Friday, February 20, 2015

Women on Bikes Series: Sarah Rogers

My cycle sports of choice are touring, commuting, and I'm just now getting into singletrack via fatbike. 

Some of my longer tours included riding in (and organizing) a 40-person bicycle village from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN, a tour up the coast of Maine, and an adventure from Seattle, WA to Wisconsin (half of it by myself). 

I'm a bike mechanic at a local commuter- and student-heavy business in Madison, WI where I've been working 2 years (just starting now as service manager). 

I worked for 5 years as assistant manager at a non-profit shop called DreamBikes (Madison, WI) that mentored/trained underprivileged youth and helped with community/advocacy events.

Prior to that, I volunteered as mechanic and organizer of a community-run, free bike workspace called FreeWheel (also Madison). I do a lot of bike-related creative stuff on the side as I have time, including zines and blogging, bike-related cross stitch (which I sell on Etsy), and bike-part jewelry which I make for myself and friends.

Check out Sarah's Twitter and Blog!

When did you first start riding a bike?
I started biking when I was about five years old. I remember the bike: an ancient department-store 16-inch cruiser. It was a puke green color, with either "Dill" or "Pickle" written on its tubing. The neighborhood kids, with their newer '80's mountain bikes, made fun of me. But I didn't care. I loved riding that thing. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
My reasons for riding as an adult are, for the most part, pragmatic. I didn't get my driver's license or a car until age 28, partially for financial reasons, and partially because I never needed a car. I've had the privilege to live in places easily navigated by either public transportation or by car (and I've had more than a few friends and partners with cars, able to drive me around as needed). Riding my bike is nothing special to me; it's something I do every day to get from Point A to Point B.

That being said, I do use a bike for recreational reasons, as well. I'm an active person, and I love to explore new places. Without a car, that leads me to traveling by bike, touring the countryside loaded down with camping gear and food. I've also recently gotten into riding singletrack and urban exploration via fatbike. All of these things keep me active, healthy, and are great stress reducers. I honestly don't know how I could survive without a bike, as biking has become a huge part of my identity.

Tell us about a bike tour that you've been on and why you enjoy longer-distance riding!
My longest tour was in the summer of 2012, where I rode from Seattle, Washington back to my [current] home state of Wisconsin. I followed Adventure Cycling's Northern Tier route. Half of the trip, I rode with my good friend who also happens to be named Sarah.  For the other half, I was alone. Travelling thousands of miles for weeks upon weeks, meeting all kinds of people and exploring new places... it was an amazing opportunity that renewed my hope for humankind. I met so many generous and kind souls on that ride, and put my own skills and fortitude to the test. It was difficult, exhilarating, exhausting, and uplifting.

I like longer-distance touring because it slows life down to the simplest of levels. I'm a very busy person when I'm at my homebase, juggling millions of projects, work, friendships, and household chores. When I get out on the road for several days, all of that disappears, and this switch in my mind flips to a sort of "survival mode." I start to become more in-tune with weather and time, more attentive to my surroundings.  I get a LOT of time to process the rest of my life while sitting in the saddle. I remember that there's this whole world out there, happening outside of me.  And, because I camp as I tour, I start to feel more in my animal skin as I sleep under stars and cook meals by campfire.  I live more spontaneously. It's comforting pushing my boundaries like this, as someone who usually plans out every move in life.  

What tips or suggestions would you give to someone interested in long-distance riding?
For anyone interested in touring, and who has the ability and a bike, my biggest piece of advice is to just do it! A lot of people (and corporations) would tell you that you don't have the "right" equipment. I've done short tours on shoe-string budgets, using a 30-year-old 10-speed steel road bike. It's totally possible.

For a first bike-camp ride, I recommend picking a nearby destination a day's ride away and doing an overnight. Take the camping gear, food, and water you need, and study your map to make sure you're riding the safest route as far as low car volume and rest stops/water refill stations. Riding with friends is certainly safer and more fun, but not necessary, depending on your own comfort levels.
Of course, for longer rides, it's important to make sure you have a bike that fits you well, and padded shorts make a huge difference in long-term comfort. 
Check out Adventure Cycling's website and maps.  I could go on and on about touring and what I've learned over the years. I'll need to cut myself off here!

You are also a commuter, do you commute year-round? 
Yes, I do commute year-round, through frigid and icy Wisconsin winters. I think my record commute was at a negative-40-degree windchill! Again, I don't necessarily think this is anything special; it's how I get around. I'm actually quite amused by weather and enjoy pushing myself through snowstorms, sleet, high winds, and tornado sirens. Honestly, the extreme heat gets to me more!
I owned a car for all of a year, and the trade-off of expenses and worries just wasn't worth it. I'd gladly take longer to get places by bike just so I don't have to deal with repairs, parking, insurance, plate renewal, de-icing, and maintenance. By bike, I feel more in-touch with my city and surroundings, with my body, and with ecosystems and life in general.

