The idea that you have to be thin or smart or strong or wise or brave or good or fierce or tough or clever or any one ‘thing’ in order to achieve something is a big, fat lie. The only ‘thing’ you have to be is determined. You have to want it more than you don’t. That’s it.
This weekend I was the victim of an assumer.
I hate assumers.
Here’s the story:
As you may know, I’m training for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. That’s 200 miles of butt-numbing, pedal-pushing, hill-climbing work! To get ready for the big event, I decided to sign up for a training series and this weekend they held a “pre-ride” to help people who are still new to cycling and group riding get ready for the miles and miles ahead.
This wasn’t my first group ride, but I was still very nervous. I always get nervous before things like this. I worry:
- I’m too slow (I’m not).
- I won’t make it up hills (I usually do).
- I don’t have the right gear (I really just need new shoes and possibly a jacket).
- I don’t know anyone there (I’m getting to know people).
- Etc. etc. etc.
The first group ride I did the weekend before last was great. Cycling people are friendly and I did a little over 26 miles, climbed every hill on my bike, and finished like a champ. It was an amazing uplifting experience, so I went into this weekend looking for more of the same.
Things started off great.
I tried to stay close to the leader (which I did successfully for over 15 miles) until we got to the hills. I knew I’d be slow, so I just gave myself a mental break and took my time pedaling up as best I could. When we hit the hills I noticed our group was pretty evenly divided: There were people who could stay with the leader and people who could not. For most of the hills I was smack-dab in the middle. People were passing me and keeping up with the leader, but I was also so far ahead of the people behind me I couldn’t even see them after awhile. I was squarely in the middle of the pack and often found myself alone.
At around mile 18 we lost the group of people who were behind me (they took the route we were supposed to take) and we encountered a big, big hill that wasn’t on the original route plan. It was so big I had to get off and push my bike up it. I was embarrassed, but I told myself I was still getting stronger and had made it 18 miles through hilly terrain so I needn’t worry about it. Plus, there were a few lighter people pushing right along side me.
When we got to the top of the hill the group leader told us about losing the people behind us and let us know we picked up a new sweeper (group leader who would be at the back).
That’s when the assuming started.
The new sweeper immediately started to talk with me. I think she needed a project or someone to help (but, hey, I’m just assuming…). She told me to unzip my jacket because I looked hot. Yes, TOLD me. She also TOLD me to roll up my sleeves.
Then we started off again and she stayed near me asking me all sorts of questions. When as we started up another hill she yelled at me, “Get into a lower gear!”
I looked down at my bike.
“I AM in a low gear.”
I was confused. Did she see something I didn’t? Am I doing this wrong?
I was admittedly feeling rather defensive because I had to walk up the last big hill, but I continued to pedal, slowly puffing up the hill, determined to make it and she started asking me really rude questions and giving me advice.
“You really need bike shoes, it looks like your feet are really working” (I’ve known this for awhile and have been waiting to buy clipless shoes until I’m sure I’m ready for them).
“Is your bike steel or carbon fiber?” (Steel frames are heavy, Carbon fiber is much lighter. I found myself wondering why she was even asking this. I told her it was aluminum and she butted in with “Well, your fork is carbon fiber” — Which I know and was going to tell her).
“You know, it’s easier if you stay up by the leaders. The people back here have to peddle harder to catch up” — “Uh, yeah, I fell behind“
“Do you ever get a chance to do cardio during the week?”
At this point I teared up…
…and actually felt my throat close up as I fought tears. My determined mindset was shattered and I became an insecure self-doubting mess. I couldn’t believe this woman. She has absolutely no idea what I’ve been doing with myself. She has no idea that I’m probably in the gym more than her (again, I assume), that I’ve lost 70 pounds, that I’m aware of the gear I need to get, that I know my bike and I certainly don’t need “helpful” commentary and condescending interrogation).
I tried my best to calm down before responding to her that, yes, I go to Group Kick at the gym.. (“What’s that???” She asks).
This is when I started to consider confronting her.
I wanted to say, “I know you’re trying to help, but what you’re doing is actually really insulting. I’m doing just fine, thanks.”
But, I didn’t because I knew I was feeling defensive and not in the position to make a thoughtful, well-reasoned response.
Instead, as soon as we were passed the hill and I caught my breath I got away from that woman. I pedaled hard to get as far ahead of her as possible. Then I tried to calm myself down and play devils advocate. I heard my husband’s voice in my head:
- She thought she was helping.
- I was just feeling defensive.
But, all I could really think was, she assumed that because I was big, was struggling up the hills, and didn’t have the right shoes I needed her advice.
The more I think about it the more angry I become, and the more I wish I would’ve confronted this woman. Instead, I’m writing this rant for everyone to read:
Don’t assume and don’t assert your fitness and health “wisdom” where it isn’t requested. A person’s outward appearance is no indication of their health, their knowledge, and/or their determination. Unsolicited “helpful advice” can actually be quite harmful to a person’s self esteem, not to mention rather insulting. Do me and everyone else a favor, and keep it to yourself unless we ask for it.
Is this too much to ask?
- Does a ton of research online
- Checks lots of forums and posts questions on reddit
- Tweets to random bike shops and bike blogers
- Avoids going to an actual bike shop at all costs by sending the following email:
Do you have recommendations for a first time road bike? Right now I’m on a Norco Yorkville Hybrid which I use to commute short distances.
