The Summer I (Finally) Became a Cyclist

I was registered for the June 2012 NYC Triathlon. The problem? I didn’t own a bike. (I also didn’t swim well but this post is focusing on the bike.) I had tried to get into “biking” numerous times, but the bike my parents gave me in middle school always sat forgotten in a closet until I moved to NYC and decided that the bike would rather live in North Carolina, hopefully with somebody who would actually ride it.

So in May of 2012, with about a month to go until race day, I started looking at road bikes. The guys at the Master Bike Shop were really patient with me. They asked me what I was looking for. I didn’t know. They had me test ride some bikes and asked how they felt. They all felt the same. I was told to go for the better components over the carbon frame. Fine. I ended up buying a Scott Speedster 10.

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My cat liked my bike more than I did

I bought clipless pedals two weeks before the race and went for my first ride as a “real cyclist” up Park Avenue. I fell into a cab at the first stoplight. I sucked up my pride, walked my bike back to my apartment, and went to Equinox for a spin class. I eventually learned how to clip in and out of my pedals by riding around a little park between Union Square and Stuy Town. A gardener of the park told me she was so proud of me for learning how to ride a bike at my age. Time to suck up my pride again. I rode a few more laps until I was confident I could unclip without falling into another cab, and I rode my bike home.

The 25 miles of the NYC Triathlon was nothing I’d like to remember. I lost my water bottle and had to pull over to eat a Gu and drink water, but at least I didn’t crash or fall over when stopping. Baby steps.

My first crash occurred later that summer when I was riding my bike back from New Jersey over the GW Bridge. I didn’t hurt anything except a wall. And my pride. And my bike. Luckily, someone from Master Bike Shop was a few bikes behind me because my bike was unrideable. He recognized my bike, then me, and told me to meet him at the bike shop. I was officially the world’s worst cyclist.

Flash forward two years later and I’m now living in Colorado where people loooove to ride bikes up mountains. I attempted Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado and almost broke into tears because I last longer than 100 feet of climbing. I was still the world’s worst cyclist, but I was now faced with mountains I literally could not climb.

I took my bike to a shop to get it tuned (because it was obviously the bike’s fault, not my fault, I was hating my life every time I got on the bike). The person working at the shop tried to convince me to upgrade EVERYTHING on my bike. He said I needed new handlebars (they were still bent from the crash three years earlier – was that something I was supposed to notice?), new cables, and he wanted me to upgrade to a compact cassette and crankset. I didn’t even know what the words compact, cassette, and crankset meant, and I was convinced he could see that I was the world’s worst cyclist and he was trying to milk me for all I was worth. But after a phone call sidebar and a few emails to various cyclists I knew, I took his advice and upgraded my bike.

Surprise! It no longer felt like I was riding through sand and thanks to my bike’s cosmetic surgery, I could climb! We biked Vail Pass and Squaw Pass in Colorado later that summer. The problem? Now I had to work on coming DOWN a mountain, which was TERRIFYING. I still don’t understand why tour companies drop cyclists off at the tops of passes; I’d rather climb up and have someone drive me safely back down to the bottom.

But my husband was getting really into cycling. He bought a gravel bike earlier this year and wanted to start doing longer road rides. I agreed to ride the Elephant Rock Ride 60K with him. As an endurance athlete, I knew I could finish even if I felt awful during the ride.

But riding longer training rides forced me to become more comfortable on the bike. I learned I was pretty good at climbing if I didn’t do it the day after a long run. But I was still super uncomfortable on the downhills, especially after hearing my friend’s story of crashing while riding down from Lookout Mountain. If she crashed, I knew I would crash because I am the world’s worst cyclist, don’t you know.

Then comes the morning of the Elephant Rock Ride. I’m a mess. People are passing me on both sides and I am convinced I am going to get knocked over. But after the first rest stop at Mile 17, I start to warm up. I’m passing everyone up the hills, but everyone is passing me on the downhills because I’m breaking the entire way down. Then my competitiveness kicks in. I wasn’t going to let everyone catch me on the downhills after I had just worked my a$$ off to pass them, so I start letting go on the downhills. Then I realize that downhills are FUN. I started racing everyone around me and having a blast. (Side note: if you’re going to race cyclists and you consider yourself the world’s worst cyclist, it’s much better to race them when they don’t know you are in a race. So you can win.)

So Elephant Rock Ride turned out to be fun. Time for longer, more intense rides. We rode the Copper Triangle ride later in the summer. 80 miles over 3 mountain passes and 5,000+ feet of elevation gain. (And very little braking on those speedy downhills.) By the time the ride was over, I was ready to plan my next long-distance ride.

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Mountain Pass 2 out of 3

Now that I am pretty comfortable on my road bike, I realized that I miss being out of my element and on the verge of tears while riding, so I bought a gravel bike. This time I knew what I wanted when I went into the bike shop and could feel the difference in bikes when I test rode them. Baby steps.

My second ride on my new bike turned included a downhill single track. There’s the terror I am used to! Mission complete!

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The best part of gravel rides in CO is the views

I am hoping to ride the Dirty Kanza Gravel Grinder next year. It’s 70 miles more than I am currently comfortable riding my gravel bike, but that’s my style. Courage under fire and all that. I imagine that it will be awkward and uncomfortable at the beginning, but after a certain time I will get sick of being scared and I will stick my courage to the sticking place, and that race will be mine!

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