About a month ago, I stood on the podium for my local bike race series. And let me tell you, it’s not because I competed for it; I just showed up the most. You gain points over a period of time with a series, and I earned the most points because I came to the most races. It’s true, Woody Allen, showing up is a major part of success.
I’ve “won” two races—simply because I was the only woman who showed up in my division.
For the awards ceremony, Ms. 1st Place did not show, so I told Ms. 3rd Place that we should step on the top podium together. Fuck it, I said, we won that top step for showing up. To which all of the bike folks cheered (much alcohol had been consumed prior to the awards). Cell phone photos galore. Facebook tags. Nice tweets. All of it.
What surprised me the most was Miss 3rd Place and her reaction. After the ceremony, she thanked me for suggesting that we usurp the top step. All for a good hammy photo, I thought. But she seemed so truly grateful, and she shared with me how she was so thrilled to beat me for the first time at the last race. I told her that she had it on the last climb, and I didn’t. Completely bitchin’ that you got out of the saddle and passed me. Wicked fast-like. You deserved it, I said.
She was so sweetly shocked that I hugged her for beating me, that it got me thinking.
We’re all chasing somebody’s wheel if we want to improve.
In bike racing, you are described as “chasing somebody’s wheel” when you’re in a good battle. I had no idea that she was trying to beat me for an entire season; I was chasing Ms. 1st Place. Her wheel. Damn her. As a spectator, you can witness this battle. You can see the times that two or three riders can race against one another and switch places. Chasing a wheel and then leading. Chasing. Leading.
At the last race, Ms. 3rd Place and I went back and forth until I was just cooked. I let her by me on the uphill, and I never caught her again. My husband witnessed it, and he yelled, “Go get her. C’mon, babe, DO IT.” I couldn’t. I was, as the bike geeks call it–shelled. I just smiled at him as the snot ran down my face (my nose runs the entire time during a very cold race. It’s truly sexy, I know).
I’m always so thrilled when new women show up. I’m very proud to say that every woman I’ve encouraged to race eventually ended up beating me. This is no exaggeration. I’ve recruited six women to this sport simply by walking up to them and saying, “Hi, my name is Alyson. I see you at every race. Does your partner race? Why don’t you?”
For every one woman, there are 30 men. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. Truth.
And here’s another thing you must know, there are many talented bike riders who live in Bellingham. There are international pros, their friends and/or spouses, and people who moved here to ride their bikes. Luckily there are everyday people in the everyday-bike-rider category who can still find a way to stay fit. It’s fun. In a local bike race, you have small battles throughout the race. There’s always a wheel to chase. Or people chasing your wheel. There are at least three local meet-ups happening right now as I type this. Folks who like to ride their bikes together.
I have never won a race, but I have won the local series once. I have two beautiful trophies because I was the only woman to show up in my category. And next year, I am catting up—or moving up a category—to chase the faster ladies. My plan is to get better for next year, and possibly buy a new cyclocross bike. All very exciting stuff—I think I’m good enough to ride the same terrain as the fast ladies; I just can’t ride it as fast as they can. It will be cool to see how long I can stay with the “expert ladies,” and if I’ll still get lapped by the fastest lady (Spoiler alert: I will. She is nationally ranked in the US, so she should and will crush me).
Already I have crowned myself the “lantern rouge” for the Ladies Expert category. I’m looking forward to being in last place with the expert ladies.
But listen to that phrase: Ladies Expert. Say it again. Expert Ladies.
Back before there were motor vehicles in Le Tour de France, the last rider was the lantern rouge—or the last place rider—to let the spectators know that was the end of the race. I looked up the translation of “cycling” and I found this. Note definition 2.
cycle (ˈsaɪkəl )
- (= bicycle)
- (= series) [of events, seasons]
see also menstrual cycle
- [of songs, poems]
- (= revolution)
- (= ride a bike)
faire du vélo,
faire de la bicyclette
- (= go somewhere by bike)
aller à vélo,
aller à bicyclette
I like cycling.
J’aime faire de la bicyclette.⇒
I cycle to school.
Je vais à l’école à bicyclette.
- (= ride a bike)
- (= bicycle) [route, network]
Mais oui. J’aime faire de la bicyclette. Beaucoup. I like making the bicycle very much.
I started racing cross in Bellingham at our local series five years ago. My husband had been telling me that I should race for years. I dismissed his compliments about my ability for years. For years. I thought that he just liked the idea of having a partner/wife who raced. That I wasn’t good enough. He would list off the reasons I should race for years. For years. That women were always so cool to other women because there were so few of them, he said. That every woman he’s ever met who rides always wants more lady riders and racers to join them. That he rode with ladies in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, and they all said the same thing. That we need more ladies who rip. That I’d love the women who race. That I would fit right in. That all of his lady friends asked why I didn’t show up.
