From Lekker to Lycra: how I got into road cycling

Living in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne without owning a car, my bike has always been my major means of getting around. Because I’m all about practicality, my weapon of choice for the last 5 years has been an upright vintage-style candy-red Lekker.

This is me on my Lekker, looking hipster AF. Look at that tights-matching-bike-hair-and-street-art coordination!

I’ve recently had to retire this bike, as the hub is kaput (technical term), so now I’ve got this guy:

My new Lekker Amsterdam Series city bike. Yes, I like taking pics of my bikes in front of graffiti.

Pretty, right?

So how did that lady-bike-riding hipster-looking gal turn into this hard-AF-Lycra-wearing-road-cycling-weekend-warrior who climbed Mount Baw Baw in sleet and did the Peaks Challenge 2 years into taking up cycling?

See? Hard AF. This is me after climbing Mount Donna Buang in the rain. And I’m so HAPPY.

I guess the short answer is that I got into cycling via my partner. He’s pretty into it. Like: he’s done 2 Everesting challenges and everything. That is where you have to ride up and down the same road until you clock up the same vertical metres as the height of Mount Everest (8848m). That seems mad to me (so boring!), but look – who am I to judge?

The slightly longer story is that I went cycling out in the hills with my partner around Victor Harbour in South Australia one Christmas. I borrowed his much-sportier-than-mine (not hard) commuter. I even went up this VERY STEEP CLIMB without getting off the bike.

Yep, Converse shoes, yoga leggings, Reid commuter. We all have to start somewhere.

We ended up riding all the way to Victor Harbour and back (around 50km), and I liked it. I REALLY liked it. It took me about 6 months from then to actually get organised to buy a bike (they’re not cheap), but from there: I was hooked.

It also helped that a friend of mine was getting into cycling at the same time. So we started off doing rides together like the Yarra Boulevard in Kew, and riding down Beach Road on the weekend.

My partner took me out to do some other iconic rides, like the 1 in 20 in the Dandenongs.

I felt like I was entering some sort of new world. All of a sudden, once you get into cycling, roads look different. Now, I have developed some sort of inner map of the Dandenong Ranges in my head, and my opinion of those roads is based on:

  1. How steep the road is, and its changing gradient (whether climbing or descending)
  2. The road quality, and if there are any potholes or other sketchy bits
  3. The turns (on the descent)
  4. How many cars are on the road at different times of the day
  5. What the weather is like
  6. The scenery
  7. The smell of the air

On top of that, I started buying Lycra clothing – something I’d vowed I’d never do, lest I start looking like one of those scary cycling MAMILs covered in lurid logos.

A lot of friends of mine thought I was crazy. I think some people found it genuinely offensive how into cycling I was getting, and were vaguely suspicious. Why had I never gotten into it before? Who was this NEW KATE?

To me it made a lot of sense: I’ve always been pretty good at leg-based sports. I used to do a lot of running before my knee started whinging so loud I had to give it up. I used to row. I love skiing. And I’ve always loved hiking.

For me, cycling opens up the best of all that I love about hiking (being outdoors in the fresh air, and in beautiful surrounds), skiing (going downhill fast, although I have had some trouble getting used to this on a bike) and rowing and running (repetitive movement, it’s pretty hard, and it gets you fit).

I also love that I can leave my house and in under an hour I’m seeing horses, cows and kangaroos in fields.

Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail. Image by Mr.Henry.Y. So, so happy.

It definitely helps if you have someone introduce you to cycling. There’s so much general knowledge that you have to acquire, because it really is like some sort of cult. And I think most cyclists actually like how culty it is. There’s even The Rules, which codifies the correct way to put your cycling glasses on (over your helmet straps, apparently. God forbid I do it the other way one day – I might spontaneously combust!).

But there is a lot of really practical knowledge that helps you ride safer, and more comfortably. This can include what you wear/pack/bring on your bike for any particular day out through to nutrition and technique for changing your gears. Without someone to advise, it can feel a bit overwhelming.

So while there are these cultural barriers to entry as a cyclist, the reason I got hooked (and you will too – if you’re not already) is because it is just the best fun ever. You can tell, because in every photo of me cycling, I’m looking as happy as Larry, grinning like an idiot.

Well, maybe except this one. But this gal is hard AF.

WTF Corner, Peaks Challenge 2019. It’s real steep. Image: Raceatlas.

But: find a friend to help guide you. Or if you don’t have any cycling friends, make some! Join a club, go on rides, and get into it!

Just don’t wear your eyewear arms under your helmet strap.

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