Cycling Partners and Sketchy Rides

When describing my lone bicycle rides over the past two years, I was often told that, all romance of "the lone cyclist" aside,  I won't improve if I don't ride with others. With all my might I resisted this idea. But, big surprise: It's true. Having finally gathered enough courage to start cycling with others, I notice that I tend to ride further, put in more effort, and generally push my limits more when I am egged on accompanied by other cyclists - particularly those who are better than I am. Luckily, finding stronger cyclists to ride with is easy, since by roadie standards I am terrible. But finding stronger cyclists to ride with whom I feel comfortable with and who won't outright laugh at my ineptitude? Not so easy at all.

That's why I was grateful when Jim A. (the owner of this bike) invited me to join him on a ride. Given that Jim is a bicycle mechanic and a life-long cyclist, I knew that I would embarrass myself on this ride despite his description of it as easy-going. But Jim is such a nice guy, that I was okay with that.

I was also looking forward to seeing his Sketchy bicycle.


Sketchy bikes are made by Mike Salvatore, a framebuilder at Seven Cycles. I only had my point-and-shoot camera with me, so no good photos this time. But Susan of Twelfth Bike has lots of beautiful pictures of her pink one here. Jim's bike is brown.

So my loaner Seven and Jim's Sketchy are essentially related and possibly built by the same person. They even have a family resemblance, including the curved stays.

However, the Sketchy is steel, not titanium. Next time I'd love to try this bike.

Despite a minor injury a few days ago, I felt good and was ready for our easy-going ride... which, by the time I got home, ended up being 50 miles. That is the longest single ride I've taken on the Seven so far, and it's safe to say that any remaining anxieties I had about its handling have been alleviated. Apparently, a racing bike with 23mm tires can be comfortable for 50 miles: I have no hand, neck, back, or any other pain what so ever. And apparently it can do 30mph downhill on a criminally pothole-ridden road without anything terrible happening to the fork or wheels. Good to know!

I am also generally more confident on the bike. Last time I was at the Ride Studio Cafe we lowered the handlebars so that they are now a couple of cm below the saddle. Since the frame is too big for me, this was accomplished by placing all the spacers above the stem and flipping the stem over so that it points down. The tall stack of spacers looks funny, but I am glad to have the handlebars in this position.

So, how terrible am I compared to Jim? Unfortunately, it's hard to say! He is so polite that I have no way of knowing to what extent he was taking it easy for my sake. The ride ended up being longer than we planned and more strenuous than I anticipated - which is good! I am starting to understand that I need other people to motivate me, push me, and help me improve as a roadcyclist. 


  1. This bike is starting to look proper.
    Too bad RSC didn't have a 53-54 level TT or sloper. That'd make a big dif in feeling.
    Did you guys do steady state riding or mix it up? Drills/drafting?

  2. I'm not one to benefit from exercise partners, and cycling seems to be a rare exception. I don't really find much time for recreational riding as I mostly ride to or from work.

    I also tend to mostly ride recreationally with my husband as not a lot of our friends cycle; Melbourne isn't much of a cycling town.

  3. GR Jim - No drills, nothing like that. Just casual. There were strong (post-tornado warning!) headwinds, so possibly that's what made it strenuous. I also probably take more breaks when I am alone and vary my speed based on my own energy level fluctuations, which I think makes a difference.

    Quincy - Cycling is unique for me in so many respects. I hate sports and exercise, I haven't got an athletic bone in my body, and I am not a team player. Cycling is like this alternate universe that is challenging my perception of myself.

    As for time... I think a great deal depends on whether we think of non-transportational cycling as recreational, or as a fitness regime. The concept of "recreational" has the connotation of leisure time and we feel guilty taking a bike ride when there's stuff to do. But the concept of "fitness" has the connotation of working hard - even though it's working on yourself. It feels like a valid activity. It is all a matter of perception of course, but we do play these little tricks on ourselves when we determine what is worthy making time for in a busy schedule and what is not.

  4. I have to ask: who makes a better riding partner, Jim or Peppy?

  5. Haven't ridden with him, but I'll concur that Jim is an incredibly nice guy. And has some enviable bikes!

  6. You describe exactly how I feel when it comes to roadie group rides. I can handle leisure rides with friends, but doubt my riding skills when it comes to joining a group ride with experienced road riders. I've been looking at the Granite State Wheelmen ride schedule for months now and still have not committed. I keep saying one of these days. Reading about your journey thus far has given me inspiration to maybe give it a try...maybe.

  7. on Memorial Day weekend, I was invited by some friends to do a three day mixed-terrain tour of Vermont. I had crossed paths with cycler on my way out and sort of described it to her as a "typical Grant Petersen Pastoral" -- you know: steel bikes, wide tires, Carradice bags, bed & breakfasts, gravel roads winding past horse paddocks -- that sort of thing.

