Susan was featured in the "Skirt-o-the-Dirt" column at TredHed.
Q. What inspired you to get into cycling?
A. In my early 20's, I found myself a newly-minted college graduate still carrying around the Freshman Fifteen (ok, maybe more like 25 or 30...). I decided to embark on a program of diet and exercise to do something about it. What I discovered was that I was really lousy at the diet part. But I LOVED the exercise part! I started out by joining a women's gym, and soon fell in love with step aerobics. looking for something to do together on weekends, my beau & I decided to buy bicycles.
Q. How long have you been riding?
A. My first bike, purchased in 1993, was an $88 Roadmaster 10 speed from Toys 'R' Us. It weighed a ton, and never shifted properly, but we spent many a happy weekend riding 20-25 miles on the low-traffic roads near our home. In 1994, I "upgraded" to a 70's era Schwinn Varsity 10-speed purchased at a garage sale for $5.00. Suddenly I was a speed demon! Skinny road tires, more aerodynamic riding position, drop handlebars, lighter weight... I felt like I was flying!
In 1995, certain that cycling was going to be a way of life for me, I decided to spend the money to purchase a NEW bicycle. I wanted a bike that would be functional for a variety of activities. A bike designed for recreational touring, both single day and multi-day self-supported, was my highest priority. I also wanted a bike that would be comfortable for commuting. Ultimately, I purchased a Cannondale touring bike, which served me well for several years.
Q. What is your current bike?
A. Sadly, my beloved Cannondale was stolen. I replaced it with a Miyata road bike that I had the bike shop build up to my specifications. The bike fits me perfectly! This year, I purchased a Santa Cruz Juliana Cushtail mountain bike to replace my VERY ancient Specialized hard-tail. The Juliana is sweet! I spent a week in Moab this fall testing her out, and I think I can honestly say that she deserves to be owned by a better rider than me! :-)
Q. Do you compete at all? If so, tell us about your race experience?
A. In mid-1995 I accepted a position in Japan. I spent most of my free time on my bike. I joined a Japanese cycling club (mostly male) and became involved in all kinds of cycling events. Road races, time trials, criteriums, a duathlon (run & bike) and even a few Olympic-distance triathlons thrown in for good measure. My local bike shop built me a pair of road wheels to fit my Cannondale and I outfitted the bike with aerobars. Due to the relative lack of female competitors, I placed quite well in the cycling events. :-) As for the triathlons, for me they were about personal accomplishment, not about competing against others. To be able to train my body to participate in such an event was a thrill.
These days, life has slowed down quite a bit. I commute to work, and ride for recreation on weekends. Every year, I take at least one week-long bike trip to get away from the office! I'd like to do another triathlon in Spring 2003, so I'm currently working on my running skills.
Q. What are some of the benefits / perks you get from riding?
A. There are so many benefits to riding!!
Commuting - Commuting gives me an opportunity to be on my bike almost everyday, twice a day. Besides being a good workout, I like the fact that I'm not stuck at traffic lights in my car, fuming impatiently. I like knowing that all of the cumulative commuting miles has saved me countless $$ on gas, and probably added a few years to my life through the increased physical fitness.
Travel - Traveling by bike is an amazing experience, particularly when riding self-supported. There's something about the sight of a cyclist with loaded panniers that encourages people to approach a cyclist. "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "Can I offer you some water or assistance?" On a solo bike trip in New Zealand a few years ago, I accepted a lift from a farmer over a long stretch of rolling hills dotted with sheep ranches. We spent a few hours chatting about New Zealand's culture and history. I was amazed when he offered me a place to stay and Christmas dinner (two days hence) with him, his wife & children! Traveling by bicycle offers and opportunity to mix with your environment and its people in a way that just can not be experienced from inside a car or tourbus.
Physical Fitness - Cycling is a sport that anyone can take up! You don't have to spend a lot of money to give it a try. (My $88 bike, while certainly not a speed machine, provided countless hours of recreational fun for me!) Cycling strengthens many muscle groups, and is not hard on your knees or other joints. Ride routes can be adapted to be as easy or as difficult as you'd like. At Team Estrogen, I talk to many women who are looking for apparel or gear so that they can get back in shape while spending quality time with their children.
Mental Health - Exercise causes all sorts of good brain chemicals to be released. Simply put, it makes you feel great!
Q. Can you explain the difference it makes to be sure your gear, clothes, etc. specifically accommodates your fit / style, especially for women?
A. Regardless of whether you are a man or woman, you will be more likely to enjoy a sport and keep with it if you are comfortable with both your gear and your clothing. A backpacker would not carry a pack that was overly large or did not sit properly on her hips, nor would she wear a pair of boots that was 2 sizes too small or large. These items would cause her much discomfort and she probably would not be too quick to go out for another hike.
Similarly, a woman on a bicycle needs to be comfortable with her gear and clothing as well. An overly large or long bicycle, an ill-fitting saddle, or uncomfortable shorts will not make the cycling experince a pleasant one.
Women's bikes - Women tend to have shorter torsos (relative to their height) than men, a different center of balance and smaller hands. This means many women will find bikes with shorter top tubes, smaller circumference handlebars and short reach brake levers more comfortable. These are features that are often found on bikes labeled "women's specific". Please note I said "tend to". If you are looking for a bike, its important to work with a shop that considers your specific body mechanics and fits you to a bike best suited for you. If that's a women's bike, GREAT! If not, that's OK too.
Saddles - There are many saddles labeled "e;Women's specific" on the market today. What does that mean? Again, women tend to (Note those words again) have more widely spaced sit bones, and therefore usually find a slightly wider saddle to be more comfortable than the hard, skinny saddles that come standard on many bikes. Finding the right saddle often takes a bit of trial and error, but luckily there are many options available.
Clothing - Unisex is a myth. Do not buy into the argument that men's clothing is really unisex! Today, there are SO MANY good clothing choices for women. What makes a piece of clothing women specific? Fit, of course. If you think about body shape, you'll recognize that the typical male cyclist is a "triangle". Wide shoulders tapering to narrow hips. The cut of his jersey reflects that shape. A typicaly female cyclist is shaped more like an hourglass. Shoulders taper to the waist, while hips and buttocks curve outward. The cut of a woman's jersey should reflect this shape. Whether a size 2 or 12, most women fit this description. Similarly, bike shorts, and the shape of the chamois pads in them, should be cut differently to reflect proper fit, as well as comfort for the "sensitive" areas. For the most part, the cycling clothing manufacturers have figured this out, and there is now a breathtaking variety of beautiful, well-designed clothing out there to fit the feminine form.
As a woman who typically wears sizes 12-14, I used to find myself frustrated with the limited selection I found at most bike shops. I KNEW there was more good quality apparel out there, and that's why I founded TeamEstrogen.com. Judging from the response to the website over the past 4 1/2 years, our customers are very pleased with the selection we have available.
Q. Do you participate in other styles of biking besides road cycling?
A. Mostly, I'm a roadie. I love to tour by bicycle - its my favorite way to travel. I enjoy my mountain bike, but I really am not very good at it. (I'm a bit of a klutz). A few years ago, I took some lessons on the track at Alpenrose here in Oregon. That was a kick! I think the Alpenrose track has the steepest banks in the U.S. - Our instructor told us that we had to be moving at something like 15 mph to make sure we didn't fall off. Scary stuff.
Right now, I'm lusting for a tandem. I have some limited experience as both stoker and captain, and really like the teamwork involved in tandeming. The hard decision is whether to get an upright tandem or a recumbent tandem more suited to bike touring. Aaah, decisions, decisions.
"Keep the wind at your back..."