Women on Bikes Series: Dianne Gilleece

From a Switchboard post, Dianne contacted me and brought up the idea of sharing interviews with each other for our blogs! Check out her blog at: http://thedetournement.blogspot.com/ 

If you have a blog and would be interested in cross-interviewing or have a story you'd like me to share, hit me up. I'd be happy to contribute something for you as well!

When did you start riding bikes?
I grew up in a somewhat rural area of Central New York, but never got a driver's license while living at home, so pretty much the only option for getting anywhere was to ride a bike.  
I didn't end up driving until I was in my 30's, so a bicycle was a practical and necessary item.  I found that biking and walking were much more reliable than public transportation.  It wasn't until 2010 (long after getting a driver's license) that I seriously considered riding as recreational, or as a sport.

What has inspired you to ride over the years?
So the inspiration for a long time, as I mentioned above, was necessity.  Throughout all that time I actually preferred to walk over riding my bike.  My perspective changed around 2010 when I thought about riding a road bike (I had only owned a girls' Huffy 10-speed and mountain bikes), and started to see cycling as something other than a rich person's pastime. It suddenly appeared accessible, mainly due to a number of people I met in a spin class who were serious fund raisers for charity rides.  I was already running in a lot of charity races, and thought, "why not do it on a bike, too?"  I had absolutely no idea that I would become so enamored of cycling, and the diverse culture that surrounds it.  Okay.  Addicted.

How many bikes do you have? Do you name them? What are their stories? 
I have 3 bikes, and they don't have names, but they probably should.  They certainly all have distinct personalities!  My "fancy" road bike is a Seven Axiom SLX.  I had the great fortune to have this custom made for me, and being a very small person, I can honestly say it's the first bike I've ever owned that has fit me.  If it weren't for this bike I wouldn't be enjoying cycling nearly as much.  The frame is titanium, which isn't used much anymore for road bikes, but I love the way it feels as it adapts to terrain, likes it's a living organism.  It's built around the 650 wheel size, which I am always harping on as something sorely lacking in the "Women's Specific" bicycle industry.  My other two bikes are for commuting and playing around.  One is a basic hardtail, Specialized 26" Hardrock Sport Disc (it's XS, and still a little too big).  I recently got this because I kind of missed the mountain bike experience, and also wanted something that could handle winter commuting.  I put studded tires on it this past Winter From Hell, and it rode like a dream!  It's one of those weird bikes that is smooth one day, cranky the next. Sometimes I get the feeling it doesn't want to go outside, or maybe that's just me?  The last bike is a super-cheap SE Draft Lite single speed bike, but it was a 43cm frame around 650's, so I couldn't resist (and yes, it's a little big).  It's perfect for good-weather commutes, and there's something really nice about the simplicity of the gearing.  I would love to modify this bike to have a belt drive and a nicer seat post and saddle, but that's probably far off. Just adding some Gatorskins made this ride even more enjoyable.

What kind of riding do you prefer (road, commuting, etc.)
I prefer road riding.  There's something about that ideal of the smooth, endless road that just gets me.  I imagine a singletrack stretching to infinity does the same thing for a mountain biker, or a trail in boundless woods for a hiker.

What inspired you to start blogging?
It started with a coalescence of 4 things - 1. the need to share my experiences as a woman who rides, 2. the idea that sharing what I've learned will help other women start riding, or help beginners of any gender feel more confident, 3. an exploration of "walkabout", or "wandering" as part of our genetic makeup as humans, 4. writing creatively.

What frustrations do you have being a female bike rider? (This can be involving clothes, bikes, etc.)
Yes, the frustrations involve clothing and bikes, and etcetera!  Sometimes I can't tell what pisses me off more - the industry's ignorance of women, or of small people.  Both of these categories are low priorities in the US in general, but obviously there are actual human beings occupying them, so, hel-looo!  The cycling industry (clothing, shoes, bikes,), like many other industries who outfit people for a specific purpose, tailor their products and services toward men, who comprise the majority of cyclists.  There are those who disagree, but I feel the timidity toward expanding product availability for women and people who aren't exactly 5'7" tall does absolutely nothing to help sales.  I'm of the, "if you build it, they will come" mindset.  Like I mentioned before with the Women's Specific bikes - why is no one building road bikes around 650 wheels?  Why the hell would I spend $3000 on a bike that is supposedly specifically for me that wastes so much of my energy when I ride it?  A tiny frame with a giant wheel in the front and at the back is laughable from an engineering standpoint.  How can a woman seriously start racing on a bike like that, and why is that the only option outside of getting something custom built?  Blarg!

