by Jenna Nichols
I had the opportunity to take a long weekend in Austin, so I checked Bikereg to see if any races were happening, then asked friends for recommendations for local bike shops. Unanimously, I was directed to Mellow Johnny’s, so I looked up bike rentals, registered for the PURE Austin Driveways race, and packed my bags.
Upon arriving in Austin, it was hot (like really hot), but more importantly, I was greeted with so much hospitality and charm. Once I dropped my bags at the hotel, I headed down the street to Mellow Johnny’s to pick up my bike rental. The rental coordinator went above and beyond to find Look pedals to accommodate my shoes, and loaded me up with cue sheets so I could train and explore. While he was prepping the bike for me, I happily sipped a coffee from Juan Pelota’s, and browsed all the great stock in the bike shop.
After getting the bike, I had to go back to my hotel to kit up, and prepare for my solo road ride in a city and state that I had never been to before. The concierge and bell-hop were incredibly helpful; the concierge is an avid cyclist and taped my cue sheet to my bars for me while the bellhop filled my bottles with lots of ice and water.
Next I went to Jo’s for a sandwich before embarking on the 30 mile, 3000 ft of elevation, Gentleman’s Ride route. A local bike messenger (Sean!) watched my bike while I was ordering, added me on facebook in case I had any trouble while I was in town (specifically if my bike was stolen) and chatted with me until my food came. Once I finished eating, I hit the road.
This ride was a really big deal for me. For whatever reason, I am TERRIFIED of getting lost and never ride by myself. For the month prior to my trip, I had been challenging myself to go out and get lost around my house in the suburbs for 20-30 mile loops, but this was only my second time using a cue sheet and <10th time on a solo road ride (in ten years of riding).
I tried not to think about getting a flat or getting lost. Luckily, the hills were so brutal that all I could think about was if I would make it to the top without falling over. I had no idea Texas was so hilly, but the views were gorgeous and sprawling, and they made every climb well worth the effort.
I managed to ride 26 miles (out of 31) before getting “turned around”, but I remained calm, consulted google maps, and was back on track in no time. Being from Philly, I was really surprised at how courteous all of the drivers were, even when I was dying going like 5 miles an hour up a hill. No one honked, yelled or got aggressive- I even rode on a highway (?) that had a bike lane!
The next evening was race day! It was my first time racing somewhere other than the East Coast, and I was beyond excited. The race series was pretty hyped up online, and the women’s ¾ field was big and stacked. I had a cue sheet to get to the race, but I definitely got lost. Luckily, many of the racers ride to the race from the city, and I passed one of them (Thank you, Sonya!) and asked if I could tag along. After riding a few blocks, we ran into a group who were also riding to the race, and arrived together a few minutes later.
The race was held on a car racing track, and was fast and furious. There were many different technical elements to the course in addition to a few teams working together to really challenge the field, but the sportsmanship of all of the riders was above and beyond. From the very beginning of call ups, I was surprised by how many of the racers welcomed me to the race and introduced themselves. (Being from Philly, I am always slightly concerned when people are nice, but I quickly acclimated.) There were prime laps, food trucks, beer and a ton of spectators- the event was phenomenal despite being some of the most intense racing I had ever experienced. The announcers kept reminding people to use the bug spray available at the announcers tent and each rider got a free beer after racing.
After racing, I attempted to ride home again via a trail. Apparently I took the wrong trail (or a few wrong trails) and ended up back where I started. At this point it was raining, but I luckily, yet again, ran into Sonya and she rode me back to my hotel!
Things I learned from this bike riding adventure:
Don’t leave for a ride at noon during the summer if you are in Texas. There will not be enough water and you may actually melt.
Riding alone on the road does not have to be scary. Getting lost on your bike does not have to be scary.
Cue sheets are actually easy to read and not as intimidating as I thought.
Austin is NOT flat.
The culture of women’s cycling is as good as we make it. Keep on rooting for each other, supporting each other and loving each other.
This was a really important bike adventure for me.
I learned how to ride a bike through the city from punks and messengers in Pittsburgh in the early 2000s. There were women riding, female-only alley cat races (Thanks, Jessie Bird!) and rides, but a few years later when I decided to tackle cycling as a sport, I had difficulty finding female mentorship. While I am certainly thankful for all the rad dudes who took the time to teach me how to race, it is really important to me now that I am a more seasoned rider and racer to be able to give back to other women and girls in my cycling community. After all, we don’t ride bikes to become “podium girls”.
So in case you share a similar fear, please know that it is possible to gain the confidence to overcome the fear. And if you thought your bike was liberating before, a new found sense of direction will only make it better!
Take advantage of local fix-a-flat clinics and don’t be afraid to ask your bike shop mechanics basic at home maintenance questions. IF they are jerks about it, find a new shop!
If you drive, pre-plan routes in your car and then ride them on your bike
Start small, with a 5 or ten mile loop. Take notice of road names and where they stop and start. The more familiar you become with your “main loop”, the more confident you will feel turning down a road you have never been down before.
Bring either a fully charged phone with a map application or a paper map in case you do get off track from your cue sheet. Then remain calm, and either backtrack or consult your maps to learn your way around the area and expand your riding geography.
Have fun and always remember the wise words of Susan B Anthony:
"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."