Women on Bikes Series: Rebecca Olds (cont'd)

Read part 1 of Rebecca's interview here!

I’m a native Oregonian living in England the past 15 years. I work as a Trade Mark Paralegal in central London. I’m a cycling addict and live-music junkie!
I help run local beginners’ cycle rides and am an administrator for three cycling-related groups on Facebook:
·         The Dunwich Dynamo (an annual 116-mile night ride from London to the Suffolk Coast)
·         The Fridays (the club for Friday Night Rides to the Coast)
·         Luton and Dunstable Cycle Forum (local community initiative to encourage people to take up cycling and liaise with local authorities to improve conditions and infrastructure).

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I’ve done timed events and a couple of sportives, as I wanted to see how what sort of time I could do a set distance in. But nothing actually competitive, where participants are listed afterwards in the order they finished. To compete, I suspect you’ve got to have some degree of objectivity if you’re to train and improve, right? I’m too hard on myself to ever compete. I mean, unrealistically hard.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
To watch? The Grand Tours, like the Tour de France, the Vuelta and Tour of Britain. I do marvel at what people with natural talent, focus and discipline, plus all the time in the world to train and lots of investment (coaching, finance, etc) can achieve. But it’s another universe.

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?
Yes, I do. I wasn’t particularly interested one way or the other about them when I first learned they existed. Although maybe I thought it was something only “serious cyclists” used. (Then again, I’ve since come to think that it’s a “hurdle” that some people use to “beat others over the head with”, i.e. being dismissive, “oh you don’t use clipless? You’re not a real cyclist” and that can be intimidating.) I firmly believe that clipless can be useful but are not “NECESSARY”. If you don’t want to use them, don’t. And don’t let anybody tell you that you “have to”, or put you down if you don’t. It doesn’t matter whether your reason for not using them is disinterest, fear or whatever. Nobody should dictate how you enjoy your cycling.

That said, I first tried them because my joints aren’t very stable and after my knee surgery in October 2010, I had a bike fitting with my physiotherapist present and she was really concerned how much strain was being put on my knees due to excessive movement in my feet. She was really keen for me to try some form of foot retention to help my knees. I first tried clips and straps and had surprisingly little problem adapting, so after a few months of using those, I bought my first clipless pedals and cleats: Speedplay Frogs. I chose them mostly on the back of recommendations from fellow women cyclists on the Team Estrogen website, particularly those with knee problems. 

The big advantage with Frogs is that the engagement is passive – it’s a kind of sliding in and out, with no tugging required to get out, or exerting any force to clip in. This marks them out as different from even most other MTB- or STD-style systems. I got on really well with them for a few years but as time went on and my distances increased, the movement and pronation in my right foot became an increasing problem and I switched to a road-style system (sometimes called SL or generically Look systems, though those are both misnomers). I stuck with Speedplays, the model being the Light Action. I love them! The only downside is that they’re a 4-bolt system whereas most shoes are set up for 3-bolt cleats, so you have to either buy shoes built specially for this (of which the options are still rather limited) or use adapters.

Tips for clipless novices:  I haven’t anything to add really to the excellent advice already out there on the internet! Total Womens Cycling is a superb UK resource:  Chris Garrison at Trek wrote a really helpful overview with good tips; a lot of women I know took deputy editor Aoife’s recommendation for the Shimano Click’R pedals and have done really well with them.

From my own experience, all I can say is: Practice in a safe environment, whether it’s starting in your hallway or kitchen where you can rest one hand on something, or on the grass in your local park. I don’t remember my first ride with the Frogs. I do remember the first ride with the road pedals though! I had them fitted to brand new shoes, all supplied by my bike fitter in central London, and I had to cycle to the train station to get home… in central London… in evening rush hour traffic! For the first time, I was in cleats that required force to engage, and a specific heel-out movement to disengage. I very nearly came down at my first stop light! And I had several low-speed, slow-motion spills over the first few weeks. But the issue was mostly a matter of REMEMBERING to clip-out when slowing down to stop, not any actual physical difficulty in doing so. It’s all in the head. Which is, I find, so often the case with just about aspect of cycling.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Well, I have a family of bikes!

I first bought a Brompton. It needed to fold, in case I did. I didn’t keep the first one, but soon bought another one because they’re just so darn adaptable and useful.

I then bought a vintage mixte – because the architectural lines of those lateral top tubes were just so gorgeous and I’d been drooling over the various mixtes featured on the LovelyBicycle! blog.

I then bought the Cross Check – because I was doing longer rides and needed more gears and thought a road bike made sense, but (a) wanted something I could also commute on, and (b) didn’t think my riding warranted a “fast” road bike. (I really need to do a proper blog post about the Cross Check: we’ve had some major ups and downs but it’s an amazing bike and still an integral part of my life.)
I then bought the Pacer – because my increasingly longer rides DID warrant a faster bike!

I then – after much agonizing – went custom. I’d learned a lot about sizing and geometry and realized no stock bike was ever going to fit me.  And there was always something or other hurting,  when obviously it shouldn’t be that way. The alternative was to stop cycling. Which was NOT an option.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I love merino – it’s soft, warm when it’s raining, wicking when it’s hot, never clammy or sticky (which I just hate about lycra). Here’s some other stuff I have found works – for me, at least.

I’ve found that generally you get what you pay for. If you’re in the saddle for long hours, then the right pair of shorts – with a chamois that doesn’t hurt – is worth every single d*mned penny! When I found my perfect pair of shorts – some of the most expensive on the market – I realized they weren’t a waste of money. What WAS a waste of money were the many pairs of cheaper-but-not-quite-comfortable shorts I’d bought over the years… because “surely no pair of shorts over £40 could really be so much better, could they?” (Yes, they can be. Light-years better.)

There’s no easy alternative to simply doing a lot of research, asking a lot of questions, and sadly trial and error. Ask other women! Read blogs. Post up your questions to Wheelwomen or the Team Estrogen forum.
If there’s a particular brand or new product you’re interested in, try to get one used first. Ebay works for me. That way you haven’t spent a lot of money if it doesn’t fit, isn’t comfortable or otherwise just doesn’t work for you. And you can always re-sell it later.

As for specific items and brands that have worked for me – I love Vulpine, Rapha and Gore, for the careful thought that goes into the designs, the quality and the workmanship. They aren’t the cheapest products but they’re definitely amongst the best, without necessarily straying into that territory where you’re paying a premium just for the label. (People do like to say that about Rapha but funny how it’s always people who’ve never tried Rapha!)