How a Cold & Cyclocross Led to a Community
Words by Caitlin Dumas
Out of some sense of autopilot, I kept my legs moving.
“Don’t stop, Cait. Just. Don’t. Stop.”
I repeated this in my head, but not out loud because 1) I was sucking wind like none other and 2) My voice had finally quit out on me thanks to what I deemed the Cold From Hell.
This was my first cyclocross race and my first race, period. Twenty minutes before, my brand new Focus Mares had come rolling across the course ridden by the bike shop owner of Greenstreet Cycles himself. I had never ridden a cyclocross course before, I had never ridden anything but my road bike, and I had never raced before. Despite all that,here I was, getting handed this new bike right as I took on a bunch of firsts.
A week before this, I had watched my first ever cyclocross race. Family and friends had been encouraging, teasing, and trying to convince me to race for a little over a year, but I had always let the comparison process plant the seeds of self doubt. I would compare myself to my friends who kill me every week on a group ride, and still do to this day. I would compare myself to my husband, who I endearingly call “part-robot” because the man is a machine and knows how to suffer. I would compare myself to my idea of where I thought I should be at that point in my fitness journey. This all summed up to me never working up the courage to race.
But, there was something about cross which spoke to me deep down in my love-of-mud-adrenaline-and-adventure-soul. It spoke to me to the point where, as we were leaving the race, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m racing next week. I need a cross bike.”
Now, back to “sucking wind”. I had made up my mind, dug in deep and I was going to race cross and nothing was going to stop me. It was like this switch was flipped in my cycling career because I had finally beat my self doubt. I wasn’t going to stop for anything. I wasn’t going to stop even though I had only ridden this new bike around the kiddy course right beforehand. I wasn’t going to stop even though I was running a 101-degree fever, I had no voice or the fact every spectator could hear me gasping for air as I raced. (In hindsight, let me tell you, not one of my greatest decisions.)
And so I raced. Well, I rode. And, bonus points, I even stayed upright. I also got second....out of two. There were only two women in my combined category field which started just minutes after I had watched a field of 20-30 men compete.
A problem I knew existed, but didn’t think much of, was now blatantly clear at the state of our local cyclocross scene. I felt this combination of elation and devastation - I had finally hit my stride, found my place in cycling and was head-over-heels in love, but there were so few women to encourage and enjoy it with.
During my cross hangover and after the fog of my cold lifted, I realized I needed to tap into my community to try to get more women on the bike. I wanted to share my journey of finding strength and freedom in my life I didn’t know existed until cycling. I wanted other women to find themselves through the sport of cycling as I had.
The activist side of me was ready to hit the streets (aka social media), reach out to anyone and everyone who would listen, but unfortunately my less than endearing altar ego - the comparing introvert - was also there with the buckets of self-doubt I thought I had finally beaten out after racing.
You know those inner-battles? Where you literally feel like you have an angel/devil on each shoulder? Yeah, this was one of those battles. In one of the moments where the inner-activist was winning and I was sitting by a computer, I emailed Pretty. Damned. Fast. offering up my writing and marketing skills attempting to hopefully be able to contribute to something that could encourage other women. Especially women who don’t have a community to be involved with.
My story starts long before that race, but that race was the moment where cycling clicked for me. Where it became my thing, and not something I just did because everyone around me was riding. It was the moment I realized I wanted to do more than just spin my legs.
That story brings me to today and how my first cyclocross race, with the Cold From Hell, has led to advocating for women’s cycling. After several of months of being inspired by women through Pretty. Damned. Fast and organizing a couple of rides through CycleNebraska, I have some key takeaways I want to share with anyone who is toying with becoming an advocate in their own community.
Remember why you love cycling.
Okay, okay, okay this may sound sappy, but seriously, my number one tip is to remember why you love cycling. Trying to get people on the bike means you’re putting yourself out there and when you put yourself out there it’s really easy to start the comparison game. Comparison and self-doubt about how strong or fast I was got in the way of some really great opportunities for so long, and sometimes, it still does.
More often than not, I’m the only, or one of the few, females on a ride. I’m generally the slowest and generally, without a doubt, the smallest (being 5’2” makes that somewhat inevitable). When I start comparing myself to everyone else around me, I forget why I love cycling. I love cycling because of the strength and freedom it has given me, not because of how fast I am. I love cycling because it is one of the most empowering journeys I have ever been on, and it doesn’t matter if I’m the last one up the climb. So, when you go to get other women on a bike, remember your own love story with cycling and let it empower you and shine through.
Just go for it.
You don’t have to have an epic resume to be empowering. - Ladies and gents, I am not a pro. I am not the most skilled, the fastest or even have that much experience in the cycling world. My resume definitely doesn’t tout much. But, don’t let the mind frame of “there’s someone better or more qualified for this than me” stop you. No, if you want to do it, if you have the passion for it and you’re excited, you are perfectly suited.
Encourage and educate.
It may not have been the same for you, but when I went to go get involved in the cycling community there seemed to be a massive amount of hurdles in the way: I didn’t know what kind of bike I needed, what all the different kinds of apparel and gear were for, why I needed padded gloves, what chamois cream was, how to inflate tires to the correct PSI depending on the ride, and the list goes on.
Cycling can have a large entrance requirement, which can be intimidating and keep people away. I always encourage people to remember what it was like when you first started riding. Don’t assume everyone “just knows” because it’s common knowledge in the cycling world. Pay attention to the little things, because they start to add up and can make people uncomfortable and possibly overwhelmed.
Start small, if you need.
Tiny but mighty. If you only get three, one, or twenty women it doesn’t matter - you’re still getting more women on a bike. So, if you need to start small, don’t feel like you’re not making a difference, because you are. You start to set yourself up as “they lady who rides her bike” (I get that a lot) and then people start coming to you, recommending people to you and it creates a domino effect. Within the last few weeks, I’ve had a several people reach out to me because they knew I was female cyclist and they wanted to talk to another woman about cycling.
Tip: Reach out to a local bike shop and ask how you can be involved. If you don’t have a local bike shop you can reach out to another community’s bike shop or find the local pedestrian/bike advocacy and healthy living task force, committee or organization (ex: In Hastings we don’t have a bike shop, but we have Healthy Hastings, which helped implement Complete Streets in our town) and reach out to them because they may have a foundation for you to start organizing women’s rides or maintenance classes.
In the end, cycling to me isn’t the bikes, gear, speed, or how much power I can put out. Cycling has set me on a journey and it has transformed who I am. If you’re wanting to get on your bike more, get more women on a bike, or whatever it may be - just do it. I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit and use that Cold From Hell Cyclocross Race spark to start something great.
I am co-hosting a Ladie's Bike Night at Greenstreet Cycles in Omaha, NE on July 7th. If you're in the area, I would love to meet you! Please, come on out!