Monday, August 11, 2014

Women on Bikes Series: G.E. (Endless Velo Love)

When did you first start riding a bike?
I started riding a bike pretty young. This is embarrassing to say, but I had training wheels on my first bicycles until I was about 9 years old. I’d ridden and had a bicycle of my own from a very early age (I think I had my first tricycle at age 2). My family was very much into cycling when I was young, and my mom would tow us around in a trailer (not the sturdier versions available today, but a trailer nonetheless).

 As I got a bit older and was able to ride my own bike, I was always afraid that I would fall over on a two-wheeled bicycle without training wheels. My younger brother had no problems learning to ride without the extra wheels, so he was off and pedaling long before I was confident in my ability.



Sadly, by the time I’d hit my teen years, I didn’t touch my bike at all. I wouldn’t get on one again until the age of 24 when my boyfriend at the time suggested we start riding (as a side note, we never rode together, but fortunately I found someone who does love riding, so it all worked out).

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Often I question what motivates me to ride. Transportation cycling is easy for me. It just makes sense in my head to leave the car at home if it’s a doable trip by bike. Plus, I generally don’t push myself overly hard, and instead just enjoy my surroundings. Being able to feel the seasons change and see things I might miss if I were going by faster in a motorized vehicle just make it an easy decision.  In simplest form, I feel more connected to my community and surroundings.
I find more frustration in cycling for sport. I started doing longer distances when I wanted to get into better shape and lose some weight. I figured it would be a great way to get in additional cardio during the week without killing my knees running or doing other activities. When I can’t get the speeds I desire or get up the hills (mountains) I’d like to climb faster, I find myself getting discouraged on occasion. But, then I remind myself that it’s a journey and not necessarily a race. I’m not a professional and there’s no reason to believe I ever will be. I think there’s just something in me that thrives on a bit of competition, so even if I’m just competing with myself, it helps keep me moving forward in a positive direction. Every spring I tell myself I’m not going to do the long distances, and every year I end up surpassing my goals… so, there’s something in there that I enjoy that keeps me pedaling on.

It sounds like you’re married to a great guy-does he ride bikes too? If so, has he introduced any aspects of bike riding to you? (example-road, mountain, etc.)
I am married to an awesome guy! I feel very fortunate that we enjoy many of the same activities. It makes being able to do things together a lot easier. He definitely rides bikes – and frequently. When we first met, he was really into mountain biking, but he’s slowly made more of a transition into road biking, and of course, we ride around town together as well. He still mountain bikes, but not as often as he once did.
I really got back into biking in adulthood because of Sam. We were training to do a marathon (because it was a bucket list sort of item for me, and even though I don’t run, I thought it would be “fun” to do once – for the record, I was very wrong), but I needed some cross-training activities. He suggested that I ride a bike to work (at the time it was about 8 miles, one-way). I didn’t have a bike at that moment, so I borrowed one of his mountain bikes and started commuting. It absolutely killed my hands and wrists, but I think I put more miles on that bike than he did! Really, he gets the credit for putting me back on a bike. Later, he would buy me the cruiser that I would put far too many miles on as well.

It sounds like your husband is really into bicycles? While reading about your current and past bikes-the mention of bike parts lying around, etc.
Sam is definitely into bicycles. I catch him randomly viewing various kinds of bicycles on eBay and Craigslist. It cracks me up! I always ask if he’s looking for something in particular, and he says he isn’t. I think it’s more curiosity and wanting to know what’s out there that might be a good project or possibility for the future.

We have a lot of random parts stored up as well. We try not to hoard items so we do sell things off once in awhile, but it’s nice to have extra derailleurs, chains, seatposts, and such things because you just never know. I am particularly finicky about fit, so I tend to change out some of my bikes more regularly trying to find a better position and more comfort. Sometimes, this requires different bits and pieces, so we end up with extras. Other times, there’s just a good deal on something and we buy it for potential future builds. We even received a box full of random bike parts and accessories free from someone on Craigslist because they just needed to move and couldn’t take it with them. It was a great addition to the stash and makes it a lot easier to be able to give friends something too when they need it.

