Monday, April 28, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: Carole Snow

What was it like working at the bike shop? Were there other females working at the shop with you? 
At the time I went to work in the shop, I was transitioning out of having left a seminary program where I was hoping to be a pastoral counselor. Plainly, I was incapable of small talk at that point, so selling bicycles entailed talking about the weather, baseball games and burritos. Eventually I settled in for a few months last summer and embraced shop culture-- still a little stunned that the bike industry and the ministry hold a lot of the same attitudes about women-- I likened service desk women and women being sent to fit school as the same hurdles as being women and ministers. A little jolting for many men.

The women at my former shop are wonderful-- we had Lily who essentially carried the CX team last season. Her energy is on par with a curious toddler that runs everywhere. Theres Kolleen, who at 51 had been a courier and pedaled in on wicked builds each day. For my wedding she pulled all the reception decorations in a Burley trailer for 22 miles in the rain, and managed to look like a knock-out bridesmaid.

Shop folks are close-knit like siblings, and thusly capable of creaming one another emotionally from stress. Summer season is hard. You work 60 hours in a customer service position while everyone is outside riding bikes, and youre pissed off inside getting this muscled-up pasty forearm from adjusting saddles all day.

What were your primary jobs at the bike shop?
Probably screwing up road bike fits and explaining why bikes dont cost $100. Just kidding, I worked the floor so lots of hybrids out to the fine commuters of Chicago. Lots of applying my pastoral counseling skills from graduate school to women worried about their bodies in the realm of cycling, folks recovering from bike theft, or what it takes to get back in the saddle both physically and emotionally. Youll find a lot of people purchasing bikes are going through meaningful transitions and that really excited me.

What was the best experience you had?
I met my husband, Billy at the shop. He has worked there for ten years, so heres this new girl with no social skills on an aluminum hybrid-- and as resident curmudgeon hes got this collection of vintage Klein mountain bikes sitting upstairs. I guess something resonated when our boss Ken forced Billy to lead me around the warehouse and tell me where everything is. At that time I was going through the customary hazing of new shop employees, so the fact someone didnt try to kill me with ghost peppers or hide my bicycle at closing time was nice. He also used my first name instead of, hey new girl.

What was the most interesting thing you learned?
Im an industrial design geek who worked at a Trek shop. Once I started diving in on all the great innovations that Trek had-- well, I want to say devoured, but that maybe comes across too strong-- acquired?

I started reading about Gary Fisher, Keith Bontrager and all the Marin County dudes just working hard in their garages, slamming tacos and riding modified beach cruisers down mountain passes in denim-- thats where my respect for the industry really started to be wrapped up in my identity.

Ive always been the odd chick, tinkering in some room at 4 A.M. and I feel like the bicycle is this shiny beacon of people who say, f*ck it, Im going to make this happen no matter what you say.
I mean, Ive always liked the joke about airplanes being the result of two bike mechanics f*cking around. You know? Mechanics should get a shirt that says, Society: youre welcome.

You met your (former) husband at the bike shop? Would you like to share that story?
(or summarize it a
lil'?)
Yes Billy. The guy with a tattoo of Ohio and a pinup girl on his forearm. Billy was a former courier and weaved his way into the industry by just being a self reliant person with a bicycle. However I think thats about 14 bicycles now. I tend to aimlessly ramble about my weird Army brat upbringing in Texas, and of course he would be the one guy that happened to be an Air Force brat to Chicago by way of Texas.

Its funny how you know someone in the shop, you work with them under stress all day, and we all dress the same-- cycling caps, black knickers, red mandatory t-shirts. I found out I lived a couple of blocks from Billy, so one night my other shop friend Joey and I invited him over to the neighborhood watering hole. Billys mom, Patti was in town so we invited her too.

Joey and I were sitting at the bar designing these CX frames for smaller women (like myself) when I just panicked-- I said I wanted to run over to my apartment and wear real clothes, because I was slamming vodka in my shop uniform. Joey starts laughing and singing the beginning of the Lion King song loudly, and sure enough-- bike shop crush unlocked. Billy shows up, and I barely recognize him all cleaned up and not wearing a Speedplay cap. It was downhill from there, or maybe uphill depending on how you view cramming a dozen bikes into a small apartment and getting married.
 
Want to tell about your wedding?
We got married fast. It was pretty funny because the shop assumed I was pregnant, or it was some kind of ultimate prank, or that Billy being grumpy just decided, what the hell. We couldnt have pulled off the wedding without the shop kids, and they all rode over in the rain, pressed shirts and dresses under Goretex. 

We held the wedding at a nature center, surrounded by gravel trails and did a night-time ride and potluck. It was great, one of our friends, Mike even showed up in a tuxedo kit. In true bike shop fashion, someone stole Funyuns from the shop and contributed them to the potluck. Our pastor,
Matt even did a sermon on Ezekiel-- the same one Frances Willard talks about where apparently a biblical prophet sees a bicycle (well wheeled contraption, one can hope its not a recumbent) in a vision.


