How Many Bikes Do You Have: An Origin Story
An argument for separated bike paths, Pedalpalooza, and trying new things
In 2005, I graduated from college and ran my first marathon. During the last two years of college, I lived with some ladies who were in their late 20s, and one of them worked and bike commuted downtown. I had never been exposed to bike commuting, and I thought it was so bad ass that she rode all the way downtown — we lived in the West Hills of Portland, so it was no small feat.
So during a break, I went home and stole my brother’s old high school mountain bike (a rigid Schwinn that was far too small for me) and tentatively began riding around my neighborhood, which was fairly terrifying. There were no sidewalks, not much of a shoulder, and the streets were hilly, winding, with high speed limits. But I did live right next to Tryon State Park, so I got the chance to ride on the quiet bike path for practice (and it also led straight to my college campus as well).
For my last year of college we moved across the river, which gave me easier (flatter) access to the rest of the city. I started working downtown as well, and it was a pleasant ride on the Springwater trail pretty much the whole way. Soon I found myself riding up Mount Tabor and through Forest Park on the weekends. I loved it. After I graduated, I scraped up enough money to buy an adult-sized bike (which was not easy, making $8.50/hour).
I worked with someone who was really into bikes — he actually raced them. He told me I should, too, which I thought was laughable (and trust me, at the time it was). His name was Brett, and it wasn’t but a year or two later after leaving that job that he ended up being killed by a truck driver while he riding his bike, which was a huge shock to the community. It certainly was for me as well.
During Pedalpalooza in 2006, me and my boyfriend at the time decided to do one of the wine rides out around McMenville, which was the first time I had taken a bike outside of the city for a ride. It was amazing, even though I was still riding my heavy hybrid. I remember going up and down the rollers, having so much fun; it felt like riding a roller coaster. It turned out I was strong as well, which was surprising as I was still mostly focused on running.
The running would soon come to an end, however, as my knee had gotten jacked during the marathon, and I continued to run on it anyway. I didn’t have much in the way of health insurance, and I had never dealt with an overuse injury before. So I didn’t deal with it at all, until I found it crippling.
A week or two after the wine ride, I looked up group rides in the area, and found a group called Portland Velo that met out in Hillsboro. My first ride with them was 40 miles, and it was the longest I had ever ridden. The next week was 50, then 60, then 70. Then the week after that, I signed up for the first year of the Portland Century, and did 100 miles. All on my hybrid.
I rode with PV every single Saturday, quickly gaining speed and strength. They harassed me about my shitty bike, but I still made hardly any money, so just purchasing arm warmers involved either going into debt or a few weeks worth of savings. But eventually I bought a road bike; an aluminum Fuji that was too large for me (don’t buy bikes from 16 year old salespeople).
And on that bike I combined my love of bikes and running and starting training for triathlons. I spent a year working out 9+ times a week, swimming in the mornings, running and riding in the evenings. In the end I only raced twice before my knee sidelined me for good from running.
Through PV I gained the confidence to try bike racing; I went to PIR first, and then I did a Tabor race. After that I was hooked for good. I spent a couple of years racing road pretty seriously, waking up at 5:30 am to do hill sprints and generally riding my face off. I also tried Cyclocross; I bought a 1984 Miyata steel touring bike and used that for a few races, but ended up mostly borrowing bikes from teammates (which ended when I crashed and tore off someone’s shifter). I’ve been through a number of cross bikes since, although it’s been 3 or 4 years since I actually trained for cross.
Early on in my biking obsession I also randomly went out and bought a mountain bike (a hilariously heavy all-mountain bike with way more suspension then I needed). I remember buying it thinking that my boyfriend would be more into mountain biking then road riding, since he was really into ultra marathons at the time. I ended up being wrong in that regard; I became the one focused on the dirt. While I spent a good 2 or 3 years bloodied and covered in bruises, eventually mountain biking became my first love. Given how challenging it was for me to become half decent at it, I couldn’t really tell you why I persisted with it. I think it was the possibility; you find an easy and fun trail to ride (think Bend) and suddenly you see what it being fast could be like. I saw how much fun I could have once I figured out how the damn thing works. And I was right.
Somewhere in there, I also became friends with someone who was into bike touring, gravel riding and the more non-racing parts of bikes. He did the very very first Velo Dirt ride with Donnie and Joe (the Dalles 60), and then he invited me to the next one, The Stampede, the next September. During that summer, I had a bad crash on my mountain bike; I took a jump poorly and landed on my head, breaking 2 vertebrae in my back. That whole year I had been gunning to win the Cross Country series as a category 1 racer, and I was in second place; the crash took me out of the running.
Up until that point I was obsessed with racing. I was upset if I missed a work out, and my life revolved around racing. The crash completely took the wind out of my sails, and I think it’s safe to say that I have never trained as much since then, and I haven’t really taken any race as seriously as I used to, for better or worse (that’s a whole other post).
So it was with that general mindset, that when Nick asked if I wanted to do this crazy thing called the Oregon Stampede, I said sure why the hell not. I’m not racing anymore. I had only been back on the bike for maybe a month when I agreed to a 120 mile gravel ride/race. I bought a new bike a week before the event, teamed up with my friend Jocelyn, and we rode together. It was life-changing; the ride was very hard but unendingly beautiful. A whole world of gravel riding opened up to me, and I did every Velo Dirt ride for their first couple of years.
A month later I did my first road bike tour on that new bike; me and Nick went down to Redmond and rode an old Cycle Oregon route over 6 days to Diamond Lake and over McKenzie Pass, averaging about 70 miles per day. I had never done anything like it, having never backpacked or toured in my life. It was the first time I did any trip self-supported. I never felt so free in my life. I didn’t want it to end. We camped all but one night, and as we rode back into Redmond, I was upset that I would have to take a shower and sleep in a bed. I just wanted to live on my bike and in my tent from then on.
I did about one trip a year from then on, each one being a bit of a production; it wasn’t until this year that I discovered how much fun and adventure you can have just going somewhere over night. I joined the Komorebi cycling team, again with Jocelyn, and in May did my first bikepacking trip. It truly was a mix of all things I love. Riding off road, being self-sufficient, and enjoying the freedom and beauty of nature. What’s not to love? I have been on two Komorebi trips and one other trip since May. There are many more trips on the calendar, and I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon.
I’ve now been bike racing for nearly a decade, which I can hardly believe. It’s a week before my next High Cascades 100 mountain bike race. I love the contrast between touring and racing; when I’m racing, the world disappears and everything becomes a single point of focus. When I’m out on the gravel, life slows down. I look up, take a deep breath and let every detail of the world soak in.
Post Script: The answer to the question isn’t straightforward, but let’s just say, I own over 10 bikes in various states of ride-ability.