Spin<i>Cycle</i>

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I don't remember the exact day that I hung my road bike in the garage for eternity, but I know it felt good. Too many flat tires, too many windy roads and too much tinkering with a temperamental machine had worn my patience. Getting side-swiped by a bus put the final nail in my road bike's coffin. My Univega had served me well in training, but there was a new ride in town-called the mountain bike-and it soon became my best friend. Mountain bikes opened up a world of off-road adventure and discovery. But everything comes back in style eventually and, out of necessity, road riding found its way back into my life. When I first lived in New York City, my mountain bike spent two whole years stuffed behind a spiral staircase. I never bothered to cart it on the train to a suitable playground. So when I returned to the city from Colorado last summer, I left my mountain bike out West to avoid the pangs of singletrack longing.

My husband, Chan, who grew up road biking in Vermont, assured me that riding in his home state was in fact fun and encouraged me to relent on my boycott. Vermont, he said, is made for road riding. Backroads criss-cross the Green Mountain state, meandering through pastoral terrain of lush farmland and deciduous forests, yet never straying far from civilization. Pick a road, any road, and you will soon be in a quaint Vermont town, with at least one inn, tavern, church and general store. From any starting point, you can choose several routes of varying distance and intensity that will circle back to where you began-or deposit you in new territory.

Indeed, it's no coincidence that Vermont Bike Tours (VBT) is at the forefront of the nationwide bicycle touring craze. The company was started in 1972 by a Middlebury College professor who liked to bike from inn to inn with friends. He wondered if he could charge money to help pay for his trips. Twenty-eight years later, Bristol, Vt.-based VBT runs tours in every corner of Vermont, throughout the U.S. and internationally.

To ease me into this road-riding conversion, I suggested to Chan such an inn-to-inn bike trip, knowing that there is safety in numbers. My suggestion, however, got a typically crusty Vermonter response: "Great-we ride for 30 miles a day then spend 5 hours thinking about lunch and dinner. No thanks." Understandably, he didn't want to be a tourist on his home turf. And both of us wanted to save our vacation time for the slopes. So we went with plan B, a progressive conversion over the course of the summer, where we would pedal a new adventure every weekend.

From Chan's hometown of Grafton, we set out to explore southern Vermont, roughly the area south of Rutland. In all, we spent six weekends riding, covering anywhere from 20 to 50 miles on each trip, and still we barely dented the territory. The only thing we planned in advance was a general direction, and from there we added distance depending on weather, mood and time. For instance, from Chester, 6 miles north of Grafton, we could loop east to Saxtons River, then directly back to Grafton (17 miles total) or detour to Aetna for an extra 10 miles and two climbs. Also from Chester, we could head north to Okemo and Ludlow, or west to Weston and Londonderry. South of Grafton a network of roads leads through Townshend, Stratton and Mount Snow. I soon learned that there was no "easy" direction-whether we traveled north, south, east or west, a hill was never far away. At first, my outings were more about cruising than riding. I started modestly, ambling 12 miles in gym shorts and tennis shoes. As the distance increased to 20, then 30 miles, I graduated to bike shorts and eventually cycling shoes, but stopped short of the dreaded jersey, a wearable admission of commitment. On a mountain bike I could usually keep up with Chan on the hills. But on a road bike, the second we hit an incline he easily and quickly broadened the gap. Worse yet, it appeared he wasn't working at all, keeping his bodquiet and his breathing controlled, while commenting on the scenery. He and his vehicle were as one, connected to the road with the tight precision of a finely tuned sports car. I, on the other hand, felt like an El Camino with bad suspension lumbering down an LA highway-unsafe at any speed.

The difference came down to efficiency. While mountain biking involves short bursts of energy over changing terrain, road biking demands that you get into a rhythm before rewarding you with a decent pace. The idea is to use just the right amount of movement. Instead of thinking of your legs as pistons, using strenuous up and down strokes, your downstroke needs to feel as if you're scraping your shoe across the carpet. This produces a more even, circular stroke that transfers consistent energy to the pedals. If the bike fits you properly and the rpm's are right, you can go forever. If not, your heart rate will remain near its max, and you'll still get passed regularly.

After a few outings I had to admit that road biking wasn't the torture I'd remembered. Indeed, road biking has changed for the better, thanks in large part to mountain biking. In much the same way that snowboarding pushed the ski industry to innovate, mountain biking introduced new technology to road biking and brought enthusiastic new blood to the sport.

