From training wheels to Zipp wheels

I get asked a lot : “How did you get into bike racing?”

My parents weren’t cyclists and they are about as athletic as any typical middle-aged parent is. My father played sports in high school, mainly football. I remember growing up on Layton Avenue, playing baseball with my father and some neighborhood kids. I’m pretty sure my father was the only adult out there, tossing a ball with an underhand throw toward us kids, as we swung and miss, swung and miss, until we finally struck the ball out into the cul-de-sac.

Before we could chase down the ball, we had to look both ways before crossing the street. We’d shuffle up to ball, cup in our 7-year old hands, and try with all our might, throw it back to my father, likely misdirecting the ball, forcing him to chase after it.

I learned how to ride a bike in that cul-de-sac as well. There was no such thing as Stryders then so I teetered on my pink bike complete with training wheels that never seemed to be level. I’m sure there were a lot circles pedaled and bated breaths as I picked up speed. I’m assuming there was a point in my cycling when my parents believed enough in my balancing abilities to unscrew the training wheels.

I’m also assuming I was part terrified and part excited for this new skill. I can see it now: my father holding the bike steady as I wobbled down the street; his steps picking up from a walk to a jog as I pedaled faster. At one point he had to let go and we both had to trust my practicing. I’m sure it wasn’t this elegant. I guarantee there were trips, falls, scrapes, and tears.

And eventually, like most girls, I stopped pedaling around my neighbor and focused my attention on school, sleepovers, MTV music videos (when they actually played music videos), boys, concerts, writing, and eventually, driving around town. If you biked, you didn’t have money for a car – at least that’s what I assumed when I was younger. Biking was for poor people. Little did I know how expensive cycling really is.

The only cycling influence I had in my life before I started cycling was my Uncle Don. He had a beer belly that hung over his pants and a greying goatee. His legs were hairy and his arms hung off his shoulders like a python wrapped around the trunk of a tree. I knew he’d take his bike with his buddies around town and when he told us over Thanksgiving Dinners he rode 50 miles that morning, I was shocked someone would spend that long on a bike. As if he had better things to do, like helping my mother and grandmother prepare the food.

“How long did that take you?” I’d ask.

“A few hours or so” he’d tell us.

I’d stare at him, waiting for him to follow-up with “just kidding,” but he was serious. I thought it was insane; that he was insane; and that only 50-something year-old men spent three hours riding their bike clear across town and back. There was no way people my age rode a bike. Certainly, not with the spandex and cut-off gloves. At the time, I assumed only middle-aged men and some women rode bikes. Because it was better for your knees and all. Why would a 20-something year old pick up a bike and ride 50 miles when there were so many other things to do like snowboarding, brunching, sleeping in, hiking, whatever.

Then Uncle Don participated in Ride the Rockies, a week-Long bicycling tour through the Colorado Rockies. He’d tell us about the mountains he’d climb, the grades, and how fast he’d fly downhill. It sounded miserable to me: Cycling 50-80 miles per day for 5-6 days in a row. “How did that not bruise your ass?” He’d laugh as he explained what cycling bibs, chamois cream, and the importance of bike fits were.

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I didn’t start riding a bike again until I returned from my Master’s degree in Ireland in 2013. I met a guy online, Jared, who rode bikes.

We went on a couple of dates and shared our life stories over beer and cider (when I used to drink cider). Seeing as he was my age, I took a different view on bike riding. Maybe it wasn’t as dorky as I thought if people my age were doing it. He made it seem fun and a great way to exercise. My idea of exercise at the time was running on the treadmill for 30 minutes and then picking random machines throughout the gym, pretending like I knew what I was doing.

Jared asked if I wanted to ride bikes with him one day. I didn’t own a bike, but I wanted to give it a try. I considered it a challenge and I liked those. I texted my Uncle Don to see if he had any bikes lying around that my younger cousin Meaghann, his daughter, no longer used. Sure enough, there was a mountain bike he bought her long ago, when she was my size (before her growth spurt) hanging in the garage.

“It isn’t anything special, but it’ll get you a few miles.”

He brought it over to my mother’s house and gave me the rundown of the bike – where the gears were, the brakes, and if I needed help, to call him. He helped me adjust the seat so I didn’t have to overextend my legs to turn the pedals.

I texted Jared to let him know I could go ride with him. We planned for the next day. He offered to come to my mother’s where we could leave from there. My mother’s house was two miles from the c470 bike path and six miles from Bear Creek Park.

