Cycling 101 or It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now

Woke up this morning with the urge to do something different. After riding the easy chair most of the day yesterday, exercise called my name. I’d taken a break from my trainer for a change of pace, so after perusing the schedule of classes at the gym, I decided a cycle class would be the answer for something different.

Vaguely remembering a cycle studio somewhere in the building, I asked another trainer how to get to it. “Long time no see,” he said. Nice to know I’d been missed on the gym floor. Through a couple studios, through another door, up some stairs, and voila, tucked away in the back of the fitness center sat this square room filled with about fifty stationary bikes.

People of all ages milled around, selecting their bike, positioning the seat and handlebars, tucking belongings away, warming up. They all looked like they knew what they were doing. I stepped through the door and knew it was too late to turn back now.

I made my way towards the back of the room and spotted an empty cycle sandwiched between a lone woman about my age and another woman with her husband. Both of them had celebrated several more birthdays than I have. I figured that would be a safe spot. We’ll call my neighbor Nancy.

Compelled to tell Nancy it was my first time here in case I fell off or fell on her, I wanted her to have a heads-up. Mistake, because she called the class instructor over to me to tell her I was a cycle virgin, and the instructor began sizing me up adjusting the seat and handlebars according to her estimate. I hopped up on there and realized I was riding the tallest pony in the corral. Great. Another way to stick out in a crowd where anonymity was preferred. Nancy was helpful in giving me a few survival tips though: the lights would be dark, so the instructor wouldn’t be able to tell if I adjusted the pedal tension or not. Take it at my own pace. Drink when I need it. Okay, Nancy with her coiffure and make-up was my ally.

The instructor, Maria, began the music, turned off the lights, and told us we were at the Tour de France and to watch the large screens mounted beside her. We were transported into the mountains with a pack of cyclists pedaling away as cheering crowds stood on the sidelines waving flags as we rode by. I felt like I was in a video game. That part was pretty cool. Speaking of cool, the AC vent blew right down on me. Nancy did me right leaving that spot open next to her.

The music was loud, really loud. Not a chance at all to listen to talk radio on the iPod Nano I had clipped to my waistband. Boom da boom boom. Boom da boom boom. On and on it went. Lots of rap. Then some dub-step version of Mission Impossible, a very appropriate tune given my location.

Then Maria began barking out orders. Pedal with the beat. Increase your tension. Stand up. Sit down. Can you feel it? Leave your comfort zone. Whoa! I did that when I first walked through the doors, remember? Between her heavy accent and the volume, I could only understand every sixth command, so half the time I took Nancy’s advice and did my own thing. I checked the wrist monitor to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack and pedaled.

The cyclists on the video (of which I fully believed I was now a part) looked like a pack of helmeted crayons moving in a single mass, primary colors with numbers and advertising all over their shirts. Maria was quite worked up by now, glistening. Leaning over on to the handle bars, her chesticles gave the three men near the front something besides the screen to view.

Somewhere about mid-way through it, my toes went numb. Maria had squeezed the front of my athletic training shoes into these little cages buckled down so tightly only a paper doll could’ve fit in there. Supposing it was supposed to feel that way, I pedaled on and pushed through with the ball of my feet. I noticed Nancy wore cycling shoes clipped in to the pedals, no cages for her. She had no idea the numbness I dealt with by her side.

All was okay until Maria said, “Stand up!” Do you know how difficult it is to stand up when your toes have vice grips on them? But I did. I pedaled on with the beat. Round and round the mountains. “Watch the road,” she said. Then a guy on the screen wiped out. Blam! Skidded across the asphalt, all the emergency teams rushed to his aid. Yeah, I knew exactly how he felt. Stand up. Sit down. Maria continued. I knew I was no longer a cycling virgin. I mean, really, have you ever sat on one of those seats? Geesh.

“We’re going up a hill now, people. Push! Push! Come on. Do you feel it? Get out of your comfort zone,” she said again. “For all of you who want to come in second place, just stay here, but if you want to be a winner, PUSH!” Maria still glistened. I looked down and only saw my frumpy gray t-shirt with a darkened teardrop sweat mark on it.

Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for. Maria said we were entering the cool-down phase. Hooray! Let me tell you something. Her idea of a cool-down phase and mine were diametrically opposed. The video switched to some easy mountain roads where we sprinted. Watch the road. Soon enough it was over and time to stretch. I’d made it. I’d survived my first cycling class.

Then I stepped off the bike and fell off the platform. Nancy can’t say I hadn’t warned her.