The Story Of My Bike Life
By Kelly O'Brien
When I registered for a triathlon in the summer of 2011, I designed a rigid training plan of daily runs on the race course, swims at the beach, and death glares at the bikes in the back of the garage. I dreaded dusting off my sister’s sparkly purple Walmart mountain bike. My motivation was about as low as the air pressure in its tires that hadn’t been touched in months. I studied the map of the 17.6-mile loop for hours the night before my first test ride. When the sun rose, I rolled with no idea what I was doing, no helmet, no water, and no desire to be on a bicycle. I spent the next three hours discovering the wonders of headwinds while crawling through cornfields. When I finally got home, I collapsed into the couch, complaining about the excruciating experience and wanting to quit my training altogether.
My discouragement dissipated slightly when my dad told me about his old road bike hanging in storage. When he passed down his Peugeot to me, it was love at first ride.
Although I refused to touch the downtube shifters for quite a while, that bike totally shifted not only my outlook on cycling but also the course of my life.
I went from scoffing at cycling to regularly riding that 1984 frame for four years and roughly 8,000 miles. From completing that first triathlon, to surviving a mid-ride tornado scare in the middle of nowhere, to exploring every piece of Peoria possible while in college, we went through a lot together. All my free time was spent on my bike because nowhere did I feel more free.
When college graduation approached in the spring of 2015, it didn’t take long for me to decide on a gift from my family. They would either help me buy a car or a bike. Less than a week later, I left a trailer park with this Craigslist steal of a deal.
If you had told me I would put 30,000ish miles on that bike in three years, I would’ve laughed. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time. I rode with the saddle WAY too low, I was so stretched out, and I totally bought SPD-SL compatible shoes for my SPD pedals. Most of these mistakes stemmed from the fact that I didn’t seem to have the appropriate resources available to me. Bike shops intimidated me, and all the suburban cycling clubs near me were mostly full of 60-year-old men. So I just stuck to riding alone and trusting the Internet to teach me how to fix a flat. It was that disconnected feeling that pushed me to apply for a job at a shop in Chicago. My goal was to be the resource that I so desperately wanted back then for someone else in the future.
And so my crazy year of commuting from the Northwest suburbs to the city began. I devised a surprisingly easy route of 30 miles a day, which got me to just under 12,000 in 2016. Though I rode plenty that year, I wasn’t yet part of a cycling community. My retail job surrounded me with bikes, but it didn’t provide the sense of community I knew those bikes could provide. I wanted more than just selling bikes and accessories. I wanted group rides and social events and informative clinics and the community that came along with it all. Enter BFF Bikes.
Once I moved into the city and started working at BFF, everything came together. Not only do I finally feel fully connected to a community, but I now help others make that connection. Whether I’m teaching Fix-A-Flat, leading a BFF Bikes to Beer ride, or setting someone up on their first road bike, I’m loving every minute and mile that I get to carry out BFF’s mission.
Along the way, I’ve met the grandest group of people. After so many solo miles, I now have the best of riding buddies. Being part of the women’s cycling community in Chicago is such an honor. There are so many strong and inspiring women here that make me want to be better both on and off the bike. When we’re not competing in crits, we’re meeting at 6:30 a.m. every Friday to ride to Bonjour. And when we’re not hammering up to Highland Park on weekend training rides, we’re planning casual centuries to get cheese and beer in Wisconsin. We’re competitors, we’re friends, we’re a community. Many of us are, in fact, BFFs.
I’m now at a point where I can’t imagine life without bikes and the people they’ve introduced me to throughout my cycling journey. I’ve come a long way since that first triathlon training ride when I wanted to banish bikes forever because I felt so weak. Or when I was scared to go into a bike shop because I thought I was too dumb. Or when I didn’t want to join a group ride because I was too slow. Now when I hop on my perfectly ruby red Liv Langma, I feel more confident and strong than ever. I rode 15,333 miles last year because I could and I enjoyed it. I work in a shop that continuously creates and promotes a welcoming community because I believe that’s what cycling is all about. I push myself to new levels on training rides and in races because I want to be better for myself and my teammates. I am the happiest I’ve ever been because of cycling. Thank God I didn’t give up in the cornfields some seven years ago.