I didn't grow up as a cyclist - heck, I barely rode my huffy bike with purple tassels when I was a child.
I was born to be a swimmer and have always felt comfortable in the water.
Karel, on the other hand, was born to be on two wheels. He has been riding a bike since he learned to walk. Road, fixie, TT, triathlon, mountain - you name it and Karel will ride it!
Whenever Karel has an off day and he feels tired, I just tell him "go ride your bike" and instantly he feels better.
When I met Karel ten years ago, I was training for my first Ironman. My cycling skills were horrible. I was afraid to clip in and out, afraid to get out of the saddle, afraid to be on my aerobars on busy roads (or around other people), afraid to take turns, climb, descend...yes, pretty much afraid to be on my bike despite me training for a 112 mile bike event.
Thankfully, Karel looked out for me and wanted the best for me. He knew that for a happy marriage and for my safety, I needed to learn how to confidently ride a bike AND have the skills to ride my bike out on the road, in all terrain and weather conditions.
Fast forward to 2016 and 10 Ironmans, dozens of triathlons, bike events and a few bike-specific train-cations in the mountains and I can confidently say that my bike skills have improved A LOT.
He also showed me that my body was built for hard bike courses with a lot of climbing.
10,300 feet at Brainard Lake in Boulder, CO
I owe it all to Karel for constantly taking me out of my comfort zone.
But, as much as I knew I needed to work on my skills, this brought on many tears running down my face while riding my bike with Karel ((and a handful of arguments) where I was just too scared to try something on my bike.
But Karel was not comfortable with me riding my bike in a race, let alone on roads with cars, without proper cycling skills.
Riding a triathlon or road bike was always very mechanical for me in that I wasn't always quick to react to what to do in certain situations and it would often take me a second to act after thinking. Thanks to living in Greenville where the terrain forces you to react quickly as it is equally challenging as it is beautiful, I now find myself able to ride (so happy) without having to think as much as to what I need to do when I see a stop sign, descend down a steep hill, climb or make a turn.
And if I wasn't on my bike, I would have never met Mr. Llama who LOVES cyclists.
I know I still have a ways to go until I can ride as confidently as Karel can (riding a bike is like walking for him - he doesn't have to think about it, he just does it) but at least I have made a lot of progress and I feel far more safer when I ride my bike out on the road thanks to a huge improvement in my cycling skills.
As a triathlete and someone who really loves to ride her bike in the mountains, in nature, I know there is a great risk when it comes to sharing the road with cars.
But that's just it - we are cars and bikes, who both share the road.
I've said it over and over again but I feel so lucky that we found and now live in Greenville, SC. We have endless cycling routes in and around the mountains (where we ride 99.9% of the time - straight from our doorstep) and the cars actually share the road with us cyclists. It's not a bad problem to have but I can't tell you how many times we have to signal and wave to a car to pass us because they will slowly stay behind us, patiently letting us ride. If that is any indication of where we ride most of the time, I can confidently say that where we ride, the people don't need to get anywhere fast as we are in the country and life moves a little slower near the mountains.
Sure, we get the occasional honk or rude driver but it's not a common occurrence. To make it more evident as to the safety of our rides, I rarely ride anywhere that has a bike lane OR shoulder. I actually feel more safe riding here in Greenville without a designated bike lane than when I rode on the shoulder in FL.
It's far more common that a car will pass far to the left (often in the other lane if there is a yellow line) than to try to squeeze by us without moving.
Cars don't look act at us as if we don't belong.
We have over 25 miles of the swamp rabbit trail for men, women, boys and girls to ride leisurely, to stay in shape or to work on cycling skills which also provides many Greenvillians the opportunity to learn to ride and to actually ride a bike.
I can't tell you how many bike shops we have in and around Greenville and every week, our downtown becomes more bike friendly.
Greenville wants people on bikes and thanks to the city, the Greenville Spinners and many others who are actively involved in the bike community, people are proactive in making us feel safer on the roads.
While accidents do happen and some roads are just not safe for cyclists (thus the #1 reason why we wanted to move out of Jacksonville, FL), your enjoyment for cycling and your safety on the road can be improved with a few of these tips.
1. Master your cycling skills - While you can improve your fitness on the trainer, a stationary bike trainer does not allow you to identify and master your cycling skills like you can when you are riding in the elements and on all types of terrain. Forget the race wheels, the power meter, and the aero helmet which you feel you "need" to ride faster. Learn how to change your gears properly, sit on the bike properly, stand up and adjust your position, grab your bottles (and rotate your bottles), break quickly, maneuver your bike in tight spaces, react smartly, descend, corner, stop/start on any terrain and ride confidently on your bike. If you ride the trainer a lot or you find yourself uncomfortable outside on two wheels, take the time and practice riding your skills as often as you can by riding outside on safe roads.