The sermon was called BMX Jesus and the wedding was just this wild mish-mash of theologians from my seminary and shop guys in plaid shirts. It was a great time. Kolleen-- (who I mentioned rode 20 miles to the wedding with all our decorations,) and her dude Louie also a mechanic in our shop decorated our bikes for the group ride. Larry this full-of-life courier and musician DJed, and Evan a former shop guy photographed the whole thing. I mentioned how bike people are vast tinkerers, well we were in a sea of capable artists that made our wedding possible.

When did you first start riding a bike?
In fourth grade-- but I didn’t really learn until I was almost 30. I started mountain biking with a couple of guys from my old job slinging gear from REI. I remember showing up for classes at seminary all banged up from eating dirt in Brown County. I was horrible at mountain biking, but I really loved it. I refer to mountain biking as “bike portaging” because I just shoulder my bike over beautiful trails and obstacles with no understanding of climbing, shifting and where to place my weight. I probably shouldn’t be alive, but what are you gonna’ do.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I ride a lot for utility because it is sincerely the fastest mode of transport in a city this carved up and crowded. Our trains are slow, traffic is bad and we have a beautiful Lakefront that can send you North to South. If I had to pin motivation, it’s simply I don’t like to be at the mercy of others be it other cars sitting in traffic or the train conductor. There’s also just my inability to shut-up and be present, so bicycling is definitely a form of zen and quiet. I took many night rides when I was in seminary, and truth be told I felt closer to whatever powers-that-be riding around Lake Michigan than I did sitting in chapel.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
Nah. I thought about building up to gravel racing or something this year, but we just came off the longest, coldest winter in Chicago (Chiberia) and racing is just not a possibility this year because I didn’t work for it in the winter. I hate trainers; I’m clumsy and can’t hold a line. What I am good at is long distance riding, so this year my focus is on the fall centuries and eventually I’d like to be a randonneur-- but I think the criteria is being 60 and a white guy. I haven’t seen much Latina flavor to a brevet, if I am wrong about that-- holler at me girls.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
I used to be a videographer and photographer. Each year I would go to the Teva Mountain Games to shoot, I think it’s branded as something different now, and I just really enjoyed being in the Colorado backcountry with all the MTBers. I would be getting sunburned laying in a ditch to get THE SHOT. I also shot for slope-style events, and I just really love bikes and big air. Leadville too, man. I mean wow the human capacity to just become a tough-as-nails machine. My daughter is doing a report on Idaho, and she has to dress as someone famous from the state.
Rebecca Roush our Leadville Queen of Pain hails from Idaho, so you know-- that’s what parents do. Provide an education to the great races and women of cycling.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
I like gravel. The Trans Iowa gravel race goes off this month, 300 miles unsupported, and that’s more compelling to me than Ragbrai. I worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer in Iowa, and I just love the state’s own special brand of wilderness. Who knows. Maybe I’ll turn bionic and expert and tear it up.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
(If not a mountain biker, how 
about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
First MTB ride? Oh yeah man-- braking for every root and cranny until someone had the wise words, “your bike is designed to go over obstacles”. After that all hell broke loose. At one point I was riding alone in Brown County just getting speed for the first time in the woods, and it was the first time I wasn’t afraid. And then shortly after that moment I ate it in a ravine and there was lots of blood. I’m okay, more importantly-- so is my bike.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Again-- someone gave me permission to devour obstacles with my bike. You have a suspension fork-- your bike is resilient and so is the human body many times.

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
No. Platforms. But entering the realm of touring and efficiency I will be going through what every new beginner does: totally eating it at a stop sign. We are all in this together, I promise.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I get afraid. Like anyone else in the industry you know people who didn’t come home from their commute. On the other hand, it’s the same way driving, or my friend Brenda was hit walking across the street the other day. Everything has inherent risk. It’s important to not be angry, be in control and alert and assume the worst from automobilists. It’s a tough conversation to have, but the biggest thing is I feel better about myself and my world every time I choose that bicycle over my car. 
(And yes I have a car too.) Bikes give me compassion and empathy and I think that’s what happens when you commute at the ground level, less protected like that.

Do you commute even if the weather isnt ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I will merely respond with the old adage-- there’s no bad days, only bad gear. Ride lots and eventually you will know what you need, what you don’t-- what is truly a risky situation and what is not.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Totally, the spill in Brown County. It hurt and crushed my confidence on a day where I had just acquired it, but all you can do is keep riding. I think we humans have a way of being our worst enemy when it comes to overcoming obstacles. You gotta remember that 95% of the time you will be humming along, full speed, all systems go.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Genuinely, I think it makes me a better person. Also I ride a teal Miyata touring mixte from the mid-eighties with orange cables, so clearly it makes me a hotter person.

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