What tips or suggestions would you give to a new commuter?
The #1 concern of new commuters, from my experience, is safety on the road.  As the saying goes, "Cars are coffins" for drivers and bikers alike. My biggest piece of advice here would be to plan safe routes. A lot of cities are starting to cater to cyclists and create infrastructure that makes commuting by bike safer and easier. If your city has this kind of infrastructure, stick to it!  Some cities make bike maps available for free, or you could check out Google Maps' recommended bike routes. Find a buddy to bike with. Try the route on a weekend when there are less drivers on the roads. Start small, and be cautious. And wear a helmet!

You are starting to get into single track via a fatbike, what inspired you to give it a shot and why on a fatbike?
I'd been wanting to get into mountain biking since my first (and only) ride with coworkers several years ago. I love bikes, and I love the outdoors, so it seemed like a good fit. I just didn't want to factor a new mountain bike into my tight budget until I knew I would have the time and means to ride regularly.  Without owning a car, how would I get out to mountain bike trails?

Last winter, I met a fatbiker who would become my best friend. He loaned me is his fatbike for a ride over the frozen lakes. I enjoyed the versatility of the fatbike, although it seemed a bit overboard to me.  And expensive. There's a strong community of fatbikers in my city that make it look like a lot of fun. Through my friend, I heard about the social rides and camaraderie, and the welcoming of all skill levels. I learned that there were all sorts of single track trails within a 40-minute bike ride; I didn't need a car! The entire city transforms into a playground when you get on a fatbike: construction sites, abandoned lots, deer trails by the river, and empty beaches. I was down for some adventure.

I chose a fatbike for the friendly community, for the versatility of riding through all terrain and weather, and for the confidence the fatbike gives me. Those huge tires make me feel like I can do anything. And I don't have to worry about maintaining shocks, which can be expensive and bothersome. The fat tires take in a lot of road and trail vibrations, and yet the bike is not much heavier than my commuter!

What was your first ride like? Did you have any nervousness?
My first off-road fatbike ride, which was only about a month ago, was exhilarating! I borrowed a loaner fatbike from Revolution Cycles, a hotbed of fatbike mayhem here in Madison. One of the employees rode with me, showing me some trails they'd been building up not far from the shop. I was certainly nervous, especially with a pristine bike I didn't own, riding with a veritable fatbike guru. But when we hit those trails, my belly dropping with my bike, I couldn't help but smile the whole way through. The adrenaline and thrill got the best of me, and I was flying. I found out later that I was riding relatively technical stuff for a newb. From that point on, I was obsessed. A week later, I was already building up my own fatbike from parts I ordered.

What would be some handling skills that you find challenging (singletrack)?
As a newb to single track, I'm still learning the terminology, so bear with me here! It took me a few rides to get the hang of how to hold my body off-road, which is very different from the road riding I'd been doing. Having toured with a lot of weight on my bike, riding over sometimes-questionable touring trails, I do have a little more confidence and muscle-memory that can translate to off-road riding. It took me a few single track rides to get comfortable riding banked curves, or down particularly steep, rocky hills. I'm starting to work on the skill of bringing up my front wheel so that I can hop curbs and such. I feel rather silly riding up to curbs with these ginormous tires and having to stop and lift my bike up awkwardly.  

Do you use clipless pedals for any of your bikes? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
I actually don't use clipless pedals, which is uncommon for a lot of long-time, long-distance riders. I'm very picky with shoes, and since I'm an explorer, I like to hop off my bike to run through woods or into buildings. I know they make recessed clips for off-bike wear, but a pair of comfortable shoes and my platforms and toe clips seem to work just fine! 

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I've fallen off my bike plenty of times, but never serious. I generally get up, wipe away the blood, and bike to the nearest washroom to clean up! I have plenty of scars and pebbles embedded in my dermis to remind me to play it safe.  I'm really lucky to not have been hurt more over time. I can't recall ever being mentally or emotionally affected by any of my crashes. My occasional challenges with biking come in a different form: surviving endurance.

During tours, I've had some really rough days where it's difficult to get back on the bike. Usually this correlates with not getting enough water or sugar or food. I recall some particularly difficult days on my cross-country trip, for example, where I cried and cried both on my bike and when I got off. It's sometimes really tough to keep going when you're in the middle of nowhere by yourself, and you're just plain having a bad day. When this happens, calling a friend or family member to cry to, taking time to refuel, and getting a good night's sleep usually helps. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
Honestly, one of my favorite things about biking is feeling the weather. A lot of humans don't get outdoors enough, and we have this idea that we can master nature. Feeling warm breezes from pavement, coolness from the lake, sleet in my face, or rainwater seeping into my socks... these things remind me that I'm just another animal living on the planet Earth, and that I experience the same elements every other living thing on this planet experiences. Knowing that nature will always have the final say is comforting to me. Biking is a daily reminder of what is means to be human. 

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