Magnificent Obsession

Jeff Hemmel
Jeff Hemmel

Bike Noob is pleased to introduce our readers to Jeff Hemmel. Jeff started biking on a hybrid, and like many of us, recently made the switch to a road bike. Also like many of us, he’s now wrapped up in our sport. Jeff is a magazine writer by trade, and I’m looking forward to more contributions from him in the future.

How I became a bike nerd…and the gear that made it possible.

Looking back, I’m not sure when I transitioned from a recreational rider to a more serious biking enthusiast. Perhaps it started after a problematic ACL reconstruction. Frustrated by my lack of progress in physical therapy, I got on my bike, a Giant Sedona DX hybrid. At first, a mere two-mile ride seemed like an accomplishment. But somewhere along the way that two-mile ride became five, that five-mile ride became 15, and suddenly, a few years later, I was cranking out 30 miles at a clip. At the first charity ride I attended, most of the recreational riders on similar bikes hung near the back of the pack. Me? I was pedaling a furious cadence in an attempt to keep up with the roadies, my surf shorts and t-shirts a stark contrast to their sleek, form-fitting kits.

In hindsight, I probably knew I was hooked long before that first organized ride. I found myself looking for excuses to wander into the local bike shops around town, going through the doors on the premise of buying one more spare tube, but ending up looking at (okay, maybe even fondling on occasion) the latest and greatest road bikes. I also noticed my Giant, and my gear, showing a subtle transformation. The upgrades are worth sharing, because they not only made the best out of my current investment, but they also served as a sort of litmus test on whether this was a passing phase, or the beginnings of a legitimate obsession.

A cycling friend suggested the first simple upgrade — trading in my sneakers for a pair of sneaker-style, mountain-bike shoes. I could still walk around in comfort, but on the bike, the shoes stiffer soles made the most out of each crank of the pedals. Once I had the shoes, it seemed only natural to step up to Upgrade #2 — clipless mountain-bike pedals. My shoes could accommodate the cleats, and I was ready to feel the added power and efficiency that would be the result of having my feet attached to the pedals. Yes, I fell over twice within the first two days, both times within full view of the commuting workforce. The worst bruising, however, was limited to my pride. I quickly got the hang of it, my riding improved, and suddenly those roadies seemed one step closer.

My final swap was to toss the knobbies aside for a pair of slick road tires. They looked ridiculously skinny at first, but for the first time I could see a tangible result on my speedo, an increase in speed that probably forever sealed the deal. My mileage increased, my legs grew stronger, and suddenly an ad for a Trek Madone seemed on par with a Playboy centerfold.

I never actually made the jump. My wife did it for me, placing a Trek 2.1 under the tree this past Christmas. On that bike I’ve completed my transformation, to the point where I now log over 500 miles a month, and get a little crazy if something upsets my ride routine. Somewhere along the way I even ditched the surf shorts and t-shirts for, yes, some skintight jerseys and cycling shorts.

Now, if I could just get up the nerve to shave those legs…