Be your own queen of the mountain

Yesterday something truly magical happened. Out of 99 women on the medio Gran Fondo NJ route, I placed second on the timed climbs and got the QOM on a tough climb with double digit grades. Me? A climber? Wait, did someone swap timing chips? Remember, I’m the girl who spent years dropped off the back, scaling the elevation solo.

But the magic wasn’t a fluke or a random lucky day. It’s been in the works for two seasons now, slowly percolating since the day I stopped dreading ascents and decided it was time to shape myself into a climber. A few changes made a huge impact. Continue reading

The Strava Effect

“That’s him. I think it’s him!” my husband blurts out as a dude slumped over the aero bars of a brand new Specialized flashes a grin on a straight stretch of early morning road.

Nothing more has to be said. I’ve never met the guy, never ridden with him. But I know who he is. We both do. He is just a name and a tiny photo on a leader board, but he has also just bumped my husband to second place, stripping him of a precious KOM crown.

I remember a simpler time when hills were just hills and the only competition stemmed from the group of riders who hit the climbs with me. The first one to the top was the fastest, the KOM, the time to beat. Period. I often ascended long climbs alone, not knowing if I was fast or slow. I always felt slow and deemed a climb successful based purely on the fact that I had pedaled to the top without blowing up and stopping to rest.

I’m more of a recreational rider than a racer, but when I started uploading my Garmin to Strava, something ignited inside of me. That tiny voice that guiltily kept score of the times I beat my friends on a climb or launched a successful attack, now had a megaphone. Some people complain that Strava is too competitive and takes away from the true essence of what it means to ride a bike. For me, it’s just the opposite. Continue reading

Cycling revelations

Cycling is a constant learning experience. Fortunately, my lessons now aren’t as tough as in the beginning (like crashing to the pavement while learning to ride clipless). Here are a few observations from this season.

I heart bibs. Sure they look kind of silly, like a spandex Santa Clause, but at mile 50, I’m grateful that a waistband isn’t digging into my abdomen. Bibs hold the chamois firmly in place and make it easy to breathe deeply. At first I was concerned about having to undress for every pit stop, but I’ve quickly learned that when Port-a-Pottys are involved, the best thing to do is to wear a wicking base layer so I can remove my jersey and drape it over the handlebars. Using a full zip jersey expedites things as well.

Fill up my flask. After years of sticky fingers from collecting empty energy gel wrappers, I’ve finally discovered a $2 solution (how often can you say THAT in cycling!?). A Hammer flask holds five servings of the sticky stuff. One of the best parts is that you can buy Hammer Gel in bulk and mix your own flavors. My favorite flavor of the moment is espresso. Continue reading

Information Overload

The minute my front wheel rolled onto the steep climb, my mind began spewing out a slew of tips and tricks like a broken slot machine. First, assess the hill and divide it into segments. Start off slightly slower, allowing other riders to attack the hill and hopefully blow up before the top. Visualize a rope pulling you upward. Stay seated and spin if you can to conserve energy. Stand occasionally to engage other muscles. Try counting pedal strokes as you climb to reduce the pain. Open your suitcase of courage. Dance on the pedals!   Continue reading

How to (not) ride like a girl

What does it mean to “ride like a girl?” Does this suggest women should embrace girly stereotypes like pink bike baskets, wearing skorts, or riding cruiser/comfort bikes? Or is it just an easy excuse to lag behind our male counterparts on hills? Whether these stereotypes are facilitated by the bike industry or by the women (and their male companions) who ride, some female specific cycling myths need to be busted. Let’s leave the pink cruiser discussion for another day and address a few common assumptions that derail even the most serious riders.

Myth #1 I can’t climb without a granny gear

My first road bike was a triple with a granny gear. When I upgraded to a compact double crankset, I quickly realized that riding uphill with granny is like riding the trainer: It’s all about going nowhere fast. I’m not advocating for standard gearing for everyone, as those with knee problems might do best with a low impact granny. But I’m betting that most women could easily handle a compact double. Here’s why. Continue reading