Women on Bikes Series: Beth Pickhard

When did you first start riding a bike?
I began riding when I was a kid. My small hometown is great for biking since many of the streets are low traffic. In college, biking was a quick way to get to class and commuting became a part of my routine. It helps that Madison is bike friendly and my friends and I would walk or bike everywhere.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
First, enjoyment...followed by fitness and saving money. Last year I put in 1,500 commuter miles, about 40 percent of my total miles. Living in Milwaukee, I am close to much of what I need so I rarely use my car. I have a Surly LHT equipped with panniers to carry groceries and anything else I need to transport.

What made you decide on the Surly LHT?
I wanted to start bike touring since I enjoy biking, camping and travel. After I started searching for touring bikes, I settled on the Surly LHT pretty quickly. People seemed to hold on to the bikes for years.

What do you love about your bike?
The LHT is nice for both my bike touring and commuting needs. It can haul my camping gear when I am on tour. When I’m at home, it carries groceries and beer.

Any other bikes in your stable? (so they call it!)
I also have a Trek Lexa road bike and an old Schwinn that is my winter bike. I would like to get a dedicated commuter bike with an internal gear hub that can be my year-round bike.

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
My most competitive event was a triathlon in Minnesota. I did it just to see if I could, but probably wouldn’t do another one again. I mostly participate in charity rides.

What are some of your favorite charity rides?

Last year, I did the Door County Century up in the peninsula of Wisconsin and it was beautiful. I am signed up again this year. I have enjoyed a bike ride in my hometown a couple of years, which is sponsored by Tyranena brewery.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
There’s an awesome alley cat race called the Riverwest 24, a 24-hour bike race in the Riverwest neighborhood in Milwaukee. It is competitive, but some people participate for fun. The community supports the riders well by handing out bacon, pancakes, etc. and a bunch of the “checkpoints” involve helping out nonprofits in the neighborhood.

Could you tell us more what an "alley cat" race entails?
Alley cat races are often organized by bike messengers who wanted an informal opportunity to race. Riders are given spoke cards instead of bib numbers. There is no route, but checkpoints you must visit instead. The checkpoints may be given out at the start of the race or along the way. Some checkpoints require you to perform a task before you receive points. Past checkpoints at the Riverwest 24 have included face painting, photo shoot, dunk tank and espresso making.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
I enjoy road riding and riding bike trails, paved or gravel. Riding on trails is nice since you are close to nature.

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?
I’ve found that practicing clipping in and out while you are leaning against a wall is helpful. You don’t have to worry about falling and you can get off the bike and make adjustments to the cleats. Tweak them until they feel comfortable.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
This was my first winter commuting and I picked a brutal one to get started. Buying studded tires is key and practicing in the snow on weekends helps. My bike handling skills improved this past winter. Wearing proper clothing like wool helps regulate temperature and a nice pair of gloves or bar mitts keep your hands toasty. You kind of get used to -10 when you face it relentlessly.

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 don’t have parking at work so it encourages me to bike instead of driving and paying for parking/walking from a parking spot. Biking is much more convenient and biking vs. driving/walking take the same amount of time. When the weather is bad, I adapt. I invested in a quality rain jacket and plan to get rain pants soon.

What would be the top 5 suggestions/tips that you would give someone new to commuting?
1. Find a route along as many low traffic/bike lane lined streets as possible and take bike paths when available. You may have to travel further on bike-friendly routes, but you will enjoy the ride much more.
2. It’s ok to start slowly. Try commuting once a week to start out.
3. Being a commuter doesn’t mean you have to ride every day. You may choose not to ride when it’s raining or below a certain temperature.
4. Figure out what kind of bike and gear you need or use stuff you already have.
5. Commuting also includes trips to meet up with a friend for coffee or go to the farmer’s market. Think of using your bike as an alternative to a car in these situations.

What would be the top 5 gear/accessory suggestions you would give someone new to commuting?
1. A lot of people ask me about what kind of bike they should buy. Think about the distance you will need to travel and your riding preferences like step over vs. traditional frame and upright ride vs. more “racey.” Know what you want before you step foot in a bike shop.
2. Find a way to carry your gear. Panniers and a rack are great, but so are backpacks and messenger bags.
3. Some people commute in spandex. Others (like me) wear their work clothes. Decide which camp you fall into based on mileage/preference and dress accordingly.
4. Whatever you choose to wear, buy synthetic fabrics instead of cotton. You will sweat less and be able to regulate your temperature better.
5. Depending on where you live, get a jacket that fits the weather conditions including rain and cold. Cycling specific is always nice.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I wiped out pretty hard on a patch of gravel coming down a hill during an organized ride. It was my first 50 mile ride as well as my first time falling clipped in and the adrenaline pushed me through. I am more cautious of gravel now.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Sometimes riding my bike is the best part of my day. It is a way to see more of the city I live in and connect with my neighbors. Biking helps me relieve stress and anxiety. I have become a much happier person from commuting year round!

How do you feel your city does with encouraging bike riding? What could they do better?
Milwaukee could use more bike lanes, especially protected bike lanes. The only one I can think of is a raised lane, but there is parking on the right side of the raised area. I’m always worried I will get doored there. We have some nice bike trails and more in development. My women's riding club, The Bella Donnas, does great work getting women on bikes. Some of the women who come to our group are more timid about riding in the city. Our members coach each other on group riding communication and bike handling, which makes everyone feel more confident about riding together.