What would you like to see more of?
Well, you know what bike design I would like to see more of, lol.  I would also like to see more options for women in high-quality clothing, high-visibility clothing (important!), winter cycling clothing and insulated shoes.  I think as the UCI slowly removes its figurative head from its figurative ass and women's professional cycling gets more attention, the trickle-down effect will be nice cycling things for the rest of us.  There are already a number of female professional riders who are advocating strongly for women of all abilities on bikes, and some of them are starting clothing lines.  It would also be nice to see some of our ridiculous traffic laws bite the dust, and the roads brought back to a sane level of usage.

How do you like riding clipless and what suggestions would you give to those new to clipless riding?
I saw in your recent blog you were trying this for the first time out on the road.  It will take some time getting that seamless in and out thing down, but as you have seen, the ability to execute a full pedal stroke is totally worth it.  Just the other day I fell, and I already had one foot out!  I was trying to push through sand and just slid in the wrong direction, toward the foot-in-the-pedal side.  I stabbed myself in the butt with my saddle, got sand in my cranks, and felt like an idiot, but clipless pedals are still the greatest! It's generally agreed that SPD's are the easiest to get in and out of.  Start off by adjusting the pedal tension as loose as it will go - you can always tighten it as you get more confident. The cleats can be worn recessed into mountain shoes (if you don't care about the weight thing on bikes).  Then, like on your (Josie's) bike, you can use the platform side or SPD side, in shoes with cleats that won't slip off the platform side.  I'm also partial to the SH 56 cleat, which will release your foot in either direction.  I really like to know my feet will pop out of my pedals if I fall (to get out of the way of cars and to preserve the ever-valuable anterior cruciate ligament).  One thing that helped me a lot when I was a beginner was to release before I came to a complete stop, with the released foot pointing down, to keep the weight balanced on that side.  It's best to release the foot you don't use to start up pedaling.

How do you feel your town/city/state supports bike riding and what could they do to improve it?
Buffalo has seen a huge upsurge in bicycle riding in the past 5-10 years - mostly in people who can afford to drive but choose to commute by bicycle, but really on all levels.  All the poor people who have been riding all along are still riding.  There is a huge police bike auction every year that benefits the whole community by providing cheap, functioning bikes.  Our city government has implemented the sort of lame, half-assed things your town has done, like painting sharrows (which are cheap for city budgets and impressive-looking, but don't have much research evidence supporting their effectiveness), and putting in lanes on streets that don't connect lanes to each other. Also, in the winter these lanes become snow depositories and parking spaces for cars and delivery vehicles.  Our paved bike paths have been improved upon, as part of an effort to make the Lake Erie waterfront more inviting (I believe this has been funded by the county budget), but aside from recreational use, they don't provide much of a commuting option that is removed from traffic.  I don't want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because all of these changes combined are pretty impressive, when you consider how shitty it was before they were made.  I'd say way more has been accomplished on a grassroots level by certain organizations and bike shops, with the city govt struggling to get catch up and putting the mayor's name on things that someone else sweated and slaved over - but that's how these things work, usually.  New York, like most other states in the Union, is horrible when it comes to support - mainly with its complete lack of legislation holding drivers responsible for fatalities and serious injury when they hit cyclists and pedestrians.  NYC has started their "Vision Zero" thing - the attempt is to reduce car - caused fatalities to zero by 2020 (I think that's the year).  So far, according to Bike Snob, the city appears to be taking action by scheduling police ticket sweeps of jaywalkers and cyclists running red lights.  Since a major reason why there are so many people killed by cars is the manufactured perception that cyclists and pedestrians are obstacles in the way of cars instead of actual people who deserve to live, punishing these people probably isn't going to do much to change that perspective.  The city also plans to lower the speed limit in certain congested areas - that seems like a more reasonable approach, and I think that would help here in Buffalo, also.

