My wife and I are currently on holiday in the USA and staying with her family. Mrs BikeVCar is bringing back memories of her youth by baking an array of cookies and brownies with her mother. Which has provided a convenient window of opportunity for the male contingent of the house to sample the amazing array of bicycles contained in the basement. Saturday was a hilly 70 mile ride from Rockville, MD, up to Sugarloaf Mountain and along the Potomac river which separates Maryland from Virginia. I opted for a singlespeed road bike – an old steel frame randonneur which had been recently converted to a singlespeed but with a freehub so not a fixed gear. Other than a couple of hours riding a fixed gear on the track, this was my first real experience of riding singlespeed and for the most part I didn’t really have to think much about it. The gear ratio was 48×19 which was fine for most flat roads and any hills but had me spinning a little too quickly on descents or flat roads with a tailwind. I mostly ride in a low cadence so sometimes found it a little tiring spinning at high speeds for long durations.
In total we climbed 1500 metres, including the 150 metre ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain. At that height it’s more of a hill than a mountain, but at 6% average for just under 2 miles it was a good challenge on the singlespeed. The weather was also quite warm and muggy so we took a well earned break at the top and admired the views.
I hadn’t done much cycling in America before so wasn’t sure how cyclists are generally treated on the roads. In comparison to the UK, car drivers seemed to be a lot more patient about overtaking and gave more room. This could partly be due to the roads being wider, but there were still lots of occasions when a car would patiently follow behind for a couple of minutes until it was completely safe to pass. One thing I did notice was the staggeringly large number of enormous, luxury houses in the suburbs, known pejoratively as ‘McMansions’.
On Sunday we went for a flatter ride down to Washington DC. I opted to ride a 25 year old, 7-speed steel frame bike with gear shifters on the down tube. It was again a very different experience to my normal bikes, but also very straightforward to get used to.
It was great to see loads of other cyclists on the roads, and to cover 120 varied miles over the weekend on two very different bikes. Our average speed was above 16 mph for the two days which also made me realise that all this high-end, super lightweight cycling technology probably doesn’t make much of a difference to the performance of your average cyclist. It also made me realize that it wouldn’t hurt to add a few extra bikes to my collection …