The bike fitter

“I hope this isn’t a wild goose chase,” I said to Vic as we drove on a gusty February afternoon toward a tiny town north of Detroit. We’d driven the SUV rather than the preferred subcompact all the way to Ann Arbor for the weekend, for the family visit, in case we decided to carry back a new bike or two from this shop in this place we’d never been before after consulting this bike-and-movement expert whom we had never met.

Clarkston was an hour father from home than Ann Arbor. My commitment to this venture was wavering as the winter blasts buffeted the car. What a day to go bike shopping, and clear across the state of Michigan, at that.

But it wasn’t exactly bike shopping I was after. It was really the consultation. I wanted a new bike but I didn’t know what I wanted except the right one. I am ready to buy the bike I will ride for the rest of my life or as long as I can stay upright.

Our daughter had told me there was this guy who was a Tai Chi friend of her husband, Joseph, and his colleague, Sang, of the Ann Arbor Dojo Kitchen who did nothing but fit people to bikes.  I wasn’t sure what that entailed but I thought that was exactly what I needed. Although I couldn’t help thinking of the mythical host Procrustes, who invited unsuspecting wayfarers to spend the night in his iron bed, which would fit them perfectly. And it did–after he chopped off the guests’ limbs or stretched them to size.

Since we had a limited window of time for this and were driving all this way, I’d called ahead a few days earlier and made an appointment to be sure the expert-owner, Jeff Nofts, would be available. We arrived at Kinetic Systems in Clarkston a little early. “We’ve come a long way to see Jeff,” I said to the lean woman in the cycling jacket behind the counter.

But Jeff was not in. He’d had a dental emergency and had just left to see the dentist. Louise thought he might have forgotten our appointment. Was this a wild-goose chase after all?

She caught Jeff on his cell phone and learned he would be back in 30 or 40 minutes. Of course we would wait. Louise showed us some bikes but the choices just confused me. To kill time we went next door to a restaurant/bar set up in a former church, stained glass windows and all. It was booming on a Monday afternoon. The Clarkston Union was evidently famous for its macaroni and cheese and other gooey specials, which the waitress reeled off enthusiastically by memory before we could stop her to tell her we’d already had lunch and were after a drink and maybe some soup.

I didn’t add that I don’t eat any of that stuff she’d described any more. I could tell Vic was tempted, but we stuck to Southwest roasted corn soup and draft root beer. The soup was too tomato-y for me. Vic finished mine while dreaming of the turkey stroganoff potpie. Another time perhaps. Louise soon appeared to tell us Jeff was back.

Jeff is an effervescent 65-year-old who talks nonstop but doesn’t waste words. One look, before I even had my coat off, and he understood why I was there. “You’re short,” he said. “You have a curve in your back. Your left leg is shorter than the right one because your hip is turned.” I didn’t even know that last part but it is true. “For some people the decision is about what type of bike they want. But for other people, like you, the most important thing is fit.”

As he probed my arms and showed me which one was sore (yes, the left one) and talked about back pain and why my left knee was bothering me, I knew I’d come to the right place. He put me on a bike on rollers. It was a cross, a breed of bike that had been born since we’d made our last bike purchases. But he wasn’t pushing me to a decision. As he watched how I pedaled (“Your left arm moves every time your left leg descends–your right one doesn’t”) and how I slouched rather than leaned, straight-backed, toward the handlebars, he talked about the possibilities he’d like to investigate, about narrowing down the options before my next visit, when I’d do some test rides.

And he recommended a book full of exercises that could help my hips, back, and posture. I recognized it because I’d seen it on Joseph and Joanna’s bookshelves: Pain Free, by Pete Egoscue.

I will work through it before I go back, maybe indeed fitting myself to my new bike as my new bike is fit to me. Though I won’t trim down either of my legs.

Getting back on the bike


My neglected Bianchi

Last year after I suffered a pulmonary embolism I got scared and fat.

Or you could say I lost confidence in my body and one result was that I gained weight.

Ironically, my lungs were found to be riddled with blood clots just weeks after I had achieved a major (for me) athletic goal: I had trained for months and then biked 100 miles one chilly, rainy September day. Actually 106.3 miles.

The health crisis had nothing to do with biking but it knocked the wind out of my sails. I had been all set to buy a new bike in the spring of 2012 and get even more serious about cycling. But all that conditioning—which certainly helped me through the crisis—began leaking away in the 8 days I spent in the hospital at the end of 2011. My energy was at a low ebb by this time last year.

On top of that I was put on blood thinners for the rest of my life because I have a genetic condition that makes me susceptible to clots, and I began to worry about bleeding. You always take a few spills when you are getting used to a new bike and clipless pedals. What if I were biking alone and fell and got a concussion and bled to death before anybody found me?

I didn’t buy a new bike in 2012, nor did I get on my old one. Not once.

I told myself all kinds of stories to justify not biking. I wasn’t ready for a new bike. It was a rainy, weird-weather spring, hard to get on the bike for those 5 consecutive days you need at the start of the season to toughen up your butt. The summer was too hot. I made trips to Congo in May and July.

All that was true, but it is also true that I had lost confidence in my body. I lost confidence in my ability to prevent a fall or recover from it. I lost confidence in my strength and energy. I had long since lost confidence in my ability to control my weight. And my body responded to my lowered expectations. I lost strength and energy, gained weight, and moved with less grace.

I believe my recent bout with back pain was partly a result of this loss of confidence in my physical self. My back had become the repository of all my doubts, insecurities, and fears. Even though I had already begun to reverse the weight gain and energy decline, my back was throwing one last spasm of grief and protest against all the vicissitudes of life as a mortal being. It was at its worst in early December, around the anniversary of the pulmonary embolism.

And then it recovered. I am writing this to celebrate my mortal body, now 68 years old. It is leaner, stronger, more energetic than it was a year ago. I am grateful for my physical presence in this world.

My body will take me on adventures this year. Maybe some of them on a bike. Maybe a new one.