Neil Quinn, who helped start West Hill Shop in Putney, Vt., in 1971, has seen both the phenomenal growth of mountain biking and the re-birth of road riding. "There was a bike boom in the early Seventies, but then everyone put their road bikes in the garage," explains Quinn. "The bikes were not comfortable and were designed for serious training, requiring lots of maintenance. People became less inclined to make that sort of effort. Then came mountain biking, which rekindled the enthusiasm toward riding, and attracted a new crowd of recreationalists." Slick, easy, push-button shifting with shift levers positioned conveniently within the brake levers has replaced the cumbersome frame-mounted trial-and-error system. Better brakes allow safe stopping on any grade in any conditions. Other improvements include more comfortable seats, and Shimano's hyperglide chain rings, which even allow you to shift on an uphill. Sealed bearings and light, durable tires-once expensive luxuries-have become standard, even on low-end bikes.

What makes Southern Vermont so popular with good riders? "There's not much flat around here," says Quinn, who points out that there are just a few loops in the 18-mile range, but plenty in the 30-plus range. Southern Vermont is riddled with ski areas-Stratton, Magic, Bromley, Mount Snow and Okemo. And where there are ski areas there are hills-interminable hills. The Green Mountains seem to be one steady undulation.

But the winding roads that were so frustrating for me to navigate by car became fun by bike. Unlike the typical western mix of back-breaking summits and long hot flats, these roads offered ever-changing terrain-fun riding to take your mind off the suffering. And because no road is ever totally flat, you can't tell when you start to climb-a real psychological bonus.

As our rides got longer, I learned not only to appreciate the form of recreation but also Vermont. The country-fresh virtue of white clapboard houses, spotted cows grazing in green pastures and designer ice cream had previously struck me as a cloy marketing scheme. But the pastoral appeal became authentic when experienced at a slower, more digestible pace.

Our weekend routine-a shorter, late-starting ride on Saturday, then an earlier, longer ride on Sunday-typically included unplanned discoveries. Though the communities we rode through were eclectic, the spaces between the attractions-where we broke down mechanically or physically-were far more interesting. Twelve miles into our Grafton-Chester-Andover-Weston loop, I was, as usual, drafting off Chan. We had passed through a few miles of farmland then down a winding hill and through the town of Chester, with its restored Stone Village and bounty of craft shops. The temperature and pace were perfect, and I was beginning to feel like the proverbial well-oiled machine. My reverie was broken by what sounded like a gunshot. Chan's tire had exploded, and he limped to a stop by a small junkyard. While he changed his tire, I perused the treasure heap and found a pair of engraved Head Standards. Negotiations were completed by the time the tire was fixed.

On the road again, we pedaled up a hellacious hill to Weston, where snacks and drinks awaited (bribery, Chan quickly learned, is the key to progress). Halfway up, another gunshot, and this time Chan had no spare. So we limped into the "town" of Andover-really just a few houses, a firehouse and a bookstore-and called a rescue vehicle from there. This was when the road-riding advantage hit me. I recalled the many times a mountain-bike breakdown had meant a long dusty walk to civilization over rugged terrain, dragging the bike through creeks and down rocky trails, cursing the very remoteness I had been seeking. Now, we spent our time browsing old books, completely forgetting what originally brought us here. I was deep into "Origins of Skiing," not the slightest bit battered and quite well-rested when our rescue vehicle arrived. Chalk up another one for the road riders.

For our final biking weekend of the season, we commandeered Chuck, Chan's steady biking and skiing buddy, to join us. On the drive to Vermont on Friday night, anxiety crept in at the thought of spinning wheels with two competitive road-trained males. At 11 pm that night, as we were approaching Grafton, we nearly ran over a roadie, hell-bent on his training ride, and my uncertainty turned to real dread.

We started the weekend the civilized way at a diner, with a breakfast of pancakes and good maple syrup. The ride was going fine until I met the deceptively persistent grade on the cruelly named Pleasant Valley Road. As I tried to catch Chuck's draft, the boys took off. After the hyperventilation and cursing passed, I was left to my own pace, and that's when I started to have fun. Instead of trying to keep up, I concentrated on technique, my own breathing and the scenery scrolling by. Back on the flats I'd catch up to the boys and jump into their slipstream, and when we hit a big hill they learned to leave me alone. Once we got into the routine, the speed gap didn't compromise my fun or their workout.

