Not all bikers are relationship-challenged or single. Anna and Grant Johnson – who ride for the Chain Reaction Cyclery – are married. Chain Reaction Cyclery in Appleton, Wis., is owned and operated by Niki and Scott Worden.
Biking with Kierstin Kloeckner
It’s the season of love. Valentine’s Day has recently passed, spring is around the corner, birds are chirping, bees will soon be buzzing and, honestly, I’m pretty damn sure I’m more in love with my bicycles than ever.
That’s right. Here I am, a single female cyclist, and the one thing that gets my heart skipping is two wheels. I think about this and realize I may have a problem. I also realize I’m not the only cyclist in this predicament and it may be why many of us have a difficult time keeping relationships.
This whole scenario is new to me in body, but not in mind. You see, about a year ago, my 20-year marriage to one of my best friends and riding companions ended. We realized we were just that – better friends and riding companions than husband and wife. When we first met, started hiking, biking and traveling together, I sighed a bit with relief knowing I wouldn’t have to deal with finding a “match” to my lifestyle anymore.
At that time, I saw multiple racing friends, as well as my father, go through the struggles of finding someone who “gets it” and doesn’t judge or try to compete with one’s love for their bicycle. My dad actually gave up racing twice for this very reason. He and his wife thought by him giving racing up, or scaling back on this passion, it would save or enhance their marriage. Wrong.
One year after he quit, his wife realized how irritable he had become without a daily dose of two wheels, and he was given the green light to start racing again (riding, she came to grasp, is what really enhanced their relationship). When I knew my marriage was over, I also knew I could never be in a relationship with someone who didn’t at least bike a little (especially since it’s my preferred form of transportation). How does one explain showing up on a date a bit sweaty dressed in bike-friendly clothes if the other person shows up all squeaky clean and quaffed? And how does one explain choosing to make most vacations based on two wheels, if the other person’s ideal getaway revolves around beach time? I am not a believer of changing someone into what you want your ideal partner to be, nor do I want to play this game.
But here’s the rub. It’s not just about finding another cyclist to date. A single cyclist can’t just date another cyclist and call it “good.” There are far too many things to consider to be happy as a cycling couple.
First and foremost, the question “What kind of cyclist are you?” has to be addressed. If one is extremely competitive and the other is solely recreational, there will more than likely be issues. I do know a few cycling couples who have made this work by having the stronger cyclist go out first on “their” ride and then come back and join up again for a more leisurely ride, but there can’t be any ego wars in this – which is often an issue. The second question is “What kind of riding do you prefer doing?” I, personally, am a white-knuckle mountain bike rider. Going on a mountain bike ride with a date would spell disaster. They would essentially watch me panic, sweat (out of fear), tell them to “shut up” and “just go ahead” if I got nervous, and possibly cry while throwing my bike down on the ground and swearing at helpless trees. None of which are appealing to witness on a date.
Another couple that has found enjoyment on the bike. Bailey Gene Newberry and his girlfriend, Allison Zmuda, often compete in gravel events on a tandem bike. Bailey owns Comrade Bike Shop in Chicago.
On the other hand, if we went gravel riding or road riding, I’d have no issues passing the person if I felt strong on a climb or comfortable on a descent. Again, possibly not in the other person’s comfort zone. Either way, it’s good to feel this stuff out first.
The last big issue/question that comes to mind is “Would the other person be comfortable with you hanging out with other cyclists of the opposite sex?” Yep. This is a biggie! Ninety percent of my friends are guys, and this is the way it’s always been since I got into the cycling scene at birth. Nine times out of 10, I’m the only female on group rides. I ride with guys, I have beers with them after rides, I travel with them to gravel events and I share hotel rooms with them. My lifestyle wouldn’t be achievable without these male friends and I’m not willing to give that up. If someone feels intimidated by that, or doesn’t trust me with it, I consider the idea of dating them a done deal.
It may sound harsh, but my friends were there first. They got me through too much (good and bad) to just walk away. They see me as one of the guys, and I see them as one of the girls. That’s the only way I can put it, and I know a lot of other female cyclists feel the same way.
On the flip side, I know a lot of strong male gravel racers who often just ride with a female training partner, so this goes both ways. The only snafu in this comes when you are single and looking. Let’s say you are interested in one of the folks you ride with. They may very likely see you as just that – a friend – and nothing else. It’s often pretty difficult to break that barrier once it’s been formed, and as many of my single cycling friends know, there just aren’t that many proverbial single fish in the cycling sea. This latter scenario is not one I have had issues with since I’m not “looking,” but is an issue which has been addressed by several of my single female friends. My tendency is staying in the “hands-off zone” for my cycling groups, since I enjoy most of my friends’ spouses/partners and I know this is their biggest fear – even if they are not connected to the person flirting.
When I know a cycling friend is about to date a non-cyclist, in my head I feel they should be giving them a “guide” of sorts. One that prepares them for what they are about to encounter. (Essentially a message saying, “Do you really know what you’re getting into?”) This guide could also be handed out in the running/rowing/skiing communities, since I feel we all have the same lifestyle. To give you a glimpse at what a single cyclist’s life looks like, it often resembles this (and I’m going by a compilation of my single cycling friends’ lives):
• Wake early on the weekend to get the most out of your day and get the most miles in before beer consumption begins.
• Meet up with a bunch of friends (some obnoxious), who for some reason have the same sick love of hills, miles, gravel and pain as you do.
• Talk about bikes over coffee as you wait for the rest of the group to show up.
• Ride 50-100+ miles because that’s the only thing that keeps you happy and sane.
• Finish at a brewery or pub that serves high-calorie food and copious amounts of beer
• Spend your entire week’s worth of extra funds on this high calorie food and beer (oh wait, some of that was spent on tubes, tires, lube – no, not “that” lube – and coffee).
• Ride home at a snail’s pace, mow the lawn in your dirty kit if it needs mowing (because why get clean clothes sweaty?), jump in the shower with another beer in hand, and proceed to pass out on the couch or in the hammock out back.
• Wake up the next day and do it all again, since the weekend has two glorious chances to play.
Folks, if you’re not a cyclist, and you think it would be “fun” to date one, I urge you to read this daily schedule over and over again. See if you start jumping up and down because you would have tons of free time away from your partner or if it makes your skin crawl just thinking about it. If it isn’t the former, walk, no, wait, run away.
All of this may seem a bit extreme and harsh, and, yes, there are happy mediums (although I don’t know many), but I think it’s really important for everyone to really know what they’re getting into. I, personally, will most likely die single, hopefully attached to one of my beloved bikes. This isn’t a bad thing.
Honestly, spending time with friends on bikes and following rides with beer and calorie-dense food brings me the most joy in life. We’ll see if I change my mind in 20 years!