by Katie Kolon
I grew up riding bikes for a number of reasons. I grew up in a tiny rural town in Southwest Michigan, so there was an abundance of nice roads with little traffic and beautiful scenery. One of my main influences has been my dad, who has always biked a lot: taking week-long tours every summer that I’ve known him, riding 50-100 miles to commute to conferences, and riding long distances regularly with his friends. Growing up, he and I would bike 10 miles to the next town over to get ice cream and then bike back. I also used my bike as a mode of transportation to my friends’ houses in the country so I wouldn’t need a ride—ah, the independence!
I completed my first organized distance ride when I was around 15. I remember the part where my friend and I missed a turn and ended up riding much more than the 35 miles we signed up for. Despite the early start, I have yet to ride a century (though I’ve signed up for two, both of which were thwarted by unforeseen events).
I continued riding my bike while in college, but mostly as a means of transportation, though I would occasionally venture out into the country for a ride. Once I went mountain biking on a winter day with a friend and found delight in bombing down a slippery snow-covered hill. (I have since rekindled this flame some 15 years later with the Barry-Roubaix, see below)
I commuted by bike over the years in California, Washington DC, Florida, New Jersey, NYC, and Illinois as, over time, it became less of an oddity in the eyes of the public. I moved back to the Midwest, to Chicago specifically in 2010, and commuted to the loop from Rogers Park a couple times a week. I met a lot of people through the social biking scene such as critical mass, midnight marauders, tweed rides, and neighborhood bike tours.
I also got involved with West Town Bikes, where I built my commuter bike (including building the wheels), which is pictured below. I currently volunteer there helping to organize and promote the weekly Wednesday night Women and Trans Open Shop from 7pm-10pm.
Ladies, come work on your bike with the guidance of experienced women bike mechanics!
At the end of 2010, I was already thinking of trying road racing but didn’t know where to start. I just knew I needed to ride more and that I liked going fast. I went to the Afterglow and thought, “I want to do that.” So next year, I did. I raced in 6 cyclocross races after buying my Fuji Cross Comp, finishing with the Afterglow. It was tough. I liked the technical aspect, but I was not very strong and I didn’t have a team to support me so finding a team became my next goal.
I started riding with the Spidermonkeys on the “girls” rides in May 2012. I still remember the exhilaration I felt the first time I pulled on the pace line and the first time I hit 25 mph on a flat. Throughout the summer I became stronger and waited with anticipation for cross season to see how I had improved. I did the relay cross and the first race in Jackson Park and then life happened and I stopped riding my bike.
I started doing the winter “girls” rides and Vision Quest in preparation for my new goal: complete the Barry Roubaix. As I had done zero outdoor riding over the winter prior to the Barry this year, I had no idea how in shape I was going to feel once I got on the road. I did not treat the Barry as a race, but I pushed myself to ride hard and stay warm. I stopped to take a few pictures and spent some time riding with my dad. I was surprised with how strong I felt and I loved the thrill of riding on ice and gravel. Towards the end of the ride I was getting pretty worn down so I made a promise to myself that I would not walk up a single hill. This required gaining as much speed going down the icy declines as I could. I was speeding down one long hill towards the end when I saw a giant pothole in my path. I knew I couldn’t maneuver around it because the road was too slick and there were potholes on all sides. I told myself the only thing to do is bunny hop it. And I did! At least, I think I did. My thoughts weren’t all that clear by the end of the race. Another highlight was when two guys riding fat bikes, one ladened with growlers attached to his forks passed me going up a hill and one said to me, “I’m coming up on you like a Spidermonkey, Chip!” We laughed and talked for a while until I left them behind on the descents. They informed me the beer wasn’t working as well as they had planned.
After completing the Barry, I returned to Chicago and rode my first criterium at Gapers Block. I was very nervous and my goal was to hold on as long as I could. I was certain I would be lapped. Turns out, I finished mid-pack. I couldn’t get enough of cornering and riding fast in the pack. I immediately got off my bike and professed I’m over cross racing and only want to do crits. I had discovered a new love. I raced all four days of Gapers Block and got my best place on the last day when I was the most tired. I think I must have learned something about conserving energy. I have since raced the Spring Super Crit (where I got dropped due to a derailleur malfunction), Lincoln Park (I could do hairpin turns all day!), and Cobb Park (won my first prime!). I am looking forward to more crits and I plan on giving cross another try as well. But mostly I’m happy to have friendly people to ride with.
Joining the Spidermonkeys has made all the difference in my training. I am so lucky to have such an inclusive encouraging bunch of people to push me towards my goals and offer a 312 at the end. I appreciate and respect the diversity of interests represented in the group—that some race, some will never race, and some do triathlons or have other fitness goals—and could not picture myself with any other team.