I just didn’t believe him because they looked so intimidating. Fit. Beautiful. Badass. Lady bike riders look intimidating.
Lady—for some reason, I use this word for bike racing. I suppose I hear a lot of the dudes say it, and I don’t think it’s maliciously sexist. There is a sweet dorkery to guys who like bikes that it’s hard to see them as intentionally sexist. I mean, we don’t call them “Gentlemen” riders, but they love their “Lady Bike Riders.” I somehow have embraced the title: Ladies Who Rip. Lady Bike Riders. Or as the incredible Paul Sherwen says, Lady Bi’ Ridahs.
Let’s just say, if you meet one of these dudes, and you’d like to snag a bike dork for yourself here are three responses that will surely win him over. (This also works for lesbians, btw. Girls who dig ladies who ride bikes are the very same as Dudes who like ladies–I use “He” because that’s what I like. Translate the pronoun).
Like be prepared for love at first sight should you say the following:
- Yes, bike dork, I’d love to go on a 100 mile road ride with you, but I have some work to do so I’ll head out on your warm up and turn around when we get to 25 miles. Then I’ll make us dinner for when you get back. It’s true. I get totally hot for dudes who shave their legs and wear spandex. He will act bummed that you said that while being impressed—you’re still riding 50 miles. He’ll ignore the shaving dig; it has practical purposes—and I can give you tips on how to explain this to your dad (Ladies, scratch the shaving dig). Then said bike dork will calculate that you’ll have hot food ready when he returns from his ride. He will fight the urge to kiss you. He will think about what you look like naked for 100 miles.
- Yes, I totally think spending [enter absurd amount of money here] on bike gear is an awesome idea. Do it. Let’s eat spaghetti for three weeks to make it happen. Seriously, we’ll stop by Costco to buy pasta on the way back from three bike shops you want to go to. It’s true; the better the parts, the better the ride. You might want to upgrade a level, really, you deserve it. It’s true; titanium is an amazing metal. I love listening to you talk about it for an hour. Go on. Tell me more. (Research titanium, so that you can ask good questions).
- My dream vacation destinations all involve bikes. I don’t care where we go as long as we can ride bikes.
And here’s the thing, we are celebrating six years in Bellingham this week. Our one year plan has turned into six years. And I convinced my bike dork that we should live among the retirees because we could road ride and mountain bike without ever getting into our cars. Straight out of the garage we could ride, I said. Check out how close we would be to world-class mountain biking again, I said. We can wait out this horror in a good place, I said. I work online, we can live anywhere, I said. Surely things will get better; we live in America, I said. We can be optimistic while we wait out this horror. Six years ago. Patience, meet Reality.
And yet, I was super duper shy to join to the local bike-racing scene because I thought the women looked intimidating. Scary. Kinda mean. Super in shape. Beautifully fit. Wicked coordinated. Wicked fast. Ladies who rip.
And a month ago it hit me: Miss 3rd Place saw me the same way until I invited her to stand on the top step with me. To ham it up for a good photo. And it’s not true! I’m still freaky dorktastic—I crash my mountain bike at least once a month–only now I’m on a team, so I guess I now look like the ladies who used to intimidate me. I’ve lost a bunch of weight. I wear spandex. I borrow my husband’s razors that he uses on his legs, not his face. I look like ladies who rip. Only I don’t. Oh dear.
So let me be clear, ladies and readers who love ladies, every single woman I’ve ever met in the cycling scene is really kind. Very sweet. A bit dorky in their own way. Full of moxy. Strong. Opinionated. Driven. Motivated. Beautifully strong. Talented. Don’t be scared. Jump in. Try it out. You should race or go watch races. If you have a young daughter or a son, then you should do it even more. It’s not enough to see Daddy ride, Mommy should rip too.
Miss 3rd Place, we both won that night. That top step was all ours, kitten.
And so I told this story to a bike mechanic who supports my team. We are sponsored by a bike shop and we had a party last night celebrating our last year. At one point in the four years I’ve been on this team, I was the only woman out of 15 riders, and now we have four women! High-fucking-five, ladies, I’m so glad you’ve joined me. I needed some company to suffer with among mass dorkery of our dudes, right? Don’t your eyes hurt from rolling them when we hang out? Me too. Shut up and go shave your legs, losers (I totally love you all).
We’re also sponsored by Boundary Bay Brewery, and this the highway to the danger zone for me. All the beer you can drink. Extraordinarily good and strong IPA. Watch out for Drunk Teacher Indrunas—she’s bound to lecture you about something at a party. And last night, I learned that one of the bike mechanics has four kids. Four. Kids. That he supports. As a bike mechanic. Holycats, I had no idea. They were “trying for a girl” and his wife got pregnant with twins. He’s 28. High-school graduate. A local dude who rips. Incredibly sweet. Four kids. A Bellingham townie. (I am a townie who got lucky, so I can use this term).