    Except, of course, many of my fellow riders were all of these super hard climbing guys. A few of them have been on the podium for the Mt Washington Race. One holds the course record for D2R2. Another, the course record for the Shenandoah 1200. And, well, I don't have any records and have never been on any podiums, and I've seen their finishing times and know that many of them are in a separate league of performance from me. So, part of me, was dreading that this would be some sort of death march as I struggled to keep up with everyone.

    but, you know, it was a social ride. We went out in a pack of 12 bikes (9 singles, 3 tandems) and sometimes rode in paceline, sometimes not. We recollected periodically on the descents, and someone would stop and wait at the turns until the entire pack had made it through.

    It was nice, relaxing and we didn't have anything to prove to each other or show off. Just out for a good time. The terrain was still incredibly challenging, yet gorgeous. The company kept me humble, but it didn't make me feel like an anchor.

    It can take a while to find a good set of riding partners, and some folks won't always be ideal partners in all circumstances. It's enough, though, to ensure that everyone has the correct expectations and that they make their own choices to ride with each other; and that there's no sense of compulsion or obligation that ties one to the other.

    I agree that you will inevitably plateau into a self-defined comfort zone if you just train on your own. The ghost pacing that can be set on a training computer and charts of past stats have their benefit, but there's nothing that can replace having another rider in front of you, riding just a little faster than you're used to and urging you to keep up.

  8. I feel like that's true of cycling in general. Even on my transportation rides I am more willing to stretch my boundaries/ride further if I have a companion. Looking forward to following your progress!

  9. Jon Webb - Peppy only rides fixed gear and I'm worried about her on hills, though she says she can do it.

  10. Peppy (the amazing power-to-weight ratio cat)June 3, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    I can spin 105 GI uphill easy. With ears back.

  11. cris said —there's nothing that can replace having another rider in front of you, riding just a little faster than you're used to and urging you to keep up.

    Not to mention how much easier it is when you're drafting!

  12. cris - I would be intimidated by those riding partners, but sounds wonderful!

    I was considering doing the D2R2... until I was shown what is meant by off-road. Now I know that I can't even do the shorter.

  13. hah! yes, and there is a delicious level of tension when the person that you're drafting is going a little too hard, and you have to decide if you need to burn more energy to stay with them or just give up and get dropped like a stone. No middle ground.

  14. God this must all sound horrifying to my readers who are transportation-cycling only. I feel a little guilty for going in this direction!

  15. Whatev - transpo cyclists got gapped off your wheel, but you'll wait for them at the turn...

  16. GR Jim - I guess I'm experiencing a mild velo-existential crisis, in the sense that the idea of "improving as a cyclist" is not one I want to generally advocate. Improving towards what? And for whom? As long as someone is competent on a bike in the sense that they are not a danger to themselves or others on the road, riding a bike is just riding a bike. The idea of improvement implies construing cycling as a sport, which is not something I want to facilitate.

  17. sounds like fun. And I agree Jim is very nice. He has never made me feel like a jerk for not being able to fix a flat. In fact he's gone out of his way to say " Oh yeah- this would have been tough to do!"

    You are lucky to cycle with such a nice and experienced person!

  18. I'm a bit surprised you like the competitive cycling culture. As a transportation cyclist, I find it mostly uninteresting, too fast to enjoy the scenery, and much like work. I'm sure my age has something to do with that too. However, for those that enjoy it, I'm happy they do. I seem to prefer slower scenic and social rides.

  19. I think you are letting the anti-roadie comments get to you. As you said, riding a bike is riding a bike; it is the LAST thing you should be feeling guilty about.

    Riding a bike fast or long will get you stronger, test your limits (which you seem to enjoy), get you more intimately familiar with how bikes handle at speed, open up your lungs more, see different things, increase your confidence. I could go on forever. Your D2R2 comment is similar to others you've made about not being able to ride a road bike. If that's your goal do it. Period.

    Transpo cycling advocacy isn't mutually exclusive from athletic cycling, despite what many think. Notable pros like Tim Johnson and Ryan Leech are big transpo cycling advocates. Former nat'l road champ Fast Freddy Rodriguez sits on the board of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, one of my local advo orgs.

    Labels on cycling don't help. I'd say the road bike has greatly increased my strength over the years so that I don't think twice about riding the cargo bike distances big, car-dwelling people only think it appropriate to drive.

    I really don't see how being mentally and physically stronger and being more capable have any negatives.

  20. I think the negatives lie in the high-speed low drag jock butt grabbing snarky culture that many people seem to dislike. :)

  21. ...and people think transpo cyclists don't have attitude. Your husband just called you low drag.

    I think you guys have a lot of Masshole roadies there.

  22. V -- if it makes you feel any less envious, I wound up getting into a bit of crash on that ride after losing control on a descent near Middlebury. I am generally ok, though I've got a few cuts that look worse than they actually are. I have a post for it drafted that I hope to get online at some point, but I certainly wouldn't be one to goad you into trying the D2R2 if you're nervous about it. Roads like that aren't for the meek-hearted.

    Ah well, it was a good excuse to take Monday off to head up to Burlington and check out the bike museum in Old Spokes Home.

