Health & Fitness

Rocky Barker: How I got back on the bike after a long absence

My favorite hour on a bicycle was on a May day in 1975 north of Wisconsin Dells.

My roommate Mark Williams and I were taking a month-long class at Northland College called Geography of Wisconsin on a Bicycle. I didn’t know then that my assignment for the class, keeping a journal that was published in the newspaper that hired me for my first job, would have such an effect on my life.

But I knew that riding 1,000 miles around the state of Wisconsin was a great way to end my college career. That day north of Wisconsin Dells, Mark and I took off with a major storm blowing in.

We covered 25 miles by literally riding the storm out. The winds would push us forward and we would pedal so hard that we would get ahead of the storms, slow a bit, then ride the gale some more.

My Sears Free Spirit 10-speed was a two-wheeled tank, especially with full panniers, but I was young, lean and strong.

Since then I’ve added more pounds than I like to admit. At one point it was 100 pounds more than it was that month, but because I got back on the bike and improved my diet, I’ve brought it down 30 pounds, and even lower last summer.

I had always ridden some, but after I broke my leg playing hockey in 2009, I ballooned and had a hard time getting my legs back. But in 2012, I really got into biking. Lucky for me I live in Boise, perhaps the most bike-friendly community in the nation.


My first painful lesson was that I couldn’t ride as hard or as far as I did only a few years before. I was riding a Fisher mountain bike, mostly on the Greenbelt and the connecting trails to my home. Just riding a couple of miles hurt the leg I broke, which also had had knee surgery after a skiing accident years ago.

Once I got my wind back (that took about six weeks), I extended the ride to Downtown, about a 5-mile ride from my house. But one day on my way home that first summer back I came down the last paved trail before my street, hit the curb and fell, catching myself with my hand and spraining my wrist.

It happened because my arms were so out of shape, I couldn’t hold the bike when it hit the curb. That accident severely cut back my riding that summer and set back my recovery.


I spent the next winter riding a stationary bike at home and working on my upper-body strength. When spring of 2013 arrived, I rode daily, slowly increasing my distance. I started riding my bike for errands and even for work interviews Downtown.

I would carry an extra set of clothes to wear for the interviews. By the end of the summer, a 12-mile ride in just over an hour was relatively easy.


Last year, I learned a hard lesson when I was riding home one night. I had stayed out too late and didn’t have any lights on my bike.

About a couple of miles from home, I hit a broken spot that I couldn’t see because of the dark and planted my face in the dirt.

I now only ride at night with lights. I avoid sidewalks and stick to roadways, many of which in Boise have good bike lanes. I also wear a helmet.


When I ride to work at the Statesman, it’s about 7 miles mostly on the Greenbelt and the connecting bike trail up to the Bench past Americana. It takes me about 35 minutes depending on the traffic. You can’t go as fast on the Greenbelt and should be careful around pedestrians.

I changed my tires and even my gears on my Fisher to make it a better commuter bike. But then I rode to Lucky Peak with a bunch of my friends who were on touring bikes. They left me in the dust.

That prompted me to buy a used touring bike. I bought a Trek 1100 for about $200. A new bike of similar style would have cost about $1,000. While it’s about 23 years old, it was tuned and in great shape — and I now can keep up with my friends. But I have already had to replace the tires, a reminder that any used bike is going to cost you more money than you think if you ride it regularly.

A bike makes the Boise bus system work even better for commuting. I have used “bike and bus” before, and from my Southeast Boise location, it works. But it’s not something that works very well for my wife, who works farther out west in the Treasure Valley.

Using a bike with a bus commute allows the rider to cut out some of the long waits for the bus or to only ride one way when it’s raining or when you are tired.

Once you get proficient on the flats, don’t be afraid to try mountain biking. I ride Corrals and have ridden the Oregon Trail south of Boise. Check out Steve Stuebner’s excellent book, “Mountain Biking in Boise,” updated in 2012. He has a list of beginner trails to help you take the next ride.

I probably can’t pedal fast enough to ride the storm out these days. My knee acts up after about 15 to 20 miles.

But I’m back on the bike. And I plan to stick with it.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484; Twitter: @rockybarker