He said, “You guys are the least likely to come into the shop. I know Scott is a mechanic, so I bet you guys don’t really need us. I know you can get stuff on the Internet cheaper. I get it.”
Knife, meet heart.
“Well, you know, we’re kinda broke, too. So there’s that.”
You’re college professors, right? He said.
Well, yes. Sorta. Yes and no. Somewhat. Kinda. Yes. (Don’t really want to get into it. How do you define adjunct and administrator to townies without sounding like a prick? You can’t; change the subject.) What does your wife do? Does she race?
Stays home with the kids while I work. No, she doesn’t race, but she likes bikes. She’s actually taking classes online. She wants to become a teacher. She’s getting a bit discouraged, do have you some advice for her? I’ve told her about you. I tell her how cool you are. That she can do it. She has to do it. You know, I’m going to be a bike mechanic when I grow up.
(Four kids. Bike mechanic husband. Online education classes. Classic Townie story. Oh dear. Bike mechanics destined to be townies don’t typically get into R1 schools; I know, I married one. Thank you, public libraries and federal financial aid).
Yes, I said. Here’s what she should do once everyone can use the bathroom and clean up after themselves without her help. Here’s what she should do, I said. What she should do.
As if I know what I’m talking about. As if I can even pretend what that’s like. As if I can help.
Well, actually, I think I can help. I care quite a bit about people like her. Like him. Like his kids. I care about Townies. I care about people trying to become teachers. I care quite a bit.
I held court with him for about an hour, and we figured it out. How I’ll remember her should I be in a position to help. How I’ll come into the shop more. How I’ll bring her a few books. How cool he is. How much I respect his trail building advocacy. How hilarious he is at trail crew days. How at 28 I felt totally lost too. (Only I didn’t have four kids). How it can be hard to love a teacher–he’s been warned. How I will recommend her.
So I’ll leave you today with a song that was “Recommended for Me” this week via YouTube. Crazy robot, how did you know this is what I like to listen to when I’m “banging on about this and that?”
Maybe it’s the research I did to start our Nick Cave Fan Club at work. It’s the words I put into the research engine robot. It’s the words. Me and the artists—male and female—all want to marry Nick. You know, so he can sing us to sleep. So he can play piano while we sit next to him on the bench. So he can wow us with crazy lyrics. So he can show us how to be completely punk rock while being completely romantic. So he can show us how to dance. To scream. To write. To love.
So keep those candles burning.
I am pretty sure we are twins born a few years apart to separate mothers. You speak my language, right down to the need for titanium and carbon on bikes to the insecurities running through my head.
I don’t road race because, well, it’s Walla Walla, and I prefer endurance distances over speed on my roadie. But a dirt track team JUST FOR WOMEN started this year and I’m looking into it. Can you hear voices in my head clear over in Bellingham? “Christ, they’re all 22 years old! Broken bones take forever to heal at my age. What are the rules – will they just stop me at a certain time because I take too long? What if the sun begins setting?” (Cue intimidation music).
This blog post couldn’t have been more timely.
You should join! I beyond terrified of the roadie scene. One of my besties has become this killer on the track and the road, so I’m inspired, but yes, the dirt is way better for the bones. And I *like* the dirt race scenes better–the roadie scene isn’t as interesting. Here are some teams to Google with awesome names and entirely badass women who race. Check out Sturdy Bitch Racing, The Muddbunnies, and wait for it, the best name EVER–The Speedy Beavers. I mean, who doesn’t want to ride with a Speedy Beaver? And you can say cool things like, I got beat by one of the Sturdy Bitches. That Muddbunny just tore my legs off, and man alive, that Speedy Beaver has an awesome sprint.
Okay, so someday we’re riding bikes together. I have zero bike friends that know ed. tech.
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Beautiful post, Alyson. As a “retired” lady road racer, I often tell students that almost everything I know about life I learned from racing bikes. Work hard. Work together. And always, always stay connected to your inner ten year-old. I continue to be grateful for the kick-ass team of women that surrounded me during my racing days. We have all gone our separate ways, but I have a feeling that the ways in which we move through the world were made more powerful by all those gritty, beautiful miles together.
Thank you so much, Stephanie! Stick with that yoga–it’s easier on the bones for sure. I’ll have to hear your stories about road racing–I’m too chicken to lean into a corner on a crit and stage races look kind of boring to me. That being said, I love watching the races. Some of the teams in Seattle have huge numbers of ladies on teams–Group Health, Fischer Plumbing, Blue Roosters–it’s pretty inspiring. Always so lovely to see your words, and I can’t wait to hang out with you again:)