Portrait of the Artist as a Young Tomboy

So I’ve started riding a bicycle again. It’s the first time I’ve done so in about 25 years. I bought the one I’ve got for $20 from a departing faculty member, which gave me the perfect non-committal way of seeing if I would ride.

& Oh, do I. I started some last fall, & when the weather got nice this year, I started doing 6 miles, then 7, then 10; then I leaped to 15, and so on, until now I bike about 20 miles a day, every day.

It brings me a lot of peace. I usually go out on a bike path around dusk, so I can get the last of the sun on my way out, & see the sunset on my way back.

Today, my chain came undone, which has happened maybe twice before – the very first time I rode the damn thing, but a friend fixed it. Now, due to her lovely example, I know what to do, and what you do is turn your hands into a goddamn mess. Still, I got the chain back on, wiped them on my black pants (which I only wear to ride), and went on my way.

Later in the trip I stopped to take a drink and needed some lip stuff, so I dug around in my bag and found a Burt’s Bees lip gloss. What a sight, right? Hands blackened with that greasy soot oh so carefully applying lip gloss. I had a moment where I thought: I have now re-achieved tomboy in a way I never imagined, but it’s true: I love going over curbs and through gravel and the kind of competitive cycling that most appeals to me is cyclocrossing, which worries me, but there it is.

Still, I need stuff & how much stuff I need is starting to make Rachel nervous: gloves, a warm thing for my head & under my helmet (a balaclava, they tell me it’s called, although with plenty of cycling nomenclature, that seems overstated), moisture-wicking shirts, a windbreaker, and, of course, stuff to clean your greasy hands with that doesn’t require water.

And a new bike with way more gears. Originally I thought I’d quit as it got colder, but on these first chillier days – it’s already dropping to the 40s here in the evenings – I’m pretty damn sure I won’t be quitting at all, just buying new & different stuff to ride in the cold/sleet/hail/snow.

So yes, maybe Rache should be nervous. Either way, fellow cyclists, tell me what I need, give me your best advice, or just say hi.

14 Replies to “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Tomboy”

  1. I once took a running class with the NY Road Runners Club, and their running coach said that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing! So yes, get the gear you need. Personally, I love to be out there running in the winter, but I hate sleet and rain – to each their own.

    You are so lucky to be able to ride at dusk. I love the changing light, and enjoy the times of year when my morning exercise (which is at the same time year round) happens to coincide with dawn. It is a very fortunate thing to be exposed to so much beauty.

    Cycolcrossing sounds awesome. And also, it sounds safer to me than the packs of very fast riders drafting (is that properly used as a verb?). Enjoy it. Be happy.

    Love, Jen

  2. Considering putting a pair of lightweight or work gloves or several pairs of latex gloves in a ziplock bag to work on the chain, fix tires, etc. This way the hands are always clean and the gloves won’t make anything else greasy or dirty. And yes waterless hand cleaner is handy too.

  3. This sounds awesome, and I’m very jealous! Lynn and I have been talking about getting bikes. We have an extensive network of rail-trails around here and lots of stuff along those trails we’d like to see. Maybe we need to see about going the used route … hmm ….

    P.S.: What the heck is Rachel nervous about? Do you complain when she’s buying camera/computer toys?

  4. Oh, I’m not nervous. Not at all. I tease a little bit, but seriously, I think what she’s doing is awesome. And she’s WAY happier since she’s been doing it too.

    And yes, Trish, she complains when I buy camera/computer toys. πŸ™‚

  5. A better quality bike with well adjusted derailleurs won’t drop the chain as frequently. Also a properly cleaned and oiled chain isn’t terribly dirty, so I wouldn’t bother taking stuff to clean your hands.

    Round here, we just bung a headlight and taillight on for winter, and keep on trucking. You lot live in the arctic though, so I suspect it’s a bit more involved. I recall reading somewhere that you can get snow tyres for bikes…


    Seems a bit nuts to me, to be honest. Last time I was there in winter I just watched the snow falling from the comfort of the exercise bike in the hotel gym – Megan was the idiot out running in that mess.

  6. Hi!
    I met you early in my transition once in Albany and again in Burlington many years ago. I have followed since that time, how your life has evolved with Rachel and how you have progressed with your education and your writings. I hope Rachel has found fullfilment and contentment also and am happy to see that you have both been able to keep it all together.

    Anyway, you hit a nerve with me with cycling! Some 28 years ago, I was Gene and overweight. Edith and I bought twin moutain bikes. I lost 50 #’s, got cmpetitive, bought a pro-racing bike, raced and got into good shape. I still have my road-bike and know what it will permit me to do, but I still ride my moutain bike and have all summer as it is low maintenance. This weekend I will have 1000 miles on it for the summer season, all done in 10 mile, time trial increments. No, it is not as fast as my road bike and I am not areodynamically positioned and the gearing is not even close, but it is 400 calories burned each time out, I can ride over broken glass with low pressure tires and enjoy a half an hour of meditation. Where I ride, it is rolling hills and no extremes of elevation, so once I get into shape, the only gear I use is high. If I was going over Whiteface Mtn., racing or doing a century-ride, yes, I would want a bike, maybe a cyclocross, that would allow for efficient cadence. For clothing, buy a helmet at a bike shop. For gloves, shorts, spandex, windbraker, pants and etc. shop around. I just got a catalog today from Performance Bicycle with up to 60% off. That is performancebike.com. In shorts, the more panels, the more comfortable. Take your time, don’t buy everything at once. This winter, consider X-country skiing for a new dynamic, experience and skill.

    Hope this helps,


  7. you all rock. thank you, for the enthusiasm & the expertise.

    honestly, i went out today for 20 mins because now i feel weird when/if i *don’t* get out for a bit.

  8. “honestly, i went out today for 20 mins because now i feel weird when/if i *don’t* get out for a bit.”

    Yay! I knew we would get you! πŸ™‚ A couple of latex gloves in your kit are perfect for the occasional chain malfunction.

    Fit is EVERYTHING (!) in cycling. The bike adjusted to fit you and and your shorts and seat to fit your bottom! The more comfortable you are, the more you will want to ride, etc. There are some great women-specific seats, shorts, etc. There are also some products, “Chamois Butter,” “Bag Balm,” etc. to help keep you comfortable if needed.

    It is definitely a gear intensive sport but highly worth it, IMHO! Start simple, find what you like, and upgrade when you feel the need. I just bought my wife her second bike for our anniversary. Definitely a big jump from what she started on.

    Oh, let me add that it is a great activity for couples (hint) although we like to ride solo too. Does Rachel ride?


  9. It was likely before you moved to Appleton, but I remember the days when Mari Taniguchi would ride her big trike EVERYWHERE around campus and downtown. She rode all year round. In some ways, I think she ended up being known more for her trike riding and knitting than her excellent vocal instruction at LU.

    (Definitely go for the good gear, too. Stay warm and comfortable. Lots of amazing things you can spend thousands of $ on.)

  10. And yes, Trish, she complains when I buy camera/computer toys.

    Which means you are now clear to buy more toys. πŸ™‚

    My girlfriend and I have been known to call the B&H Photo catalog our Christmas list: “I would like one of each, please.”

  11. As a former competitive (downhill, cross country and road racing – I did it all but cX) cyclist and current reccie, I’ve got a huge grin reading these comments. Cyclocross has got the Punk Ethos that Mountain and Road Biking don’t, I can soooo see you rocking a Surly Cross Check year round….

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