Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I started mountain biking when I was 38 years old. Mountain biking was really the first aerobically challenging sport I have ever done. After a few years of recreational rides with friends in Connecticut, I met John who really made me take biking more seriously. I started road riding for fitness and discovered that road bike trips were the perfect way to get to know the area where we lived. Biking also led to running, again mainly to improve my aerobic fitness. I have never trained systematically or followed any structured training plan. By just riding longer, moving to California where the hills are big and climbs long, I just somehow ended up in decent shape. Multi day bike races, 100+ mile hilly bike rides and whole day dirt / road excursions filled my weekends and vacations. It all seemed very easy and natural to do. The in-between-jobs period in 2012 helped me to be able to ride with John for 6 out of 8 days over brutal hills of Southern California on a loaded bike. I lost him after a mechanical, but I was toast anyways.
Over the years, I also met quite a few guys about my age who always said "I used to ride centuries..." or "When I raced bikes..." I thought, why would anybody talk about the past? Just hop on your bike and ride!
During these "peak years", it never occurred to me to worry about injuries. I crashed a few times, had some overuse issues (tendonitis) and of course, lots of cramps, soreness and fatigue. What I also did not think about is how my inherited body composition and biomechanics, plus sports that really mostly work out your legs, may affect the rest of the body. As a kid, I was always a chubby boy, hated soccer and all sports that involved running. I also had weak arms and equally hated push ups and rope climbing. High school and college years were spent mainly in beer pubs, smoking. Next ten years of asthma did not encouraged me to use my lungs much in activities that actually require it. Despite getting fit in my forties, I think that some genetic factors (predisposition to spine problems, arthritis, bone loss) combined with neglecting my upper body strength eventually led to the recent episode of herniated cervical discs and damage of nerve roots that inervate the right shoulder and arm. I could speculate whether my active 40-ies had delayed what was inevitable or whether the muscle imbalance accelerated what could have happened ten years later. It really does not matter. The lesson I learned is that one has to pay attention to one's overall wellness.

My physical therapy continues to restore some strength in the affected limb, the neuropathic pain is gone. I realized how pathetically weak my arms are, not just the "big" muscles, even the rotator cuffs which are 100% endurance muscles. Exercising the arms, shoulders and back muscles will be a routine from now on.
I ran a 7-mile trail run and a 6-mile street jog recently. The past weekend, I hit my favorite trails along the Skyline ridge on my Mojo. The Mojo (despite its miniature, today almost comically looking 26" wheels) equipped with a 70mm Thomson stem and 740mm wide Ibis carbon bars is now a switchback slayer. It also climbs lot better with none of the front wheel wandering on steep inclines. Next came a shorter stem on the 29er (it already had the super wide bars).

So what's next? I have plans for a touring setup on the 29er as well as the fatty (if snow ever returns to California). I probably won't be able to ride a road bike with low drop bars due to the neck spine strain, but that's perfectly OK. Long road trips can be done on a touring bike. Whatever type of biking I do, it will have to be a part of a sustainable, holistic (I really dislike that word) and happiness inducing self-care.
It is also the time to pass the baton to the younger generation - I am extremely proud of my son Jiri, who not only chose a bike as a graduation gift, but also rides it often and seems to be falling for the sport. All this despite me taking him on rocky trails in CT, where he endoed and knocked the wind out of him, made him push a mountain bike up steep trails on Mount Desert Island in a 95 degree heat and even tried to explain that riding up Haleakala is the best way of spending a day on Maui.

Is bike color choice genetic too?

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