    On other subjects, I think it's perfectly reasonable to enjoy both road rides and transportational cycling without being made to feel like you're choosing one over the other. Bike touring -- as an example -- encourages a person to use their bike as a different method for exploring some place, and goes along with your intent of showing 'ordinary people' how a bike can open up new horizons for them without requiring them to be jock-ish about it, but it can also reward being a stronger rider, since that translates to either being able to cover more distance in a day or being able to spare more time for beer and ice cream. There's just a lot of cultural tribalism that gets in the way between 'roadies' and 'freds' and 'retrogrouches' and 'beautiful godzillas' and 'posengers' and what-not. Just enjoy the ride; and if people feel a need to stereotype based on one or two posts that they don't like, then that's their problem.

  23. Just to be clear, I meant D2R2 as a long-range goal, if at all. Baby steps.

    "Eating dirt" - crashing is something that just happens in it, as Cris has demonstrated. Good luck with the healing process, BTW.

  24. For some reason I am just not interested in serious off road. Nice fire trails with more or less evenly packed dirt, yes. Gravel, okay. Packed sand, fine. But navigating twisted roots, rocks and craters while descending is not the kind of cycling that interests me even in theory. I like pure speed and distance and smooth surfaces, so that's the aspect I want to pursue. If I were given magic powers to be a competent racer for one day in any one and only one category, it would be either track or time trail. That's the kind of thing that excites me, but not things like cyclocross or D2R2.

  25. You are making me want a road bike...

    What was your minor injury? Bike related? Did you already mention this and I missed it?

  26. I dream of biking in Acadia National park sometime- miles and miles of "bridle paths" that are perfect for what Cris describes as "Grant Peterson Pastorale"

  27. Oh I love the paths in Acadia National Park. They are not scary. We've even skied on them in the winter. There is a group of volunteers that maintains them for XC skiing.

    Julia - It's embarrassing. I busted my knees riding an upright bike back and forth up hills for fun. Not a good idea.

  28. I know what you mean about needing a partner to push your limits. I gave up even pretending to train by myself years ago. When I go out by myself I typically go slower and slower until people assume I'm just watching the bike for someone who had to duck into the woods to pee.

    I just do not enjoy trying to work hard by myself but when I ride with a group I definitely prefer a faster than moderate pace. The only time I really work hard by myself is screwing around on my BMX bikes doing trackstands, bunny-hops, endos or whatever.

    Having a few good riding buddies is such a great thing.


  29. Hey Peppy, Wanna find out how fast you really are?

    Sandwich (29 pounds of slobbering freaky speed) the Border Collie

  30. So true - I am more likely to take breaks and turn back early if I am riding alone. Much better to have a buddy.

  31. Slightly OT, but I really like the fork crown in Jim's Sketchy fork. What is that style called?

  32. stevep33- That's a curved, segmented fork made by Mike Flanigan of ANT. Sketchy does not make their own forks.

  33. If it's any more confusing for this discussion, my bike is some sort of blasphemous mutant of quick road and light utility bike combined. Funny enough it was pretty normal back in the day. (Well the 'day' being around when I was born.)

    I guess it was once called a sport-touring/randonneuring bike. It's like trying to have your cake and eat as much of it as possible.

    It's no good for either fast club rides (unless you're really fit), nor can it be used on extended tours. But it works great for normal everyday use as entertainment, and/or picking up something on the way home in a speedier fashion.

    It is my one and only bike though, so that may be a big reason for having it.

  34. "And apparently it can do 30mph downhill on a criminally pothole-ridden road without anything terrible happening to the fork or wheels. Good to know!"

    Or anything bad happening to the rider. Congratulations. How was it?

    I knew you had it in you.

    As for velo-existential crisis management, what you are doing is your own voyage of discovery. We readers -and denizens of the comments- are simply, um, "along of the ride". You happen to write evocatively, so we read.

    Besides, I doubt that you will be nay-saying beautifully made bicycles one can ride in street clothes anytime soon.

  35. Velouria takes good photos. No need to apologize for the point-and-shoot. The B & W 'printed' well too.

    The photos are a big reason you've so many readers.

    You might enjoy Simeon Orme's cycling photos. He has a flickr, the repository I like checking a few times a year is at South Lakes Group, Rough Stuff Fellowship.

  36. "...I haven't got an athletic bone in my body, .."

    My wife looked up from the screen, and said in her best Mandy Patinkin imitation:

    "I do not think that word means what she thinks it means."

  37. Michael - I haven't liked the "Sports Touring" bikes I've tried for that reason. The geometry seems to aggressive to be comfortable, and yet somehow not all that fast. The Italian racing bikes I've tried have been both faster and more comfortable.

    Corey - I am desperately trying to figure out what sort of indecent connotations that phrase could have!...


    Surely you've seen this movie at some point...

    Corey "what, never seen it? INCONCEIVABLE!" K

  39. Great post...I remember when I was started to ride in was intimidating and then exhilarating. Ride Studio is starting a new beginners group ride at 7:30 AM on Sundays that folks might like, geared toward people interested in developing their group riding skills. The first one is June 26th. Details here,

  40. I have only tried to ride with my husband but there is such a huge disparity in riding abilities that I end up pushing myself too hard so I don't look like a wimp. As an asthmatic this means I am absolutely miserable for the majority of the trip because I try to push too hard. Is there ever a way to find a balance?

  41. ana - Yes, the faster person needs to slow down : )


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