We are lucky. We know it. All day, every day, we work with people on bikes they will do amazing things with, and sometimes, as we found out recently, they’ll even write books about those things.
Longtime followers of this blog will possibly remember the Cycling Silk Project, undertaken by Kate Harris and Melissa Yule in 2011, when, in their own words they, “lurched off the European shore of Istanbul, Turkey with overburdened bikes and quaking legs. Just a few days ago, in late October, we pedaled into Leh, a small city barnacled onto the Himalayan mountains in northern India. In the months between, we consumed roughly 10,000 packs of instant noodles to fuel nearly 10,000 km of riding, polishing our souls on roads rough as pumice on this pilgrimage to the Silk Road’s wildest mountains and deserts.”
We got a copy of the book in the mail recently, and it was nice to walk back down memory lane and hear an expanded version of a story we followed closely as it was going on. We were enormously proud to build the bikes Kate and Mel rode, a pair of Expat S off-road touring machines. These bikes played into our thinking as we evolved designs of the early Evergreens, so they, and this project, were highly inspiring and influential for us.
On Saturdays and Sundays, through the winter, we watch the cyclocross racing from Europe. Flemish language commentary bounces off the shop walls as we go about our weekend rituals, cleaning and tuning bikes, and so, when we spied a (mostly) free week that lined up with the World Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands, we packed our travel bikes and headed to the airport.
We flew into Belgium, the spiritual home of cyclocross, and drove east to Valkenburg.
Our original idea was to ride our bikes to the race, but there was so much mud it proved impossible. For two days we mixed with the oddly quiet crowd as the racers whipped by in their colors. A streaker sprinted down the course just before the men’s elite event, slipping, covering himself in mud, and bringing loud guffaws and cheers from the spectators. This wasn’t the R&D we had in mind, but we laughed along.
It snowed. It rained. It sleeted. But we didn’t mind.
On the Monday we rode the flat farmland outside the city, rolling through the open spaces on mostly car-free roads.
The next day we drove down through France, pausing for a quick ride in Lyon, before finding our hotel in Barcelona. There we did three rides, one an urban adventure, trying to find our way in the hectic, fever-pitch traffic of the city. We found the cycling infrastructure really impressive, but we struggled to keep up with Barcelona’s fast city riders. Still we fed off the energy and everyone we met was friendly and helpful.
The next day we put our tires on some dirt, riding portions of the Olympic mountain bike course, near the velodrome. The single-track was beautiful, swoopy, and fun on our Evergreens.
Later, we took a night ride up into the hills above the city, where we found wide mixed-use paths with stunning views. Beyond that we could see miles and miles of more technical dirt calling to us, but we were out of time. We’ll have to wait for another week, mostly free, to get away.
For those who don’t know me, here are some random and less random facts about me. I race on a small women’s elite team, Team Averica. We’re based out of Boston, though I live in Western MA. My day job is working in analytics in the health care industry. Chocolate and coffee are two of my favorite things. So are bikes, vegetables and swimming. And riding trails. When I decided to get my Mudhoney PRO, my goal was to have a bike that would elevate my level of racing, be fun to ride and be a source of inspiration to work harder. I found all of that and more! I’m beyond excited to have the Mudhoney SL now, which is proving to be another absolutely amazing bike.
I’m fresh off my first block of racing for this cyclocross season! As is expected, there were some ups and downs. The results weren’t what I hoped for, but I’ve learned a ton from the racing and the women in the UCI field. Two years ago, during my first full season in the UCI field when I was coming up with my cyclocross goals, my ultimate goal in cross was to race in a world cup one day. At the time, I thought it was a long shot. This year, I got to start my season off with not one, but two World Cups, and both right here in the United States. It was an amazing way to start the season.
I made the trip in my little Honda Fit, packed with two bikes, five wheelsets, a trainer, clothes for racing in any imaginable weather and my work gear. I was gone for a solid three weeks, starting the season off in Rochester. I made my way west to Iowa, for the Jingle Cross WC, then on to Wisconsin for Trek CXC WC and then back again for KMC. I knew it would be a trip where the learning curve was steep, but I couldn’t have imagined how steep. I definitely lean toward the type A end of the spectrum and I really wanted a FAQ on traveling for bike racing, what to pack, how to budget, what to expect at a World Cup, and how to calm all the nerves that had been building up since wrapping up the cross season last year in Belgium. The funny thing about racing World Cups is that you don’t pick up your number at a reg table like you do at any other bike race. For those of us that don’t have a DS, we have to find the US representative who picks up our number for us either at the venue the day before the event, or if you don’t find them in time, at their hotel later that night. It’s kind of like Where’s Waldo, except for that you don’t know what Waldo looks like or what he’s going to be wearing. It was an adventure. It turns out Waldo was very nice and he had my numbers.