How do you look at your life now that you ride a bike vs. when you didn't?
I think I'd have to divide this question into a Biking Before it Was Fun/Biking After it Was Fun type of thing. Before, when riding a bike was all business and very little pleasure, I was more antagonistic.  I think that was a general state of being at the time, though, and had less to do with being a non-driver and more to do with seeing life as an assigned task I had to struggle to get through rather than as something that was mine to make as satisfying or as unpleasant as I chose.  A better perspective, one that involved learning that I was worthy of what life has to offer, brought with it an enjoyment of many things that were once considered chores or entirely undeserved.  It took many years to get to that, with a lot of wasted time, wasted opportunities (grad school), drug addiction, self-loathing (which becomes, ironically, self-indulgence), and general distastefulness leading up to some semblance of self-awareness.  When cycling became fun it brought me back to the state of mindfulness I enjoyed naturally as a child, sitting in the woods and watching and listening to everything.  This is something we tend to lose as we get older, and it's very important.  Bicycling for hours tends to provide the perfect environment for such a state.

We have an indoor cycling studio in town but I've never gone (I just use my stationary trainer). What do you like about indoor cycling/spin classes and why should someone consider them?
Well, you mentioned you're not a big fan of group exercise, so the idea of spin classes might not sound like fun to you.  I've had memberships at a variety of gyms, and I will now only go to community centers (like the Y) for fitness and group exercise.  The spin class I go to regularly is at the Jewish Community Center here in Buffalo, and the class is attended by a fabulously diverse group of people, many of whom have become friends over the years.  That class is what inspired me to finally take the plunge and buy a road bike ( a little entry-level Raleigh that was still too big, that I have since sold to a bike shop guy who built it back up for another woman about my size who wanted to start riding), and to get involved more seriously with fund raising (which is a challenge - I have a hard time doing the type of confident networking whose sole purpose is to get someone to hand you money).  It also helped me to stay motivated, by adding an element of variety to the exercise.  Since I started spinning, I've learned quite a bit about "training" versus "working out".  To me, the latter activity is a dead-end pursuit.  I might say the words "workout" to describe a particular routine, but what is happening in my brain and my body is, "Oh boy! I'm getting closer to my goal of ____, and I'm going to feel really strong and clear-headed!"  This to me is "training" - I'm training myself to feel better, to get to places I didn't think I could get to.

As a commuter what are some basic tips/suggestions first-timers should know or consider?
Anyone who wants to commute by bicycle should invest in a decent set of lights, at least one fender, and as much high-visibility gear/items as you can afford.  It's better to be alive and clownish than dead and stylish.  It's also good to slow down for weather conditions that are not ideal, for optimal bike handling.  Oh yeah, and a helmet. And rain gear.

If you could only pick 5 bike related products, what would you choose?
Does that include actual bikes?  Only five?  Is this in case of the Apocalypse? Yikes.  Well, I'd probably get another Seven built - maybe something carbon, a very good pair of bibs, a case of degreaser, a case of lube, a gore-tex jacket.

If someone is looking to start riding as part of an exercise regimen-what are some products/tips you would suggest?
I would say one should learn how to eat and drink while in motion on the bike, if this skill hasn't been acquired yet.  Huge calorie deficits and dehydration are no fun!  Try to find foods that go down well during exercise, and make sure their packaging is already open so you can reach into your jersey pocket and just put them in your mouth.  Glucose/salt is necessary after an hour (unless it's very hot, then sooner), protein + glucose/salt becomes necessary after an hour-and-a-half to two hours in.  Drink regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty, and drink before you go for a long ride.  Also, it's good to find a nice, trustworthy group of people to ride with, as well as riding on your own.  Riding with others improves your skills and will occasionally give you that push into scary territory that you may need.  Invest in a very good pair of cycling shorts and/or bibs.  Last year's model is usually on sale.  Trust me, you will want this very good pair of cycling shorts and/or bibs.  Make sure you have been fitted to your bike before you start riding a lot, and if you can afford it, get another fit later on.  Your riding style will probably change with experience.