What suggestions would you give someone who is new to bike riding and wishing to purchase their first bike?
Do a lot of your own hands-on research (online research is a great tool, but we all need to feel what is right for us as an individual) and don’t buy a bicycle that you cannot test ride more than around a shop/showroom floor. I think I broke this one many times over the years, but I think it’s particularly important for those just starting out on a bicycle. We need to know what feels right and just because someone says it will work doesn’t mean it actually will for you. Additionally, find a shop that you trust and that has employees that will listen to you. I would go in rambling (and still do at times) about something that was bothering me to some shops and they really looked at me like I was crazy. I’m okay with someone thinking I’m crazy as long as they help me, but if I felt uncomfortable, I moved on to another shop – because there are plenty of them in the world and there’s no reason to give money to people who don’t want to take a few minutes to listen and understand your problem/pain/etc.

 If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
In the past, I have been a commuter, but currently I work from home so my transportation riding is more for supplies and household items than to get to work. However, when I did commute, I think getting to work in the summer without being drenched in sweat was definitely a challenge. I wanted to be able to ride to work in my regular work clothes, but it just wasn’t doable. So, instead I would carry my clothes with me and change when I arrived (or, I’d take a full set of clothes for the week in one day so I didn’t have to carry clothes all week). A good set of panniers are a godsend when you have lots of things to carry, I think, but a backpack works too.
There was also often the challenge of coworkers wanting to constantly give me a ride home. We get a lot of afternoon quick rain showers here in the summer and people would constantly ask to drive me home. I was fine on the bike, but learning how to deal with these questions was sometimes challenging. Eventually, they learned that it was a personal decision, not something that I had to do, and I think that helped them understand over time.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I did commute in various types of weather when I had a job that required commuting. At that point, I was afraid of snow, so I avoided super snowy days. I did ride in the winter, but only if I knew the path would be clear enough to avoid large ice patches. Now, I ride in all types of weather to complete errands and such around town. I have learned that slowing down in snow is very beneficial. Some people even get studded snow tires (and I’ve thought about it myself on more than one occasion). I do have a set of tires that I switch to in late fall because they have better traction, but haven’t quite made the leap to using studs yet.  Layers of clothing are extremely important in the cold, and water is really invaluable in the heat of summer. I find breathable fabrics to be the easiest for commuting, so I primarily try to stick with wool and cotton when possible. I’m also not afraid to just get off the bike and walk if necessary through a rough patch of ice. I’ve watched too many people on bikes go down on ice, so it is one thing that still freaks me out.

What do you love about riding your bike?
For some reason, My Favorite Things is running through my head… “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string…
In all seriousness though, I have no idea why I ever stopped riding a bike. When I think about it all these years later, it truly baffles me. It’s such a simple pleasure in life and it’s so easy to do. It’s rare that I set out on a bike in a bad mood and return in the same state of mind. Somehow, being on a bike clears away (at least usually) all of the stuff that brings me down.

I love the freedom of not having to fill a bicycle with gas or change the oil.
I love that the maintenance is really pretty simple on a bicycle.
I enjoy the strange looks I get from people when I’m hauling things that one doesn’t normally see carried around on a bicycle.
I like the connection to my community. You know, just the other day, I was riding to the grocery store and I parked my bicycle next to a guy who was pretty down on his luck. I said good morning to him and he nodded in my direction. When I came back out, he was still there and we started chatting about life. If I’d been in a car, I would never have had the opportunity to have that conversation because we’d have never met. 
I appreciate that I can climb a hill on a bike and that euphoria experienced when I finally reach the top. In a car, I pay little attention to climbing and elevation changes, but on a bicycle, it’s impossible not to notice.
I love that I can make it as easy or challenging as I want to when riding a bike.
I love the opportunities to ride a route I travel regularly just a little faster, or discoveries of new routes to take.
I enjoy getting to see firsthand the changes in seasons – the subtle things that happen such as the sun shifting ever so mildly in the sky, or the mornings becoming a bit cooler or warmer.

