Women on Bikes Series: Rebecca Olds (Part 1)

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).

When did you first start riding a bike?
I learned to ride a bike the summer before I turned 9. A neighbourhood girl called Carolyn, a few years my senior, taught me on her younger sister’s bike. I later had a hand-me-down bike (an old 3-speed with coaster brakes) but only rode it down the hill in our yard. Over and over again. I would push it up the hill again just to freewheel down. No pedalling involved!
I rode a roommate’s 10-speed to the end of our road and back one afternoon when I was 20.
I commuted on an old bike that my Dad dug up from who-knows-where (rusty chain, seized gears, no working brakes) for 2 months when I was 30 and found myself without a car.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Enjoying it and increasingly wondering how far I can push myself. I’ve never been sporty or athletic. Cycling is not something I’m good at, but it’s the first “sport”, no let’s broaden that further, first physical endeavour of any kind that (a) I can actually do, AND (b) find I enjoy. Before this, I avoided anything that involved dirt, grease, sweat and/or any kind of physical discomfort or struggle. With cycling, I have learned to embrace all of those things and even at times relish it.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
Road all the way! I’ve got issues with eyesight and balance (and a certain fear of injury – or aversion to losing valuable time recovering), so I don’t expect to ever try mountain biking. Gravel is okay for short distances if necessary but only on a bike I know well, with handling and tires that I trust.

Night riding! In 2010, on the back of an intriguing article written by a local cycle campaigner I’d chatted to a couple of times, I started – and completed – the legendary Dunwich Dynamo.
I fell in love with night riding that night and was really keen to do it again. Fortunately, a friend pointed me to a group that does nothing but. The FNRttC was under the radar in cycling communities at the time but no longer! I’m glad I started before it got as big as it is now and I’m super glad that the ethos and sense of community has sort of self-regulated to the point where it won’t get much bigger. It’s a friendly and manageable size. I’ve made some of my best friends through this group. In fact, I met my partner on my first one! He was one of the Tail End Charlies and I was the slowest rider of the night. At one point as I struggled up a hill, I apologized yet again for holding people up. A voice out of the dark said, reassuringly, “It’s not a race.” Fast forward 18 months, during which the owner of that voice assumed a face and a name and a reputation as one of the kindest people I’d ever met – and we were on another ride and I apologized yet again (though I was by then no longer “the weakest link” at the back) and the man I now knew as Adam said “It’s not a race” and I realized HE had been the one who had said that on my very first Friday Night Ride! Six weeks later, he asked me out and I had the courage and good sense to say ‘yes’. And the rest is history. And yes, we still do night rides together.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
First door-to-door commute. Oh I remember it well! Even the date: Monday 7th September 2009. I’d been cycling for 2 months. My commute was 10 miles one way and I had to build up to it gradually. For the first two months, I used buses and trains for parts of my commute, and gradually extended how much of my commute was on the bike by cycling to train stations further away from my house and/or getting off the train a little earlier (further from my office). On weekends, I had started cycling with a local group for beginners. I remember the first one of those rides over 5-6 miles that I did: it was 16 miles in total and at mile 11 I thought I was going to die! But I didn’t and I knew it was time to try doing my whole work commute by bike. The following Monday, I did it! Exultation! The sense of achievement was tremendous. It was my first real taste of setting a goal involving physical performance and then reaching it.
And then there’s how I felt on my first night ride, as I already mentioned!

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I think it was just spending more time cycling, extending the time or distance in stages. I initially had a lot of doubts about my ability but gained confidence as I progressed. Riding with others helped too, in a supportive environment. Nobody made a song and dance about it – no “cheerleading” – we just got on and did it. And gradually I learned that I’m capable of more than I ever thought I could be. That shift in mental attitude – in how you view yourself – is a game changer. A life changer.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
Phew, where to start... poor road surfaces, unsafe/inconsistent/non-existent infrastructure, impatient/inattentive/selfish drivers. These are ongoing issues, mostly outside my control. The key to continuing to cycle is mental attitude and keeping your skills up. I took a cycling lesson before I started (a two-hour one-to-one session focused on urban transport cycling) and do a refresher every couple of years. This reinforces good habits, reminds of things you may have become lax about and, most importantly (a) gives you confidence not only in your skill but also in your right to be on the road, and (b) gives you practical ways to engage with other road users to manage and prevent conflicts. 
My approach is what I call The Four C’s (which is really “Two Sees Plus Two C’s”): See, Be Seen, Communicate, Be Consistent.

