At the end of the ride, I blew into the parking lot and got a little air off the pile of gravel left by the snowplow. A woman I got chatting with told me I looked exuberant.

There was a reason for that.

I rode Proud Mary for the first time yesterday. I wanted a real test so I chose the hardest trails within 10 minutes of home because, first, they really are hard, and second, they’ve become an obsession with me this spring. The Orbea was un-named before yesterday’s ride. Near the end of the ride, heart jamming and my soul happy among the leafing-out trees, I named her Proud Mary because she just kept rollin’ through the rock gardens. Credence started running through my head and she was christened just like that. Mary’s big wheels – 29 inchers – rear suspension, and wonderfully slack fork angle get her over rocks like no bike I’ve ever ridden. My average speed at River Road has been trending up, and even with the learning curve of a new bike and sessioning a couple of spots until I got them, yesterday jumped that average from 6.2 mph to 6.4.

Proud Mary is far more capable than her engine.

Climbing? Mary has a dinner-plate on the cassette that gives her low-end gearing like a Cat 955. Three hills in the preserve have pitches that push a 40% grade. I never got up them until yesterday. One I had to attempt twice because muscle memory stopped me the first time at the point where I’d never before been able to get my pedal stroke past TDC. On one memorable ride last year, I hit that point and had trouble unclipping. The bike started rolling backwards, spinning my legs in reverse. That was unsettling. The second time yesterday, I just determined to keep my chest low and my feet spinning and Mary torqued right on up. That’s when I realized that if I can give her the RPMs and the weight distribution, she’ll climb anything. I did need to stop at the top for a minute because, you know, tunnel vision and nausea. Next time though… On the way back I bobbled one hill by being in too low a gear and spinning one foot off its pedal, but that’s just a familiarity thing.

Before the hay field, there’s a stream crossing where the water pools in the bottom of a gully. You’re riding along a grassy old farm road and the ground disappears in front of you, dropping you 3 feet down to splash through 5 feet of 6-inch deep water. On the other side is a steep, rooty bank. I’ve never gotten all the way up that bank, either dead-ending a front wheel on a big root or spinning out a wet back tire. Yesterday I came closer than ever and I know with just a little more speed going in I’ll clean it.

For all of that cross-country capability I expected to sacrifice some nimbleness. Nope. The bike handles with the confidence of Prince’s backup dancers on a rainy Superbowl halftime stage. I think that’s a combination of the full suspension keeping the brandy-new tires firmly grounded. The bike just goes where I look, something I need to brand into my brain.

I feel inspired to ride harder, to work on technique, to get better. Maybe I should have named her Louie instead, because I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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