2. Fuel and hydrate appropriately - When you are bonking, you can't think or react clearly. You lose all good judgement. Whereas you may not be in danger if you bonk in the pool or when running, it's dangerous to your life if you intentionally or unintentionally underfuel/underhydrate when on two wheels. Always bring more nutrition/fluids than you need and plan your refueling stops before you need to stop.
3. Be comfortable on your bike - This goes beyond the obvious of getting a professional bike fit from a very experienced fitter (especially when fitting you with the "right" saddle type and position). Your helmet, sunglasses, shoes and clothing should be very comfortable. If you don't feel comfortable in your gear, you are not going to be comfortable riding your bike for many miles. Do not try anything new on race day - practice in similar gear in training as in race day and don't assume that deep race wheels will make you faster if you struggle to keep them in a straight line in training.
4. Invest in electronic shifting - I can't say enough good things about electronic shifting. From an economy and safety standpoint, I feel this should be mandatory on all triathlon bikes (aero bars and the base bars) as it allows for more efficient (and often) shifting of the gears no matter the terrain (sitting or standing). This has been the best investment on my bike and I can't imagine riding without electronic shifting.
5. Obey the rules of the road - While we all want drivers to obey the rules of the road, cyclists should do the same.
6. Be remembered - Whenever I ride and I am passed by a car, if I have the opportunity (ex. safe terrain), I give a little wave and a smile. I want every car to remember me as the "nice" cyclist - not the one who stuck out my middle finger, yelled at the car or disobeyed the rules of the road. I want to create a good impression for all cyclists and I am sure I am not alone in this as other cyclists/triathletes in the community do the same.
7. Don't be a hypocrite - It's easy for a cyclist to complain about distracted drivers who are eating in the car, taking a phone while in the car or texting while in the car. But sadly, athletes are guilty of the same things. It's just as easy for a cyclist who drives a car to get just as distracted as a driver who doesn't cycle. How many times have you been driving home famished and exhausted after training and find yourself easily distracted (and a little angry) from being low in energy or taking a phone call or making a "quick" text?
Whenever you are behind two wheels (not on two wheels), be smart when you are driving as it's not just cyclists who are at risk on the road but everyone else who is around you, walking, driving and animals too.
8. Be alert - In the two years since we moved to Greenville, I have never ridden my bike with headphones in my ears. It's important to be alert to your surroundings and plus, riding a bike allows you to be close to nature so open your eyes and ears and enjoy it! You should also be aware of your surroundings, always looking what's slightly in front of you, paying attention to cars, dogs, squirrels, branches, potholes and any other distractions. Plan your routes accordingly to minimize riding in unsafe areas.
9. Keep your bike tuned-up - I can't tell you how many bikes have been in the hands of Karel and he has found something on or inside the bike that could potentially risk a bike accident. A proper tune-up doesn't mean simply cleaning the chain and wiping off the grease, dirt and sweat but making sure the bike is fully rideable at all times (bolts, bearings, wheels, brakes, tires, cleats, pedals, cables, etc.). Your bike should always be in proper riding condition and if not, don't ride outside!
10. Have fun! - It would be a shame if the only time you are allowed to ride a bike outside is when you are a kid and only in the neighborhood with your parents watching. While bike trainers are an effective tool for specific bike training and for riding your bike at any time of the day, no matter the outside weather conditions, riding a bike outside is fun. Keep riding a bike fun. It's easy on the body as it is non-weight bearing and it allows you to see more than you can see in a car or by foot. Riding a bike makes you feel free and it's an activity that I encourage everyone to participate in, no matter your age or fitness level.
11. Be the change you want to see - If you aren't happy with your current cycling community, safety or riding conditions, get involved with your community. While change takes time, there's no point complaining about something that you can possibly do something about. While laws and roads won't change overnight, you deserve to ride your bicycle outside.
In light of the recent cycling tragedy, my very good friend (and athlete) Meredith (a wife, triathlete, cyclists, full-time employee and mom of two young kids), who is extremely actively involved in our cycling community, shared this powerful message on social media and with her permission I would like to share:
Riding with Meredith this morning and enjoying our peaceful roads with endless mountain views. Thank you to the cars who were so patient and nice to us as we celebrated our good health on two wheels.
Happy times on two wheels!