Starting Somewhere

Written by Holly Neckermann

I am winding down my first season of bike racing, with only three races left. This time last year I was just getting used to riding with clipless pedals, so I've already gone above and beyond all expectations I had previously set for myself.

I’m definitely a commuter-turned-bike-racer. I started riding my bike more when I moved to Philadelphia in 2013 because there was no good public transit route to my coffee job. Slowly I started to ride more, and sometimes I’d take my single-speed Surly Cross Check (with cruiser handlebars!) on a 50-mile round trip on the Schuylkill River Trail (I was always very tired after doing this). Last year, I built the Cross Check up for a small bike tour, and was given some clipless pedals. Seeing how far I could go and how fast I could climb with a fully loaded bike made me wonder how much better I could do without the extra weight.

packing for the race the night before has become one of my favorite rituals

I was drawn to cycling because, to me, it is an individual pursuit. I liked that I could leave my house and have a small adventure without needing to bring anyone with me. Most of the time, it’s me versus this big steep hill, and after a couple times up, I’d have the hill figured out. I decided to try racing cyclocross because I’m not yet comfortable enough riding in a group, and I figured even if I was last in a cross race, I still got a result (unlike road racing, where if you dropped, you don't).

It hasn’t been easy—my first race was HARD, and I definitely wanted to quit after the first lap. When I finally finished, I realized I had a lot more work to do. I didn’t put in a lot of training before this season because I didn’t know what to expect from racing or from myself. Since my first race, I'm learning bits and pieces each time, and I’ve tried to set reasonable goals for myself in an attempt to give myself small pushes throughout the season.

ready to tackle the super tough charm city course on day two

My first goal was to not come in last, which somehow I managed at Granougue despite a combination of heat, nerves, and a general sense of confusion towards my newest life choice. Now that I've been racing for a while, I no longer see placing last as negative, and one of my best race performances this year was one where I came in last place.

My second goal was to learn to dismount and remount properly, which I learned by practicing ad nauseam in the two weeks between my first and second race at Nittany Lion Cross. In my second race, I crashed and dropped my chain at the same time, so a new goal surfaced: don’t crash. I considered myself lucky to get through my first crash and first mechanical all at once, and I tried my best to stay calm when fixing the problem. After crashing again in a loose gravel turn during the first lap of my third race and subsequently losing over 5 spots, I realized even more that staying upright is a lot faster than falling off the bike. Since that race, I have not crashed as badly.

Flash forward to now, and my goal is to make as few mistakes as possible. I have a feeling I'm going to have that goal for a while. It’s been a wild couple months of trying to put the pieces together, and I now have a better idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are in this sport, and what to work on for next season.