Shopping For Beginners

Oct 24, 2012 - 3:44 PM
It's triathalon training time.

With the chaos of summer and the show season behind me, I’m back on the fitness bandwagon, getting my P90X going again, getting back to running more than once a week, and getting serious about attempting my first baby weenie triathalon when I return home from Florida in the spring. That means I need to start planning my training now, and that means I need a new bike.

I’ve stolen, er, borrowed a 15-year-old mountain bike from my mother, but it’s not going to do the trick. Off to my local bike shop I went, and after explaining what I want to do – finish a Sprint Tri (usually about 12 miles for the bike portion) without looking completely dumb/coming in last/puking, occasionally go biking with friends, very rarely leave the pavement) – and my budget – teensy – they popped me up on two options so I could at least get a feel for what I’m looking at.

I, obviously, know how to ride a bike. My long-suffering parents saw to that, spending long hours with me at the park when I was probably 5 or 6. I have mountain biked, and when I lived in Chicago one summer I biked everywhere. But other than how to operate the equipment, I know nothing about bikes. So I took these bikes out, and other than a lot of “WOW, this thing stops without squeaking so loud you can hear it from Maryland!” and “WOW, this thing is FAST and FUN and SHINY!” I had exactly zero idea about what I was looking at. I liked them. I liked one more than the other. And I had no idea why.

The kind fellows at the bike shop helped me a little. We concluded that while I liked the first one more than the second one, I preferred the second one’s trigger shifters to the first one’s grip shift. I didn’t care about step-through versus step-over. I wanted a kickstand. But this is a little bit like saying I like a horse wearing a loose-ring snaffle versus one in a D-ring; it’s a pretty superficial understanding of what I do and do not care for.

And it got me thinking about all the times I’ve taken beginner rider clients of mine shopping for a horse. I’ve had a few over the years who learned to ride as adults, on a trusty Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred, and learned how to post and sit the trot, steer, identify their canter leads, ride with a steady contact, maybe go to do training level at a local show, maybe even put a horse on the bit. But with that saintly First Horse outgrown, they go shopping for their first “real” dressage horse and spend a lot of our time together with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

Depending on their budget, I try and find something mid-aged, that’s shown at least first or second level. But they’ve never sat on anything with buttons before. They’ve often never sat on a warmblood, which is certainly not what I limit my clients to, but it’s the breed-type of choice for dressage, and so we always end up sitting on a few. They’re a VERY different ride than a beginner-horse, and when I ask them, “Well, what do you think about THAT one?” they usually can tell me that they think they liked it, or think they didn’t, but that they’re not sure why.

I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to appreciate how much faith my clients who I take horse shopping put in me, the tremendous responsibility of providing them with my best judgment. I think I do it well – I’ve got lots of happy owners to my credit, most recently Heather and the most charming Welsh Cob-TB cross, from whom I keep getting these delighted emails and texts (keep ‘em coming, Heather, I love it!).

I can only hope the fellas at the bike shop take as good care of me as I try to do to my clients! And in the meantime, they’ve ordered me a bike to try. I can tell you that it has trigger shifters, it’s a step-over, and that it’s silver with blue trim. The rest of the details are a little beyond my understanding. But anything will be a step up from my mountain bike, complete with the basket on the front. (The bike shop guys said that I would definitely look like a loser showing up at a tri with a basket on the front of my bike, so now I know two things about triathalons: no bike baskets, and that this is going to be AWESOME.)


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