Lining up alongside some of the fastest women in the world is incredible and a bit terrifying. World champion stripes have the ability to be a little intimidating. We also had Annika Langvad, the 2016 XC MTB World Champion lining up. It took some practice reminding myself that I belonged there and that it was still pedaling around in circles like any other bike race.
Here’s my bike, post trip. It’s also a good metaphor for how I felt after the road trip back from the Midwest…
This past week, I’ve been camped out at home, enjoying some more of my favorite things: sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my kitchen, drinking coffee slowly, getting out on some long rides and mixing in rolling dirt roads, as well as beginning to work on the long list of things I learned I need to work on from the trip. Lots of turning practice!
People sometimes say our bikes are worthy of hanging on walls, that they are art, which is a nice thing to say, but makes us feel a little uncomfortable. In our minds bikes are tools, transportation, toys, etc. They should look great, if you can manage it, but we want people, first and foremost, to ride them. A lot. Which is rather hard to do when they’re hanging on a wall.
Imagine our surprise when Rhys W sent us this photo. It’s of his wife and her Seven Mudhoney SL, which she rides a lot, but also hangs on the wall.
He also wrote:
Seven. BEST investment ever for me.
Buy a Seven, ride it, and then you will understand.
Julie Wright is disarmingly nice and alarmingly fast. We built her a Mudhoney PRO cyclocross race bike last year and watched as she got faster and faster and faster, culiminating in a 12th place finish at Cyclocross Nationals recently.
She wrote us this note, when we asked her to tell her how it went:
Looking back on this past season, it’s a bit of an out of body experience when I think of what I’ve accomplished. I started cross racing when I lived in Phildelphia and had a job that kept me up in New England on weekends in the fall. Coming off of a year of “road racing” where I fell off the back of every single cat 4 race, I never in a million years would have thought I’d race in a UCI field. Somehow, many years later, I made it there, and this past season, in my second full UCI season, I got points in almost every race weekend. I got a few top 5s in C2 races, a few top 15s in C1 races and ended up 12th at nationals. It blows my mind.
I started my list of goals for the CX season before the 2015/2016 season was over. I tweaked my goals and tiered them throughout the year and finalized them right before the start of cross. Most of them made my palms sweat, so I knew they were goals I had to work for, which meant staying mentally engaged through the season. Staying engaged for me equals staying honest and listening to my body. It’s funny how the things I learn through bikes run parallel to the non-cycling aspects in my life.
One of my favorite things about cross is that it seems like an individual sport at face value, and for my first few years, that was my experience. But as my results have improved, so has my community of support. There’s no doubt in my mind that the community came first. It’s hard to show up to a race, or even a workout, and not give it your all when there are people who’ve worked just as hard beside you to help you achieve your goals. Or when people are genuinely excited and supportive of your improvements. When you’re on an inspiring team of driven and hardworking individuals, when you have a coach who encourages you to push your limits, when you have Seven Cycles fix a bike post crash, within three days, and then hand deliver it to your house. I feel so fortunate. This season has been a dream in so many ways.
Thankfully, it isn’t over yet! My Seven Mudhoney PRO and my persistent stutter step are heading to Europe to try out Belgian racing, along with one of my teammates, Erin, and our team mechanic, Gary.
If you want to follow along with Julie, Team Averica will be keeping everyone updated on IG: @team_averica and on twitter: @teamaverica.
Her 2016/2017 Season by the numbers
22 races in the US, 5 races (still to happen!) in Belgium
19 US UCI races, 24 UCI races overall
69 UCI points
12th 2017 USA Cycling Elite Nationals
18th USA Cycling Pro Cx Standings
6 vacation days used, pre Belgium trip
8 US states, 3 countries
2 awesome teammates and 1 incredible NECX community