What we got that day and the next was a total slice of Vermont. In Londonderry, we stopped for lemonade at the Farmer's Market, where we would later return for dinner fixings. In Weston, we checked out some craft stores. Chuck remembered going to Weston with his family every time the ski areas got rained out-the kids to get Fireballs at the Country Store, and his mother to get factory seconds at the Wooden Bowl factory. "You can't imagine how many cracked salad bowls we ended up with," Chuck recalls. Terminally cute and touristy, Weston also has a summer playhouse and a guy who carves wooden whale sculptures for a living. Later we hit the State Fair in Bondville, at the base of Stratton Mountain, to watch a farmer in his 70s defend his tractor pulling title. Over the weekend, we rode close to 80 miles, all without incident-no flat tires, no mechanical, mental or physical breakdowns-and headed back to the city entirely refreshed. Throughout the summer, we had gotten only three days of mountain biking in, yet still had managed to rack up four wrecks between us.

Meanwhile, after many more days riding the road, we had a clean record. Our final outing of the season was on Nov. 13, well after some rides amid spectacular fall foliage. We hadn't really planned this ride, but it was the first day of deer hunting season and hiking seemed especially unwise. So we put on headbands, gloves and warm clothes. As I was wrapping my feet in plastic to block the wind, I got a fng hill and through the town of Chester, with its restored Stone Village and bounty of craft shops. The temperature and pace were perfect, and I was beginning to feel like the proverbial well-oiled machine. My reverie was broken by what sounded like a gunshot. Chan's tire had exploded, and he limped to a stop by a small junkyard. While he changed his tire, I perused the treasure heap and found a pair of engraved Head Standards. Negotiations were completed by the time the tire was fixed.

On the road again, we pedaled up a hellacious hill to Weston, where snacks and drinks awaited (bribery, Chan quickly learned, is the key to progress). Halfway up, another gunshot, and this time Chan had no spare. So we limped into the "town" of Andover-really just a few houses, a firehouse and a bookstore-and called a rescue vehicle from there. This was when the road-riding advantage hit me. I recalled the many times a mountain-bike breakdown had meant a long dusty walk to civilization over rugged terrain, dragging the bike through creeks and down rocky trails, cursing the very remoteness I had been seeking. Now, we spent our time browsing old books, completely forgetting what originally brought us here. I was deep into "Origins of Skiing," not the slightest bit battered and quite well-rested when our rescue vehicle arrived. Chalk up another one for the road riders.

For our final biking weekend of the season, we commandeered Chuck, Chan's steady biking and skiing buddy, to join us. On the drive to Vermont on Friday night, anxiety crept in at the thought of spinning wheels with two competitive road-trained males. At 11 pm that night, as we were approaching Grafton, we nearly ran over a roadie, hell-bent on his training ride, and my uncertainty turned to real dread.

We started the weekend the civilized way at a diner, with a breakfast of pancakes and good maple syrup. The ride was going fine until I met the deceptively persistent grade on the cruelly named Pleasant Valley Road. As I tried to catch Chuck's draft, the boys took off. After the hyperventilation and cursing passed, I was left to my own pace, and that's when I started to have fun. Instead of trying to keep up, I concentrated on technique, my own breathing and the scenery scrolling by. Back on the flats I'd catch up to the boys and jump into their slipstream, and when we hit a big hill they learned to leave me alone. Once we got into the routine, the speed gap didn't compromise my fun or their workout.

What we got that day and the next was a total slice of Vermont. In Londonderry, we stopped for lemonade at the Farmer's Market, where we would later return for dinner fixings. In Weston, we checked out some craft stores. Chuck remembered going to Weston with his family every time the ski areas got rained out-the kids to get Fireballs at the Country Store, and his mother to get factory seconds at the Wooden Bowl factory. "You can't imagine how many cracked salad bowls we ended up with," Chuck recalls. Terminally cute and touristy, Weston also has a summer playhouse and a guy who carves wooden whale sculptures for a living. Later we hit the State Fair in Bondville, at the base of Stratton Mountain, to watch a farmer in his 70s defend his tractor pulling title. Over the weekend, we rode close to 80 miles, all without incident-no flat tires, no mechanical, mental or physical breakdowns-and headed back to the city entirely refreshed. Throughout the summer, we had gotten only three days of mountain biking in, yet still had managed to rack up four wrecks between us.

Meanwhile, after many more days riding the road, we had a clean record. Our final outing of the season was on Nov. 13, well after some rides amid spectacular fall foliage. We hadn't really planned this ride, but it was the first day of deer hunting season and hiking seemed especially unwise. So we put on headbands, gloves and warm clothes. As I was wrapping my feet in plastic to block the wind, I got a flashback of the lunatic night rider. Could I ever become one of them? As soon as we started riding, I was assured that, no-I'm still just the El Camino, happily rambling down the road.

a flashback of the lunatic night rider. Could I ever become one of them? As soon as we started riding, I was assured that, no-I'm still just the El Camino, happily rambling down the road.