I have usually asked individuals about their clipless experiences or lack thereof. I’m learning clipless myself but only use it on my paved trail/road bikes-not for commuting. Are you still riding on flats or have you incorporated any clips? What suggestions have you found helpful?
This is probably my most dreaded topic in regard to bicycles. I fight (not physically, of course) with bike shop employees over this all the time because they like to tell me that “one day, when I get more ‘experienced’, I’ll understand why I NEED some kind of clipless system.” I truly think they believe that I’m afraid of them (which may have been true at one point) or that I haven’t tried them. In truth, I’ve had several rounds with SPD’s and I just don’t see the benefit for me. Initially I tried them out because I was told it would help with numb feet – didn’t do a darn thing for me. Then I was told it would give me more power/speed on the bike – and that didn’t do anything for me either. I understand that they work well for many people, and I definitely don’t begrudge them their clip pedals and shoes, but I have yet to experience the full benefit of this system for me personally, and have actually had them create other problems (like knee pain).

I will probably try again – because I am insane and keep repeating the same thing expecting different results – but, I am not horribly hopeful that I will use the system that most do. There is a part of me that feels as though I should get used to being attached to the pedal, but the other part of me tends to win out and I just keep trucking along with platform pedals and regular shoes. I figure, if I can get through a century that way, there isn’t really a need for me to figure something else out.

As far as suggestions in regard to what system to use… I think whatever feels right is the path to take. If a person really wants to use the clipless system, it makes absolute sense to just keep practicing until it becomes second nature (and from what I’m told, it will at some point happen), but if one doesn’t want to be attached to a pedal and isn’t racing for their career, I’m not entirely sure it’s a necessity. I haven’t completely worked out all the kinks and still struggle with finding shoes and pedal combinations that work, but I do know that my experiences to date with SPD cleats have not been great and haven’t remedied my personal issues/reasons for wanting to try them.

What are some of your favorite bike riding clothes/accessories that you would recommend to new bike riders? (who are riding for recreation/fitness)
Bookman bike lights are awesome. They are so tiny and fit in anything so there’s no excuse to get caught in the dark without lights. The best part is, they just wrap simply around a handlebar or seat post in a quick second.

Terry Bella shorts are great for longer rides (they also come in a longer, knicker-length version). I know they’re expensive, but as the season starts winding down, they can usually be found on sale at various locations and I think the padding is a good thickness – not too thick and not too thin.
I’d also say expensive does not necessarily equate to good/better than something else. Sometimes spending more gets you a better product, but not always. I try to look for less expensive alternatives (especially when it comes to cycling-specific clothing) or wait for end of season sales because the dollar signs seem to quickly add up. If you have friends who cycle, perhaps they would be willing to let you try out their accessories or other items first so you will know if it works for you… or, even ask for their thoughts. If you can find out why something does/doesn’t work for the individual, it might help you make a better decision in regard to purchasing for yourself.

Also, REI is great. If you don’t have a membership, I would highly recommend one. I don’t abuse their return policy (which has been a problem for them recently and created some changes), but I do appreciate that I can try out a product in real life and return it if it is simply not what I expected it to be or it is faulty in some manner. I love that they don’t hassle me over returns in the least – but again, I also don’t abuse it. Hopefully, their great return policy will continue for many years. Some folks may even have local shops that allow longer term testing to try out a product before committing, so I think finding a place that let’s an individual try things can be really helpful – particularly when just starting out.

2 comments:

  1. I love G.E. blog (a great balance between practical and philosophical/reflective), so I loved learning more about her through this interview. Thank you. :)

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  2. Excellent interview. I was trolling bye, and noticed this was about my better half, and wait, I'm in there too! We are famous!

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