Wisconsin is just better by bike.
I live in Madison, where the city has re-purposed abandoned railroad lines into a web of bike paths for cyclists, runners and dog walkers alike to enjoy. I’ve always liked living in Madison, but once I started riding a bike here, I fell in love with this city.
I grew up with a second hand bike that was once pink, but must have been owned by a boy because it was hastily painted blue. The result by the time that I got it was a blue and pink paint chipped monstrosity with a banana seat and a father-required orange flag mounted off the back. I loved it.
My family lived about a mile from Elcho, Wisconsin, a town of about 300 people. My bike was freedom on two wheels allowing me to explore more than just my own backyard.
I went to college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I had friends who were super into biking and made full use of the Green Circle Trail. After falling off of a friend’s bike which was way too big for my britches, I decided to invest in my own ride. The Green Circle includes some wood chip portions — so I figured that I really needed a mountain bike. Plus, the skinny road bike tires on the showroom floor really freaked me out and I figured the fat tires would give me some stability. I ended up with a Gary Fisher Tarpon, which continues to serve me well as my winter commuter, bar bike and rain ride.
When I started working in the cycling industry, it was landing on a foreign planet. Skinny tires, spandex, clipless pedals, tiny seats, chamois and aero helmets were suddenly all around me. Co-workers would jump on bikes for a 20-25 mile ride — over lunch — like it was no big deal. Got a flat? No big deal, just use your spare tube or a patch kit. Conversations of when the next race was or what new bike someone had just bought were commonplace.
It was contagious.
After a co-worker gave the Gary Fisher a much-needed tune up and some full coverage fenders, I began commuting to work. I was still wary of the skinny tired road bikes, but then the best thing that could have happened did — I won a road bike while attending a Trek Women’s Night event at their world headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin.
I started joining co-workers on short lunch rides. One day, my bike had a flat tire. I found a YouTube video on how to change a flat, but could not, for the life of me, get the tire back onto the rim. Humbled, I brought the tire to my local bike shop where the well-seasoned mechanic just popped it back into place.
Things no one ever told me about cycling before hanging out with cyclists
- You should lube your chain, pretty frequently. Particularly after riding in the rain or snow.
- You should also wipe off the excess lube from the chain — the lube is for the bearings inside of it and the outside lube will just end up on your leg marking you as a total noob.
- Yes, helmets are good, but you should also pay attention to how they fit you.
- You should check the air pressure in your tires often, ideally before every ride.
- Correct seat height will save your knees.
- Buy a bike that fits you. It will be more pleasurable to ride and will help keep you injury free from use.
To get more confident in basic bike maintenance, I enrolled in a basic bike maintenance course offered for women from We are All Mechanics. The small class size of 8 women was ideal for hands on learning of how to change a tire and check the bike for small adjustments and maintenance needs. It gave me the confidence to take long rides knowing that I would be able to fix a flat in a pinch.
After riding my road bike for a year, I graduated to clipless pedals. I chose the Crank Brothers Candy pedals, which are mountain bike style and look like egg beaters. They are really easy to clip in and out of.
Cycling in Wisconsin has added so much to my quality of life. In addition to the benefits of commuting by bike, I’ve met great people through cycling groups like Spoke Haven and charity rides. It’s a great sport that I can do with my Fiance — he’s a pretty fun rider to draft behind. Sometimes we’ll end up at destinations where we can consume piles of delicious food, then bike off the calories.
So, What’s Next?
This year, I’m signed up for the Bike MS Ride from Milwaukee to Madison, so I’ll need to spend some time in the saddle to train. I’m hoping to take some scenic rides around the Madison area as well as near Minocqua and St. Germain.
Wisconsin Cycling Resources
- Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin
- Rails to Trails Conservancy
- Spoke Haven Madison
- Bike Wisconsin Scenic Cycling Tours
- Capital Brewery Bike Club