Serious Cycling

Furnace Creek 508
Furnace Creek 508

Once I was riding up Mt. Diablo with Grant Peterson, who designed my bicycle Pegasus, and he asked me how long I've been cycling.

"Nearly 40 years."

"Oh, come on, Jeanie," he said. "We've all been cycling since childhood. I mean how long have you been a serious cyclist?

I didn't know how to answer that question, as I've never been "serious" about cycling. Getting serious about it would spoil all the fun. Plus, it would take away my excuse for not racing, which is that I giggle too much to sustain an attack.

So if not serious, what about "more than casual"? Perhaps riding double centuries is considered dressy casual, though not for someone doing Race Across America, who eats DC’s for breakfast. And Furnace Creek 508, though difficult, is a rolling zoo, with all the riders identified by totem, rather than race number, and outfitted accordingly. Riding 508 miles through the California desert as a "bandicoot" being tended by three charming princes was somewhere between fantasy and insanity, but certainly not serious.

Death Ride 1996
Death Ride 1996

How about my first century, then? Hardly. I was riding 75-100 miles in the Sierra on Vesuvius, the mountain bike, long before I'd ever heard that a "century" is something you do. I rode into one entirely by accident in 1994 and thought I'd fallen into bicycle heaven. All this food! How does one get it? You mean people come out here and set this all up ahead of time and bicyclists pay money to ride around with a car following them in case they get tired? I quickly grasped the social and logistical advantages of this concept, but if anything, riding centuries was more casual than my solo mountain treks.


So maybe it was when I got the Schwinn Cimarron mountain bike in 1986. Vesuvius the red chariot was my pride and joy, and I rode regularly in the nearby hills, abandoned oil fields, and, not knowing any better, double centuries. Once when I wasn’t looking, Vesuvius sneaked away and completed something called the Triple Crown Stage Race, but there was no category for Women's Vintage Mountain Bike that year, so it doesn't count and therefore couldn't possibly be serious.

Jeanie and Judy
Jeanie and Judy

In fact, the mountain bike was just a continuation of commuting and exploring on my Motobecane ten-speed, named Elmer.

Grade-school pal Judy and I used to ride our ten-speeds off into the foothills of the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington. We were determined to be the first to discover the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek. Riding the pavement was merely a warm-up for hitting the gravel road and passing the first pine tree, where the expedition really took off.

My brother Gerry and I once strapped the old army surplus sleeping bags onto our Motobecanes and took the ferry to San Juan Island. We rode around the island and stayed at Cattle Point and remember doing some ridiculously steep climbs on gravel roads that weren't all that fun. But we certainly weren't serious. Afterwards we even claimed it was fun.

I remember agonizing over getting the Motobecane vs. the lighter weight and therefore less robust 12-speed Peugeot, but my parents finally settled the contest based on price and availability. Our whole family got them. The Motobecane was brown and had stem shifters and safety brakes, and I used to ride no-hands to school carrying loads of books and musical instruments (except for the winter I was taking cello).

A couple guys I knew had Peugeots and catalogs of bicycle parts and would sit around comparing component weights and drooling over the latest Campy Gruppo. At railroad tracks they got off and carried their bikes across so as to not dent their rims. I suspected they were pretty serious, but they never let me ride with them so I couldn't tell for sure.

But it didn't matter, I was happy with the trusty ten-speed, which flew over railroad tracks and allowed me to go further and faster than did the "girl's" bike.

The Blue Bike was a mixte three-speed with swept-back handlebars and coaster brakes, which my Mom got second-hand because she thought I deserved a "real" bike. Judy and I used to ride out to the Little Grand Canyon near Touchet to do geologic studies and to the Mill Creek railroad bridge to catch frogs. We weren't terribly serious about the bicycling, but were very serious about the frog-catching and went on to earn merit badges in "Amphibians" at the local Pathfinders club.

But the Blue Bike came along only because I outgrew the red child's bicycle.

My first bicycle at age six revolutionized my exploration experience in that it allowed me to travel further and get out of Dodge faster than on tricycle or stick horse. With its mechanical advantage, the bicycle was a bit incongruous playing "Lewis and Clark," though I could justify it in getting to the Northwest Passage sooner.

Hurry up, let's race!
Hurry up, let's race!

So what’s left? Well, I did race my tricycle and won some street sprints with my cousins. It was pretty serious at the time. But even being at the peak of my racing career, I was thrilled when the Red Bicycle came along and I was able to dispense with the third wheel.

And as for training wheels? Didn’t need no steenkin twaining wheels. My parents put them on, but I didn’t use them. After the first ride, took them off and never looked back.

Now that was...serious.