Knowing I’m a commuter, my friends convinced me to sign up for the STP and in a fit of irrational bravery, I signed up. Now I’m reading more, timing myself and realizing my bike (and possibly it’s engine) will not be cutting it speed and weight wise. I want something that might make my ride even a little bit easier and more aerodynamic.
Answers to questions you might have:
I’m short, (5’1″) and overweight (I’ve lost 80lbs, but still have awhile to go). Despite this, I’m fit for my size. No back issues, etc.
I’ve had previous hip and knee issues with my bike. I had it pro-fit and that made a big difference. It’s still a concern for me over long distances (not sure if you can help with anything other than a fit).
From what I’ve read I think I want a more traditional road bike (vs. Ultra light). I ideally I’d like some carbon components and reliable drive train and other confusing things that I don’t fully understand and would have trouble fixing on my own.
I need a bike that is cut out for long distances (ie Seattle to Portland and other cool, long rides).
I’ve never clipped into a bike before.
My budget is $700 or hopefully less (I know that’s tricky).
Totally open to used bikes and/or old models.
Also, I’d love to know what a touring bike is? Is that what I’m looking for?
Can you help? Any recommendations? Things I should think about/consider? Are you just gonna tell me to come in?
- Waits enthusiastically for a reply knowing that, of course, they will tell her just to come in.
When you give up fear you find out all sorts of crazy things about yourself.
I gave up fear and found out I’m a cycler… or.. a bicyclist… or whatever the hell you call them….
I certainly didn’t.
About 6 years ago I was 23, I weighed more than I ever had in my life, and I knew I wanted to get in shape. At the time, however, I had LOTS of stuff going on: I was going to grad school, I was newly married, I had just started substitute teaching and I was trying to help my struggling, bi-polar husband stay on his feet. I needed a quick fix and I thought the answer was “riding a bike everywhere”.
Soon, my father-in-law, who always has spare everythings lying around, put together an amazing bike for me. Next thing I knew I was near tears, struggling to peddle up a huge hill as semi-trucks WOOSHED by me at top speed and commuters jeered and shouted rude comments at me as they drove by.
I think I rode that bike 2 or 3 times before I promptly gave it up.
What went wrong?
- I wasn’t ready – Mentally and physically I just wasn’t ready to take on the challenge of commuting on a bike everyday. I was looking for something quick and easy and biking wasn’t it.
- I didn’t have a SMART plan – At the time I thought “ride my bike everywhere” was a great plan. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t a plan at all. It was a dream without wings because it wasn’t SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, or Timely.
- I wasn’t in the right place for what I was trying to do- While I was living in arguably one of the best cities in the country for bikers I wasn’t living *in* the city. The commute I had to make was either along a freeway or a dangerous stretch of road. I didn’t feel safe and was massively intimidated.
- I didn’t “own” my bike – My bike was given to me and I didn’t know anything about it. I hadn’t picked it out and I didn’t know how to operate it. While it was certainly mine, I didn’t have that sense of pride that comes with owning something really cool.
- I had an out – I could always take my car anywhere I wanted to go.
And most critically: I was afraid. Hearing people yell nasty things me from their cars really got to me. I decided I’d rather drive than face the humiliation.
Despite being massively put off from my first “I’m gonna be a biker” experience and afraid of rude comments from people on the street a part of me still wanted to be a biker chick. Then, slowly but surely, my life started to change:
- I got braver – At the beginning of this year I promised myself I would try ONE thing that scared me. After crossing that off my list in record time I decided my year should be FULL of challenging myself to face my fears.
- I got tougher – While I’m still overweight, I’m a whole heck-of-a-lot tougher than I’ve ever been. Exercising as much as I do means I’m one strong girl. I knew I could commute on a bike after enough time and practice.
- I moved – From one of the most bike-friendly places in the country, to a place I’ve seen only a FEW streets with bike lanes. This actually ended up being positive as cyclists here are allowed to ride on the sidewalks which puts me out of harms way (a little more) and takes SO much of my fear away.
- I have a plan – I’m gonna start off slow and work my way up to bigger and better rides. For now my bike is for commuting to and from the gym. Then I’ll work on visiting friends and family and people and errands that are farther away.
- I don’t have an out – Hubs and I are down to exactly one vehicle between the two of us which means when he’s at work I’m either stuck at home, walking, or begging friends and family for a ride. As you can imagine, that got old really fast and my desire to own a bike has never been stronger.
Plus, I’m proud to say, I’m officially the owner of the prettiest, most wonderfulest bike in the whole wide world! I finally got motivated enough to save up for a bike. I did lots of research and field testing and when the day finally came, I went to my local bike shop and bought her.
But, how does that make you a cycler (or cyclist or whatever they’re called)?
I realized things were different this time after about a week of using my bike to go to and from the gym. Things were going great and I was actually enjoying it. It was working!
I was thinking this over at a red light when I heard people yelling at me from their car.
“Seriously?!” I thought, “Not again….”
Then I looked at them.
5 grown men squeezed into a tiny (TINY) car.
“Yeah guys, *I’m* the one who looks like an idiot”
….I thought to myself as I smiled and peddled off.
What do you think of my awesome bike? She still needs a name!