The Name Game
A bike is just a bike — or is it? For some of us, our bikes take on their own personalities and allow us to fly, becoming part of our lives. It’s only right that we would give them a name, isn’t it? This is one small story of a girl and her Tarmac — a true partner in her bike-life adventures.
It’s race day. There’s a rippling in the field, a sort of nervous energy in the start corral. Riders are striking a pose on their bikes as they wait — the casual lean, arms loosely hanging over bars, one leg flung out sideward to stabilize the picture. You look around. There’s a murmur of voices in the early morning air, chatting in that friendly way competitive fields do at a race start. In the “friend zone.” Later, it will be the “every-woman-for-herself” zone. Scanning faces you wonder who the biggest threat is? “Is it her?” you think, catching the eye of a woman three riders across. Is she thinking the same about you? She should worry — you’ve been absolutely flying lately. You’re a legitimate triple threat right now. Fit, fearless, and hungry for the game. You relax at the familiar feel of your bars in your eager hands and look out toward the open road ahead, thinking: “It’s time. It’s time all that training paid off.”
It’s training day. Today, you’re flying solo. You had toyed with the idea of a coach for a while, but this season, your coach is basically Google and some advice from the fast and strong gals on your group rides. It’s intervals on Tuesday, which isn’t your favorite workout, but a necessary evil. You’ve been reading up on how to get faster and know that your bike — which you jokingly named Fly Girl because, you know, she’s cool, knows what she wants, and goes for it just like you — is a big part of the speed equation. You smile and remember how your friend did a massive eye roll when she heard that name. As you finish the second interval and begin to settle into a short recovery, a guy zooms past you, huffing and heaving. He sounds as though he has entered some kind of lactic-acid-fed death throe. You scoff softly to yourself, aware that he believes himself to have achieved some kind of victory in a race only he was in. He has no idea you’re simply idling, and yours is the murmur of an engine at rest. You feel bad for him. In a few short minutes he will feel the whoosh of Team Fly Girl whizzing by. Moments later, interval number three begins.
It’s race day. The field rolls out slowly, and for a few seconds, all you hear is the click of cleats into pedals, the whir of freehubs, and gear shifts echoing their clunky vibrations through deep throated, carbon wheels. You are already moving to bridle the atmosphere, so you’re primed to soak up that energy and gallop. When the time is right, of course — this is not your first rodeo. The nerves are morphing to eagerness, right in the palms of your hands. They are transferring to your muscles, ready to ignite the pedals with furious action beneath you. Can a bike be eager? “Who cares if I’m projecting and anthropomorphizing,” you think. “We’re in this together, right girl?” You settle in, biding your time as you move effortlessly and calmly through these early surges. While covering what you need to cover and working with teamies, you assess opportunities on the course. The hill? Maybe on the third lap? That’s where it’s going to go down.
It’s training day. You meet your club ride early at the south end of the bridge and roll out of town together. There’s gentle ribbing and laughter, and you rotate through as the group whizzes along at a calm 25mph. You slot in beside Bernie for a while. Ask how his knee is. “Ah, I went and saw this guy on Friday. We’re working on my fit but it feels even worse than before, to be honest.” You commiserate, remembering a time when all sorts of things hurt. A time before Fly Girl. He congratulates you on the prime you won last week, and how strong you’ve been lately. This is not news to you because you FEEL it. Your legs are like mobile power cells, tight yet limber, charged and ready to launch you into the stratosphere. “Some people call it dedicated training,” you joke. “But honestly, this bike runs on donutwatts.” Bernie laughs. “Donuts don’t seem to have the same effect on me!” he says, and you press on, tucked into the group and enjoying the feel of being part of something. Your crew.
It’s race day and BOOM you go. On the hill. Three girls follow as a group, and before long, you’ve all made it stick. There’s no reaction — not yet, anyways. A truce is called, which won’t last, but for now the four of you focus and work well together. You think back to your first race. You were in the break then, too, but had no idea what to do. When you exploded, you simply became a fast-dissipating, newbie tail on a comet of wisdom. Off the back you went. Never seen, never heard from again. It was humbling. But that was two years ago and you’ve come so far. Evolved, in both skill and equipment. The tools must suit the craftswoman, after all, and what was acceptable before — the heavy bike with cobbled together parts — no longer cuts it. “Last lap,” you think, as you drop down the sweeping curves of the descent, casually drifting off the front and carving each corner as gracefully as a surfer cuts a wave.
It’s training day and you left the house with pockets full of waffles and gels. Enough for three hours give or take. The forecast looks good, and you’ve planned a route with a bit of everything — climbing, a wicked-fast descent or two, and miles of flat smooth road perfect for tempo. You wave to riders coming the other way, and keep a tally in your head of the ones who wave versus the ones who don’t. It doesn’t bother you either way — just one of the ways you pass the time. From the north, a wicked headwind this way comes and you steel yourself to the drudge of it. “I am an arrow,” you think. “I am cutting through the wind like a sharp knife through Jell-O.” Time passes as though in some dream. For some inexplicable reason, the song “Candle in the Wind” is stuck in your head for the next 20 minutes. In a flash of inspiration on the 1,200ft climb up to the vista point, you change the words to Sandals in the Bin, not just because the earworm won’t go away, but also because it matches your cadence perfectly. When you get home, your kit is salty, and your legs, gritty. The shower feels fantastic.
It’s race day and the last lap kettle is about to boil. You heard some idiot say once that “girls don’t like to go fast” and you called bullshit immediately. How strange for someone to think that the idea of going fast was linked to your gender? Was the assumption that women just weren’t capable of feeling the joy of a road moving beneath them in a blur, the touch of the wind on their faces, and the sense of smooth flight while never leaving the earth? You wish that person were here now, watching. Watching how you were counting down the last three corners, positioned perfectly, ready to launch. Number 23 is a good sprinter…you remember that now as you get ready for the end. But she’s done a lot of work today and it’s an uphill finish. Will she be ready for your kick? Because it’s going to be rocket-like.
In the last straight uphill stretch, it’s just you and her, side-by-side, having both used the other girls like disposable Kleenex, letting them drag you to this place and rudely dropping them. The bike moves, light and easy. It makes you randomly think of Theremins — of you moving your hands to make this beautiful music. You jump again, suddenly, but the hill is long and you grind every watt from your exhausted body. Ooof. You roll to a halt after it’s done and collapse over your bars, heaving, your face on fire with the effort and your legs shaking. You look up and see her, number 23, in much the same pose, but getting congratulated. She got you. Dammit. This week, she got you. Later, as you lift your bike to the rack on your car and cinch her down, you take a moment to reflect. It was a good race. What did you learn? “You shouldn’t be so cocky,” you think, glancing down at Fly Girl. But hey, you have to roll the dice, right?
Fly Girls — they gotta fly.
Does your bike have a name? Introduce it to us and share the backstory.