Just like riding a bike: Confessions of an amateur athlete

Since when did cycling get so complicated?

click to enlarge Pausing for a pit stop at the Dalí Museum in St. Pete. - Resie Waechter
Resie Waechter
Pausing for a pit stop at the Dalí Museum in St. Pete.
While swimming comes naturally to me, riding my bike is a different beast entirely. I am not quite sure what happened between the ages of 12 and 30, but contrary to popular belief, training is really not “just like riding a bike.”

As a kid I spent entire summers hopping from pool to bike. My childhood friend Jenny and I raced around chasing our older brothers through the neighborhood until the streetlights came on. My bike was my vessel: Crisp white smeared with hot pink accents, tires bedazzled with dozens of Spokey Dokeys. I rode that thing everywhere.

Today, though, I struggle to make the switch from my comfortable, oversized beach cruiser to a fairly small road bike. Road bikes are built for speed: They are light and thin, with an aerodynamic design and extremely narrow tires. I am half surprised my bike can actually hold me up, and spend the first few minutes of my training rides fighting against the wobble.

I’ve witnessed some pretty gnarly accidents and near-misses between bikes and cars, which doesn’t help my confidence much. St. Pete has come a long way towards being a more bike-friendly city — I count three local bike shops within a mile of each other on Fourth Street — but we still have a ways to go. Recently installed bike sharing programs downtown should help a great deal. While I make a point to go on short rides downtown in order to increase my confidence on the road, most of my longer training rides are on bike trails where there is less traffic. Some weekends I ride the Pinellas Trail to Gulfport for a beachfront burger and beer; others I drive up to Ft. De Soto and reward myself after a long ride with a dip in the water. Many upcoming triathlons are located at Ft. De Soto, so it is really an ideal place to train. The views aren’t so bad, either.

The bike portion of a triathlon is what many athletes look forward to. It’s a chance to catch your breath and collect your bearings between the more challenging swim and run portions of the race. You are, after all, sitting down on the bicycle. I, however, am not most athletes. My somewhat irrational fear of getting hit on the road carries onto the race course, where despite USAT regulations requiring three bike lengths between riders, it can still feel pretty cramped. Regulations only apply when bikers are not passing the person in front of them or being passed by someone else, and let’s face it: It’s a race. You are rarely not passing or being passed. My amateur status was loudly called out to me last year during one of my first triathlons by a fellow rider who, while passing me, shouted at me to “Get the hell out of the road!” That was certainly a humbling experience.

The challenges of a triathlon are part of what makes it so rewarding to cross the finish line, and I remind myself of this each time I get a flat tire or have a near-miss with a car. Training for the race is just as much mental — and sometimes more so — as physical. I know with time and practice, my confidence on the bike will improve; in the meantime I try to find small moments of joy or beauty in each ride. 

I strap on my helmet and channel my inner 12 year-old self: I am definitely ordering some Spokey Dokeys.

About The Author

Resie Waechter

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="5bccb9c0b38df12e008b45d6" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Resie Waechter is a recent USFSP graduate who majored in English literature and cultural studies with a minor in history. She is a fumbling fitness junkie with a special...
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