After a long battle, I finally admitted defeat with my road bike. I was determined to make it work, partly because I love the bike and partly because I really couldn’t afford to replace it. But even with the assistance of one kickass physiotherapist and three kickass bike fitters, I couldn’t fix the basic underlying issue that the frame was too big for me. We managed to dial in the fit enough that the crippling nerve pain in my shoulder kicked in at 70km rather than 20km, but now that I’m doing at least two rides a week at that length it wasn’t good enough.
So I resigned myself to selling the current road bike, and replacing it with something very similar but in a smaller size. The new bike would have to be funded primarily by the sale of the old bike, so I didn’t have a lot of scope for upgrades. I did know for sure that I wanted another Rocky Mountain, as I love their bikes and I really like that they’re a local company.
With budget limitations in mind, I started scouring the internet for the best possible deal. I’d heard rumours of fire sales on 2011 models in the States, and was really hoping that I might be able to find something too good to be true. It took a couple of months, but it happened. I found a full carbon frame Rocky Mountain – the same model I’d asked my local bike shop about, then sadly put out of my mind when I heard the price – for a steal from a store in California.
So I bought the bike, only to discover that the store wouldn’t ship to a Canadian address (even though Rocky Mountain is a BC-based company.) I wasn’t willing to let go of the deal, so I ended up shipping it to a package receiving store in Sumas, Washington. The fates aligned and I was able to catch a ride down to the States with a friend this weekend; I liked the idea of riding it home so much more than just plunking it in the back of my truck and driving it back to Canada. We met up at 6am to beat the border lineups, and had time to go admire the snow and rock on Mount Baker before picking up the bike.
At the package receiving store, the first flaw in the plan emerged. In spite of the fact that the store made a big deal out of including a free bike build with any purchase, the box contained not a fully assembled bike but a beautiful carbon frame and a big pile of parts and components. An hour and a half later, I had a new appreciation for the versatility of a bike tool (and my friend R, who selflessly sacrificed her time to hold pieces in place while I bolted them together) and a reasonably secure-looking bike.
I took it out to ride around the block a couple of times; I wanted to be sure nothing would fall off before I set out on the long ride home. Kicking off was an eyeopener. It was like opening the gate for a racehorse waiting to charge, or a plane hitting takeoff speed; the bike is so light that it just wants to fly when you start moving. I was absolutely blown away; I had no idea cycling could feel like that.
By this time the clouds had closed in, rain was falling, and an ominous grey sky promised that things were only going to get worse. R tried hard to convince me that I should get a ride with her at least to Blaine, but I was too stubborn and too excited about the bike to think it through and waved her cheerfully away as I set out into the monsoon.
Within 40 minutes, the rain had intensified to a point where I couldn’t see more than a hundred yards in any direction and my waterproofs had given up the ghost. Water squelched out of my shoes with every turn of the pedals, poured down my back and out of my sleeves, and ran in a steady streaming torrent off my chin. My passport and iPhone were safe in a ziplock baggie in my backpack, but I didn’t dare take them out for fear the phone would instantly drown. With no access to Google Maps, I ended up figuring out my way to Blaine through trial, error and instinct. Fortunately the route was pretty direct, as I’m not known for having a stellar sense of direction.
The long stretch through rural Washington in the downpour was one of the more surreal rides of my life. I had absolutely no sense of where I was in the landscape, because I couldn’t see it. With a new bike under me, nothing on me but a handful of documentation, bike tool, phone and a couple of protein bars and the border approaching, I was very conscious of being in another country. The rain didn’t bother me enormously – it was wet, but not cold – and yet because it took away the scenery, it gave the ride a deeply eerie feel and made it seem a lot longer than it actually was.
When I finally hit Blaine, it came as a complete surprise: a scatter of houses emerging out of the grey and misty landscape, and then a surge of Canada-bound traffic. I followed the signs to the border, where the stop at customs was surprisingly straightforward. For some reason I’d assumed that a drenched cyclist with a brand-new bike and no baggage would be a problem.
Because I’d been so focused on the border crossing, what I’d forgotten was that I was only about a third of the way through the ride at this point, and that from here on in it was all hard going on the shoulder of busy highways. I got badly lost at both ends of the Alex Fraser Bridge, ending up on a golf course on the approach and at the wrong end of Annacis Island at the exit. As I turned off the New West Highway onto No. 7 road, the rain finally eased off and I was even able to shed the waterproofs on my way back into Vancouver.
It wasn’t the most fun ride I’ve ever done, and yet it was. I hacked the bike together in 90 minutes in the back room of a shipping company, but I didn’t have a single twinge from the problematic shoulder in 107km from Sumas back home. I rode for more than 5 hours in an epic downpour, and yet never once did I seriously consider putting the bike on the Skytrain or in a cab. The whole point of the adventure was to ride it home.
Every second I’ve spent on this bike so far has justified all of these ridiculous decisions. It’s so light; it wants to fly in a way that no other bike I’ve ever ridden has. It corners like it’s on rails; it wants to dip and lean into every curve. I can ride it without pain or discomfort, even though I haven’t dialed the fit in at all. I cannot wait to ride the Whistler GranFondo on this machine. It’s going to be a whole different experience.
And you know, I could have just gone to a bike shop and bought a bike the way a normal person does. But where would the fun have been in that?