Find yourself a Jared.

If it wasn’t for Jared, I wouldn’t have gotten into cycling. He had so many extra doodads that it made starting bicycling easy. On our first biking adventure, he brought over a Bell helmet and gloves because I didn’t own anything cycling-related at the time. Luckily, we had the same sized head. Although the gloves were loose, I grew to rely on them to save my palms during longer rides.

I didn’t own a jersey or shorts, and I didn’t realize I’d need them, so I threw on my Under Armour capris and top, because we were doing exercise, right? I laced up my tennis shoes and covered my eyes with $5 sunglasses. I scrolled through Facebook as I waited for jared to arrive.

He brought the helmet and old pair of gloves for me. We adjusted the chin strap of the used blue Bell helmet to make sure I was neither choking nor revealing too much forehead. The gloves hung loose around my fingers, but I thought that’s how they were supposed to be.

Jared started his Garmin and I watched, curious why you’d need to track mileage, cadence, speed. He also had a heart rate monitor which I didn’t understand the need for either. Like, did your heart rate really raise that much to necessitate a monitor for it? It was all foreign to me.

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Our first ride was easy enough to not turn me away from riding more. We made it to Bear Creek Park, took a spin through, and came back. Likely, 12 or so miles. It helped that Jared was incredibly patient with me. Jared had been riding for a year longer and soft pedaled most of the time. I think he was okay with it because it meant he had someone to ride with. I felt guilty for making him wait for me often. I couldn’t comprehend the patience it took to ride with a complete beginner. I know I wouldn’t have had it.

Rides were flat and anticlimactic at the beginning. I don’t recall much of borrowing my cousin’s mountain bike during the summer. I don’t remember if I was frustrated or excited to ride bikes with Jared. The beginning rides all blended together. I know it became a thing for us because we planned a bike ride every weekend.

I didn’t have the foresight to realize what was happening to my body and interests.

After six months of riding the clunky mountain bike, Jared convinced me to start looking for my own road bike. When I started looking in the Sales tabs of local bike shops, I started considering hybrid bikes because they were cheaper. I didn’t think I’d get serious about cycling so something that was lighter and less clunky than the mountain bike seemed reasonable enough.

As I perused the flat handlebar hybrid bikes, Jared begged me to get a road bike. “You’ll regret a hybrid bike” he’d tell me. I didn’t see what was the big deal with getting a hybrid. I thought road bikes with the bent handlebars were for Tour de France racers, not beginners like me.

Maybe Jared had the foresight I lacked.

All the road bikes in the shop were still full price even though it was December. Jared suggested “shopping around,” and as much as I hated shopping, I knew picking the right bike, for those prices, was important. It certainly wasn’t like choosing a pair of socks.

I started looking online for sales: eBay, Craigslist, and found a Giant Avail for sale at Giant. It was a small which I assumed was my size. I emailed giant asking if the bike was still available. It was.

I told them I’d be in that night to check it out. I asked Jared to come with me since I knew nothing about bikes; and I wasn’t going to pretend I did.

Jared and I met at the store and walked in. As the doorbell dinged, Troy greeted us before we made it a few feet inside the shop. “I asked about the small Giant Avail bike that’s on sale.”

“You’re Jessica?”

“Yep.”

“Here, follow me. I’ll show you the bike.”

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There it was, the silver frame with accents of blue, perched among other bikes waiting for their forever home. Troy adjusted the seat for me and directed the black handlebars toward me. “Take it for a spin,” he said.

I wasn’t sure what shifted what or how responsive the brakes were. I kept my hands on the hoods of the bike as I steered through parking spaces, up and down lanes. I wasn’t confident enough to ride in the “curved part of the handlebar.”

After a few minutes pedaling in the parking lot in my jeans and Jared’s borrowed bike helmet, I bought it. The grand total was $700-something. My biggest purchase aside from laptops. I was committed now.

Nonchalantly, as I wheeled out the bike from Giant, Jared meekly said, “so now we train for the E-rock  century ride.”

“What’s a Century Ride?” I asked.

“It’s a hundred-mile ride,” he told me.

“Why the fuck would I do that?”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” he laughed.

I strapped my bike into the bike rack Jared gave me. He bought a better rack and “didn’t have space” in his condo. As I pulled the rubber straps over the top tube of my clean, fancy-looking bike, I agreed: “sure, why the fuck not.”

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