This weekend a friend and I planned a very mellow group ride – we think its a crime that there are so many cyclists in Oakland who are intrepid, fast, and in love with their bikes, yet there are no rides for us. It is no secret that jersey-wearing riding clubs or groups are only so open to newbies and while their rides may have a no-drop policy, that doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence. So we thought that it would be great to have a ride for people who like to talk, with stops to eat, that could accommodate both novices and veterans, and that would be a respectable but not far-reaching distance (about 15 miles, give or take). We had about 10 people lined up to join us, including a friend from out of town who races cycle-cross. Everyone except this friend and one other man, who used to race bikes and is still very much in shape for that, bailed on the ride. Now it was just me and these two very bike savvy men, both of whom could wipe the floor with me if they wanted to.
The upside, of course, was that now we could go fast, and go wherever we wanted. The originally planned route was free of heavy traffic roads and was extremely limited for that reason. It was also short – about 10 miles round trip – which I had concern would not be physically satisfying. Ultimately, we decided to continue along a similar trajectory, but abandoned the formal route. None of us had any idea where we were going – two of us had never been on the island, and one of us was from out of town. So we rode around until we hit water and then turned right or left to keep going. The day was beautiful and even a bit warm, but extremely windy – an understandable deterrent for most people. But, 15 mph headwind be damned, we jumped on our bikes and headed out.
I am particularly proud of this ride. I imagined I would be the weakest link, and was reluctant to pull because I was concerned about setting a good pace. I had also never ridden in a paceline before, most hand signals, though intuitive on sight, are foreign to me, and my timing with delivery is still slow. I had, in the back of my head, a desire to pull over and take pictures constantly, which I realized very quickly was not on the agenda. Before I knew what was going on, we were riding in line, and drilling the hell out of the ride, into an enormous headwind. When we got back to my house, bags, shoes, bikes, shirts, chamois, locks and bodies dropped and hit the floor, bathroom, or couch. I asked if anyone had recorded our stats, hoping for the sake of my self-respect that it was longer than 10 miles. In the end, we rode about 20, keeping a good pace and stopping only for lunch or the occasional head-scratching moment wondering where the hell we were. But what’s more, I held my own in that paceline, in that wind, and even when pulling, gave my companions a run for their money. I felt the point where it hurt to much to keep spinning creep up slowly, and then pass. I know that riding strong into a headwind adds miles of effort to an already long ride. And with no drops to tuck into it, no skinny tires, and a bike that weighs 30 lbs these were no small accomplishments.
When I think of myself in the context of my bike, I think of myself in a dress and maybe heels, wearing a skirt and tights. I want to be a fashonista rider. I want to be comfortable and I love the feeling of biking to a farmer’s market on a sunny day, moving slowly and enjoying the sounds of car-less roads. I am envious of being able to wear normal clothes and arrive at my destination still smelling good, and mostly dry. But what it really comes down to is that I idealize, in equal measure, the women who make riding look so delicate and easy and the lycra folks who make it look easy from the waist down, but who’s faces show agony and intensity. I can do the former, and it will feel nice, and I will love it. But the competitor inside of me will not be satisfied – for that I need to be the woman in the all male paceline, pulling hard, riding through the pain the whole damn time. How lucky for me that, now, I know I can do it.