`She Got Bike' lets women ride

October 01, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

Fifty women on racing bicycles, wearing sunglasses, helmets, gloves and bright jerseys, gathered in a fiercely competitive-looking group at Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County yesterday.

But instead of racing, they shared. One by one, they went around the circle introducing themselves, describing why they love to ride and how much it means for their mental and physical health.

"I feel like this is A.A.," one rider confessed, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous. And then they took off on a 25-mile ride under a glorious blue sky.

The event yesterday, called "She Got Bike," was the opposite of Bikeaholics Anonymous. It was designed to get women hooked on a habit of fitness, not free from their addiction.

About 500 women showed up for noncompetitive rides ranging from 14 miles to 62 miles across Baltimore County. That was nearly twice the 270 at the event last year, and six times the 80 who braved a rain-drenched inaugural event in 2005, organizers said.

Susan Olson, a business consultant from Westminster, helped organize the event, which was sponsored in part by Joe's Bike Shop of Mount Washington and Trek bicycle manufacturing company.

"This is the only all-women riding event in the Baltimore area - and one of the very few in the U.S.," Olson said.

"We want to be a model for other cities that want to hold similar events."

She explained that men are barred from riding to provide an atmosphere comfortable for women who are just learning how to handle racing bikes.

"Some women are nervous about riding with men, because the men are what we call `hammerheads,' and that can be a little intimidating," Olson said, bullhorn in hand, as she rallied a team of riders.

By "hammerheads," she was referring to the aggressive maneuvers cyclists can make in packs of other cyclists, which can result in wipeouts.

Part of the goal of the annual cycling event is to encourage women to climb back into the saddle. Many rode bicycles as kids, but then took decades off to focus on careers and family.

"It's good exercise, a good mental release, and it's good for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which is how I see the world," said Elizabeth Ridlington, one of the organizers.

Another focus was to help Maryland's growing number of women's bicycle racing teams to recruit new athletes.

There are a half-dozen prominent teams in the region today, including Artemis Racing, Velosophy and Team BBC (for Baltimore Bicycle Club, not the British Broadcasting Corp.).

Tracy Posner, a 29-year-old information technology specialist from Catonsville, is a member of the Velosophy's mountain-bike racing squad. She was out yesterday encouraging other women to join the sport.

"Racing is great - it really pushes you a lot harder than you would if you were just out riding on your own," she said.

In addition to the rides along tree-lined roads north and west of Cockeysville, people who paid $22 to join the event at the park could also visit a half-dozen white tents festooned with pink and white balloons.

Bikers attended yoga classes, advertised as "She Got Zen," and a workout course, called "She Got Abs."

Others attended classes to learn techniques for road racing, mountain biking, and how to avoid injuries while training. Instructors led rows of women in stretching exercises. Others watched a fashion show for cycling garb.

Jill Kislia, a bicycle racer and technician for Trek Bicycle Corp., showed visitors a display of racing cycles designed with women in mind.

Kislia explained that they're not just smaller than men's bicycles - they're shaped differently.

The top tube, between the seat and handlebars, is proportionally shorter than on men's bikes. The saddles are slightly wider, the handlebars narrower and the hand brakes are modified for shorter fingers.

"It's all about making women more comfortable on their bikes," said Kislia.

Elisa Goldberg, a 34-year-old triathlete from Washington, rode a 46-mile course through the hilly, winding suburban roads south of Prettyboy Reservoir.

Afterwards, she said it was exhausting but fun. The one drawback was the traffic, she said, because no cones had been placed to keep cars and trucks away from the bike route.

"I had people yelling at me from cars - people were very rude," Goldberg said.

Her friend Deanne Breithaupt a 28-year-old business analyst from Arlington, survived the same hills. "It was the hardest ride I've ever done," she said, relaxing at a picnic table afterward.

"But I met some very nice women out there, and it's fun to meet other people who enjoy riding."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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