medications to manage your symptoms. Are you compliant with your medication?”

I didn’t have time to be stunned by the question. Ed, a big bear of a man, immediately leaned way forward and said loudly and angrily, “Pardon me! Are you a mental health professional? Do you have a medical degree? Because unless you do, you will end this line of questioning right now as you’re not qualified to ask it. You are responding to hearsay from his ex-wife.”

My anxiety spiked. I felt hot; I had probably turned red. I was thinking, “Holy crap, Ed, what are you doing? I need your support and here you are antagonizing the investigator!”

Ed had intimidated the hell out of her. Her eyes widened to the size of half dollars and she immediately changed her tactic. “Ok then. I’m here because we have a report that you pushed your son off his bicycle. Why don’t you tell me what happened that day.”

I recounted my story as I told it above, including expressing my regret for not stopping when I started to get angry. Seeming satisfied with my answer, she then asked me questions about our day-to-day lives in the home. She also looked in my refrigerator and cabinets to make sure I had enough food, which was humiliating. And then she said she needed to speak with my sons privately.

I had sent them to their rooms when the investigator arrived, but we found them sitting within earshot in the living room. They’d heard everything, and their faces were ashen. They fixed their gazes at the floor as the investigator asked them to follow her to the back bedroom so she could talk with them.

She spent all of ten minutes with them behind that closed door. When they emerged, she said, “Mr. Grey, there are three possible outcomes of a CPS abuse investigation. We can find that there is evidence of abuse, or that there is no evidence of abuse, or that there is evidence that there was no abuse. I find that there is evidence of no abuse. You should hear nothing more from us about this matter.

“I’d also like to offer our assistance. It seems like you are working hard to be a good dad, and CPS can support you in that. We could come by from time to time and offer coaching. It’s completely voluntary.”

I was overcome with relief to be exonerated. And the truth was, I could have used someone to talk with who could give me good advice. I was doing the best I could to be a good dad to my sons, but I was building a home life all on my own while holding down full time work and still processing considerable anger from the end of my marriage. And I experienced my ex as very unkind toward me, which only made parenting harder. After all these years I can see that my ex was still processing her own considerable anger. We’d both equally destroyed our marriage; the betrayals had run deep. But all of my instincts insisted that help should not come from CPS — it would be better to keep the government out of my home. I declined.

After the investigator left, Ed said to my sons, “Come into the dining room and sit down around the table. I want to talk with you.”

Even though my own grief, pain, and anger were still strong, I had compassion for my sons. They were trying to cope with the breakup of their family, too. Even though their mom and I hardly interacted in front of them, I’m sure they were aware of the ongoing difficulty between us. It had to be so hard for them to figure out how to be in relationship with both of us. I knew they were going to their mom’s from my house and telling their mom everything that happened. I’m sure they were trying to find favor with her by telling her things she might find upsetting. I often got angry emails from her about things they told her.

I don’t remember Ed’s exact words to my sons, but here’s his message to them: Boys, I know you love your dad, and you love your mom. Your dad is trying to love you as hard as he can. You’re trying to figure out how to love your dad and love your mom now that they’re apart. But you’ve got to stop going home and telling your mom everything that happens here. It can have very bad effects. You came very close today to never seeing your dad again.

I remember my sons sitting up very straight, their faces grave, when Ed said that last sentence.

I thought Ed went too far. I wasn’t crazy about the idea that what happened in my home had to be a secret. But I didn’t know how to respond and I remained silent.

The gift of hindsight shows me now that Ed’s words changed everything for me and my sons, creating a shift for the better in our relationships. Both sons, especially my younger one, became much more receptive to me. We were able to keep building our relationships from there.

This story has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe telling it will help me release my sad feelings about it.

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Windswept Farms and my bike

My bike at Windswept Farm
Pentax IQZoom 170SL
Fujicolor 200

I put away my bike for the season the other day. It’s grown too cold for me to want to ride anymore.

I rode longer this season than I normally do thanks to Three Speed October. It’s an event put on by the Society of Three Speeds to encourage those of us who love three-speed cycling to cycle more in this autumn month. It’s not an onerous commitment: three rides of three miles or more, during any three weeks in October. The Society even defines October loosely, to include most of the last week of September and the first day of November.

I’m sure I would have given up riding sooner this season without Three Speed October. A few of my rides were a little chillier than I normally put up with! But I was determined to finish the challenge.

One of my usual routes takes me by this yellow barn. I had film in the Pentax IQZoom 170SL so I brought it along just so I could make this image.

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single frame: My bike at Windswept Farm

My old Schwinn in front of an even older barn.

On 700

On 700
Apple iPhone 6s

I made this photo a couple weeks ago when we still had summer temperatures. It’s cooled off considerably since then; some days, the high has been just 60 degrees.

Riding my bike feels like freedom. At its best, a bike ride requires no prep. In whatever I’m wearing, I just get on and go! The colder it gets, the more cold-weather gear I need to put on to ride. It’s not that big of a deal to put on a coat and gloves, though I do grumble about it. Eventually it gets too cold for my face, though, and I’ve never found a solution that I have been willing to put up with.

On this early September day I was riding through the cornfields that begin less than a mile north of my home. County Road South 700 East makes a quick jog to the left around an old farm boundary, leading to this scene of a barn in the middle of a cornfield.

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single frame: On 700

My bike on a country road in Boone County, Indiana.