Experiment #9: Becoming a Bike Girl

Once upon a time, there was a boy (Bike Boy) who was *ahem* legendary for his cycling habits. There were bike frames strewn about his house (next to the laundry machine, under his bed, in the guest bedroom, in the garage, on the couch, etc.), he had approximately a billion followers on Strava (this will be relevant - Bike Boy), and his life, to an outsider, seemed to revolve around bikes.

Platform (Left), Basket (Middle), Scary Thing AKA Clipless (Right)
But this story isn't about "Becoming a Bike Boy" - this is about our Innocent Heroine. She was a simple commuter, with down tube shifters on an original Dawes (531 Reynolds steel, baby) and platform pedals. Occasionally, Innocent Heroine would go on 50+ mile rides around Ann Arbor on her beloved red 'Bikey', but she'd bring a backpack and pick up vegetables on the way home. Our innocent heroine-commuter (IHC) prided herself on being able to change her own flats, being strong enough to ride her bike wherever she wanted to go, and commuting everyday to work - rain, ice, snow, anything (ask me how to ride in snow on a road bike - I got it down!). For the record, our IHC was known for being an enthusiastic cyclist... just not the same as Bike Boy.
Bikey the Beautiful

So when Bike Boy and IHC started dating, there was a cautious enthusiasm on Bike Boy's side about the potential in IHC. You can bring a horse to water, yada yada. Although their first date was a hike, the second date was a mountain biking excursion (re: IHC feared for her life for 4 hours). The third date was another bike trip, this time cycling out to a brewery (~30 miles). Although previously IHC had out-cycled many of her male suitors, IHC realized quickly she was totally out of her league with Bike Boy. He could go on 100 mile bike rides as if it was nothing and speed past IHC on hills, not even breathing hard as IHC had mild cardiac arrest on the side of the road.

Things to look forward to while cycling
The turning point came on the fourth date - a 115 mile bike trip in Northwestern Michigan when IHC had requested a 30-50 mile ride before her ultimate frisbee tournament (IHC's legs were totally cooked and to IHC's chagrin, no frisbee happened). Somewhere during this date, IHC started to see more and more the benefits to Bike Boy's lifestyle - he could go and go and go and had this unlimited freedom contained within his quad muscles. They rode through deserted tree lined roads along Michigan's coastal cliffs and stopped for pastries and tea at little road side stands and... she loved it. She loved every moment of it. Even when her leg muscles wanted to wrench themselves from her body in a fit of spastic suicide... she still loved this non-commuter cycling... and thus, the transformation began.

The first QOM segment
She started going on women's weekly Meetup rides on Tuesdays in Ann Arbor with an all women's group. Through them, she connected with other riders (Hi Diane and Bill!) and set her first Queen-Of-the-Mountain (QOM, on Strava, this means I had the fastest female time of all the women riders who did that route, which can be a significant accomplishment depending on the route). She started to make friends with people who were passionate about cycling who had never heard of Bike Boy. Then, she made the leap to clipless pedals. IHC ordered them thinking she would be sneaky and surprise Bike Boy. Of course, she ordered 'the wrong ones' [subject to opinion - I thought they were great]. IHC set a goal: she wanted to be able to bike a 100 miles without her body hating itself the next day. 

Skirts in the Dirt - Vader Lo Strikes Back!
The clipless pedals demarcates where IHC stopped saying that she was a commuter and wanted to start really pushing herself. Through Bike Boy, she started going to women's ride with some truly astounding women... to quote after her first ride with them "I have never so thoroughly had my ass handed to me by a group of women. Thank you". She bought bike shorts and started stealing Bike Boy's cycling jerseys (those things are expensive and we were the same size!). She went to 'Nacho Ride' on Wednesday evenings (I condone only the biking on this webpage) in Ann Arbor, which is a 50 mile ride in the summer and 35 mile ride in the Fall. Again and again, she had her ass totally handed to her, often finishing in last after the sprints. She had an interesting scenario occur where one of Bike Boy's ex-flames tried to drop her in a ride in a show of cycling friendliness (thanks darling). [Also dropping = getting left behind on a group ride. It's not a very nice thing to do, especially on a no-drop ride].

