Smith Avenue loomed in the distance. I had never cycled up it, but I had bombed down it several times after grinding up Ohio Street. I was told by Loren, the leader for the Wednesday evening group ride at Lifetime Fitness in Highland Park, that Smith is considered a Category 4 climb—the only one in the Twin Cities. I was eager to find out how well I could ascend a long hill on “Jolie,” my new carbon fiber road bike.
There were six of us, including Brad, the cycling club coordinator and the strongest rider among us, who had come that night with a mountain bike that he had just built. A mountain bike, on a road bike group ride. Brad figured that he would struggle to climb with the rest of us since his bike was so much heavier, but he decided to ride it to “stay honest.”
Loren was in the lead at the base of the climb. He, along with Brad and Walker, had dropped me on a fifty-mile group ride only a few weeks before, so I respected Loren’s pedaling power. I was behind Loren in a pace line that included Duane, a new rider joining us that night, and Loren’s wife, Kim.
The climb didn’t look all that steep or seem too difficult, at first. Duane, perhaps eager to prove himself as a new rider, attacked from the back and shot past us. I decided to jump out from behind Loren and chase Duane. On “Basho,” my old Fuji, I would have struggled mightily to stay on Duane’s wheel, but on “Jolie,” I was able to stay in contact. Although, as we reached the mid-point of the High Bridge, I was starting to think that perhaps this wasn’t such an easy climb after all.
I looked over my shoulder, briefly, and I was surprised to find that neither Loren nor Brad was on my wheel.
Duane stopped just after he had reached the end of the bridge, and I followed his lead. Having never cycled Smith Avenue before, neither of us realized that we weren’t anywhere close to the summit of the climb, and that there was, in fact, a long way to go.
Soon, Brad had ridden up to us, but he didn’t stop. “This isn’t the end of the climb, guys,” he said as he sped past us. We were caught out. Duane and I lost time clipping into our pedals and getting back up to climbing speed.
I could see Brad up ahead—perhaps 100 meters—powering his mountain bike up the long ribbon of asphalt to our rendezvous point at Dodd Rd. Duane was still in front of me, but I felt like I had at least one more kick left. I rose up out of the saddle and stomped on my pedals and “Jolie” leaped forward.
I was not going to catch Brad, who had gotten too much of a gap on us and was not showing any signs of slowing down. But on “Jolie,” I rode proudly up the remainder of Smith Avenue. Though I never dropped Duane, he never attacked me again. And by the time I reached Dodd Rd., Loren was way down the hill still struggling to drag his bike skyward.
I would not have been able to climb like that on “Basho.” No, but on my first group ride since buying “Jolie,” I discovered the difference that 10 fewer pounds makes while climbing a 1.5 mile hill. And, more importantly, I found that perhaps I had gotten myself into better cycling shape than I thought.
Six weeks ago, I needed a new bike, and now I don’t need one anymore.