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?
Yes. Weather is rarely an issue for me. The exception is strong wind, as that’s more of a safety issue. My bikes are my means of transport. If I don’t ride, I don’t get there – “there” being anywhere, whether work, store or whatever. I do occasionally succumb to the lure of a taxi but I’m honest with myself: that’s always about laziness, not weather, not fitness.
That doesn’t mean I relish being uncomfortable though! I watch the weather forecast and take appropriate clothing/gear with me. The day might start out sunny but if there’s a good chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon, I grab that Gore jacket on my way out the door and stuff it under the bungee cord across my rack.

That said, experience has taught me that being warm is far more crucial to my comfort than being dry. After all, humans are waterproof!  And I sweat like a horse and would far rather be damp in a breathable jacket than keep all the rain out but feel like a boil-in-the-bag rice packet!
At the end of the day, for me it’s more a state of mind than a state of body. So yes, I “put up with” all sorts of weather, knowing that the alternative would be to miss out on some great cycling. Some of my all-time favourite rides have been in damp and fog – I find it really restful, actually.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
Several! Every single one is a burning memory, due to it being my own fault.

The first was an attempted curb-hop on a Brompton. Some people can do this but I’d never tried it before and have very poor upper body strength so I don’t know what possessed me to think I could do it, especially with no plan or strategy: I just aimed the bike at the curb, and Wham! The curb answered back.
Another time, I had left my bike locked up at my home train station. I did some impromptu grocery shopping when I left work and only realized when I got off the train that I didn’t know how I was going to carry everything on my bike. So I looped my messenger bag over the handlebars. It was, as my bike shop guy called it, “A Tesco Moment”. Time stood still when the front wheel locked and the bike was flipping over, me with it, still clipped in. Wow, that hurt. Luckily, it happened in a traffic jam with motorists going so slowly that everybody around me stopped. Before I really knew what had happened, car doors flew open and loads of people (all women) were crouching on the road beside me and then helping me up and grabbing my bike off the road too. A visit to the chiropractor put me right. The bruises took a little longer.
And I’ve had, let’s see now… three “clipless moments”. The first was in the middle of the junction at the south approach to London Bridge – a very busy intersection. I had a red light and basically my falling over was my way of stopping for it! So I wasn’t in traffic. Again, though, traffic that was moving (with a green light) came to a stop with drivers shouting out their windows “Are you okay?!” Yep, absolutely fine, just super embarrassed.
The other two memorable failure-to-unclip-in-time falls were nowhere near traffic and again, were totally due to me just not consciously reminding myself to make that small but vital outside flick with my heel….

Recovery?  Not a problem really as every time I knew it was my fault, nobody else’s. So I wasn’t scared to get back on, just determined not to be so foolish again. The two most recent were last summer within a week of each other, in the first few weeks of using road pedals, and I think were “harder” on my partner than on me – he was quite solicitous of me for weeks afterwards! And when we ride together, he’s usually just ahead (as navigator) so for several weeks afterwards I had to put up with him calling out “Unclip!” every time he slowed down!

Oh, there was one time I fell off when a van passed me very fast and very close, soon after I started commuting. Okay, so the driver was an idiot and I could have been hurt. But I also knew exactly how I should have been positioned in the lane to discourage reckless overtaking – yet I hadn’t bothered -- so it was a lesson learned.

What do you love about riding your bike?
In a word: Headspace. Some people say freedom or escape, but those words don’t quite capture the definite easing of anxiety that I feel when I get on my bike.

I’m a planner and a bit of a worrier. There’s always stuff going on in my head, often stuff I can’t really do anything about but I’ll waste time and energy thinking about it anyway. When I get on my bike, that all stops. I live in the moment. I enjoy the Here And Now. Tomorrow (or work, when I get there in an hour) can just wait. Now Is For Me. On My Bike. It’s the best stress reliever I know, for that simple reason.

Rebecca's post will conclude 9/13 with part 2 of her interview!