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Riding Like a Climate Ride Girl

Patrick Colleran interviewed three female Climate Riders to get their perspectives on cycling and see what advice they could offer female and male riders alike.  My partner and I have been bike touring for years together, and I’ve learned a lot from her. She is a non-competitive cyclist who simply loves to ride her bike. She will always opt for carrying an extra ten pounds of gear on her already fully loaded touring bike if it means she will be more comfortable during and after the ride. My partner rides smarter, not harder. If she gets hungry, she eats. When the hill gets too steep, she walks. When her socks get saturated with water from the rain, she wrings them out.  If her fender rubs, she adjusts it so her bike silently rolls along. I, however, can be the opposite – a stubborn cyclists who gets a “can’t stop won’t stop” mantra in my head. When I get hungry, I try and ride another 20 miles and become “hangry.” If the hill gets too steep, I pedal until I stall, then I’m too beat to clip out in time to avoid falling over. When my socks get saturated, my toes go numb and won’t warm up for the rest of the day.  If my fender is rubbing, I ignore it and then realize 50 miles later that it was my brake rubbing the whole time! After riding with her, my mantra has changed, I have more fun, and I’m way more comfortable on my ride. I’ve come to realize that a lot of women, especially women of Climate Ride, really have this cycling thing figured out. I wanted to improve my own riding style and offer their expertise to other Climate Riders by reaching out to a few of these women and seeing what they had to say. A lot of Climate Riders, both male and female, are training for the longest ride of their lives or they are simply getting back in shape. I thought I’d find out what drives these women to tackle long mileages. I asked Deb Janes, the Development Director of Bike East Bay, what motivated her to ride further and faster. Here’s what she said: “It’s pretty simple: now that I’m solidly middle aged (I recently turned 50), I push myself to ride fast to fight off old age. It’s not rational, I know, but nearly everyone I ride with (middle-aged men) seems to be chasing the same demons.” I think this is true for a lot of cyclists, even me. In January, I challenged old age to a race and won by riding 26 miles on my 26th birthday! Jenny Shu, a repeat Climate Rider and Fundraising Hall of Famer, had this to say when asked about riding further and faster: “I love being outdoors, getting fresh air and knowing I’ll knock out at least a few hours of exercise.(When) I’m riding with other people that are stronger than me I push myself to ride faster.” While we were discussing mileage and training, we inevitably started talking about hills. In addition to adding miles to your training rides, it is important to add in some hills. Alison Riley, Adventure Cycling Association’s Digital Media Coordinator, who completed her first century on the very hilly 2013 California Climate Ride, explains how she pedals hills: “The most challenging aspect of cycling for me is climbing hills. To deal with hills, I usually try not to look above where I am. I stare at the road directly in front me, I sing ‘just keep swimming’ or something, and I just try to pretend I’m pedaling on a flat road. This past summer, right before a big hilly bike tour, I made the change from cyclocross gearing on my Cross Check to mountain bike gearing, with a mountain bike derailer. That helped a lot with climbing, as I was able to tackle steep short bursts instead of stalling out on them. I’d say the best way I deal with overcoming the hills though, if it’s hot, and there’s traffic, and I’m having trouble breathing, is just getting off my bike. I walk a lot of hills, and sometimes use the time to work calf stretches into my walk, eat a granola bar, and check out the world around me. I make it relaxing, not defeating. Deb also had a few great tips on hills: “I have perfected riding rolling hills with little effort. I race down the hill – coasting is a big ‘no no’ – and strategically shift up as I progress up the hill. I frequently pass much faster riders on the downhill of a roller, and in fact my friends often yell as I go by ‘I’ve been Debbed!’” Try to “Deb” your friends on your next group ride or, go for a solo training ride. Jenny Shu enjoys solo rides just as much as group rides. She offered this tip: “To all you female cyclists: Don’t be afraid to ride alone! I love the feeling of independence and freedom when I’m riding by myself… it’s so empowering! And don’t be shy about organizing rides!” Jenny is an accomplished cyclist who fuels her rides with Nuun tablets, Cliff Blocks and Larabars. Sometimes she likes to push the limits. Of her most memorable ride, Jenny writes: “(The) Levi’s Gran Fondo in Sonoma County in California in 2011 (had) 100 miles with about 9000 ft of climbing. That was my first century and it was raining for 75 of the 100 miles. The scenery was supposed to be amazing but most of the day was covered in mist, fog and cloud. It was memorable to say the least and physically and mentally pushed my limits but was thoroughly satisfying to finish.” Deb Janes also encourages other female cyclists to push their limits. She explains, “I guarantee you you’ll get stronger, and a lovely byproduct of that strength is new confidence, which carries over into other parts of your life.” I can definitely agree with Deb on this one. When faced with a challenge that seems too tough, I find myself saying, “I rode my bicycle from Oregon all the way to Florida – I can do anything!” Deb also has tips for guys and hammering out training rides: “On rides, you might want to talk more about how you feel about things in your life, listen more, and talk less about gear ratios. Just a thought.”   She’s right – not every ride has to be a personal record. I think there is a reason so many cyclists get caught up in gear ratios, carbon fiber forks and such. Bikes are really cool and cycling is a ton of fun! It‘s as much fun to talk about as it is to do. It can be easy to get caught up in the technicalities, and adding variety to your training rides can help keep it casual. Some of my best rides happen on the way to the store when I decide the weather is nice and I’d like to ride out to that single lane bridge that crosses the Bitterroot River. Next thing I know, I’m 25 miles into a ride wearing corduroy pants and a cotton hoody without a pump or a patch kit.   This always reminds me, more than anything, that riding is for everyone, and is for anytime. It is supposed to be fun, so enjoy your ride no matter the distance or destination. I think Alison would agree with me. She says, “If you like your regular sunglasses and scarf that you would wear to grab coffee in your neighborhood, you can wear them on your 60-mile bike ride too. You are still yourself. You don’t need all the spandex, and the goo, and the gear. Just be your regular fancy self and wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and at-home on your bicycle. Do you have to get up super early for your century ride? Bring the coffee too, if you want.” A huge thanks to Deb, Alison and Jenny for offering their advice and expertise. These are all great things to keep in mind while training for, and riding in, Climate Ride! Next week we will look at how to train on a vacation. Patrick Colleran is Climate Ride’s Logistics and Rider Coordinator. In addition to Climate Ride, he is currently and perpetually training for his next big bike tour, mountain bike season, a double century and his local cyclocross series.