Me + Ibie-Saurus-Rex
At this point, I want to changeover from third person, because I also encountered a lot of love from the Ann Arbor cycling community. One of the best female cyclists in the state told me after a ride that I was strong, really strong, and she was impressed. Another one took it upon herself to train me a bit, to coach me about cadence and how to tuck. One of the guys stayed back to pull me and another girl to the finish of Nacho ride so we didn't just meander our way there after getting dropped. Diane was constantly supportive and pushed me to do my first Mountain Bike Race - Skirts in the Dirt. Nancy, who I met at that race, has been nothing but thrilled every time we could bike together. Kathleen, Kari, and Tessa are amazing cyclists and even better company :D.  Ian was the glue that maybe kept me from murdering Harvey on a few rides. Nate who was perhaps the most welcoming person ever on the Full Moon harvest ride. Brad who helped me find my perfect shoes (they really are perfect!). And... Harvey who has kept me going when I wanted to quit many, many times. I could go on. It was really these acts of kindness that kept me involved in this community - Harvey wasn't enough... I'd still be cycling with or without him... but the community is enough.

That ride where I was faster than Harvey... 
So I trained. I trained and trained and trained, pushing myself to do 150-200 miles of riding a week. Harvey and I would go for weekly coffee dates in, you know, other counties, and I would ride with anyone who would ride with me. I had to eat a half gallon of ice cream a week to sustain weight because I was getting thin from riding so much. I started looking for a new bike (I know, I'm a sellout, I can hear your collective groan). This was actually a huge point of contention between Harvey and I - as proud bike commuter, I couldn't justify a carbon fiber race bike. As someone who was fake racing at Nacho Ride... well, maybe I could. Biking is crazy expensive. The tipping point there was a deal Harvey and I struck - I'd buy a mountain bike (later changed into a cross bike) if Harvey went vegetarian for 3 months. Win-win.

Let's all consider that Harvey won the lotto picking up
an "in the rough" Bike Girl
I found my new (used) bike - Ibie, a 2014 Ibis Hakkalugi. After gentle, sweet Bikey, Ibie and I have a tumultuous relationship where when she works (98%), she's the most beautiful and perfect thing I've ever owned. When she doesn't work (2%, i.e. I crash and break her shifters), she's the most frustrating and head-bashing piece of sh** I've ever owned. Harvey says we deserve each other. With Ibie, I'm able to do rides and take on hills that I couldn't before (6 gears doesn't cut it sometimes, esp downtube on dirt roads).


So where am I now? Seattle, duh. No besides that, where is this story going? This story is ending for now on why I'm calling myself a Bike Girl, someone on par with Harvey, who has been riding for years. Who would you define as a serious cyclist? After a summer of routinely being the slowest person on a ride, I never felt like I was even remotely on par with the people I was riding with. I always quickly claimed to be a 'commuter' as a defense mechanism in a world where if I was a serious rider, man I sucked (QOMs are cool, but there aren't that many female cyclists, so in some areas they are easy to set).

Check out that Seattle area leaderboard for distance this past week - the 3rd place girl is HOT!  
If I really had to summarize why I like biking so much... 


However, I realized this past weekend that... I am a serious cyclist now, to be taken seriously. Sure, I haven't won any races (yet...), but as I'm climbing hills in Seattle and doing 40 mile rides as a 'quick after work ride', I realize I need to just say it - I am a Bike Girl. At the beginning of the summer when Harvey told me he did a 100 mile ride, I blurted out "WTF WHO DOES THAT?". This weekend, I did that (106 miles to be precise) and then I hopped back on my bike today to run some errands. Even more, I set a Bellevue QOM (3 this week, in fact) which means: I'm here to play with the women of Seattle.

At the end of the day, I just love being on my bike, whether it's to check out the fall foilage or go get a cup of coffee from a shack in the middle of nowhere. I'm not a superstar - I'm not some cycling prodigy by any means, I have a long way to go still. However, my legs kick some serious ass right now after the hundreds of hours of biking I've done this summer, and I feel confident when I tell someone that I'm a serious cyclist, because you know what, I am :)
And so it begins in Seattle... (Yes, I did lose to the Tesla) 


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1 comment:

Maria said...

What a great journey! Thanks for sharing. I learned biking as an adult at 26 and shed many tears and a lot of blood in the process (living in Boston certainly did not help). I'll be in Seattle this coming summer and am really excited for all the biking. Sounds like there's lot of great places/ groups for biking.

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