How I got into Cycling

It all started with a purple helmet in Berlin

I used to live in Berlin for eight years, and honestly, I never bothered getting a bike. Public transportation brings you to almost any spot in the city without having to walk more than ten minutes, and just thinking about having to navigate the crowded streets on a bike gave me severe anxiety bursts.

I’m not exactly sure why I bought a bike after all at the end of 2015, but I remember that I finally got tired of taking the smelly U-Bahn, squeezing through the crowds on their way to work, and paying for steadily rising ticket prices.

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At first, I wanted to spend as little money as possible and buy a used bike. The thing only was: I didn’t want to support anyone who potentially had stolen one, trying to sell it to me at the park or via the internet. I soon realized that not even bike shops in Berlin are keen on taking the risk of re-selling a potentially stolen bike. I went from store to store and tried out a lot of new bikes, mostly city bikes and “Hollandräder,” where you sit very upright. I always looked at those bikes and tried to picture myself as one of those girls with flaring skirts, big sun hats, and a colorful bag stored in their straw basket. That wasn’t me.

What I disliked most about those bikes was that I felt like I didn’t have much control while riding. Most of the weight seemed to be on the back, not the front. I grew increasingly frustrated on my search for a bike that should’ve been more like a road bike, not a commuter. Nobody ever told me to search for a road bike, though, so I looked for a city bike on which I would lean forward as much as possible.

Hooray, new bike day!

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In the end, I decided to get a Breezer Downtown 3 trekking bike, which gave me a somewhat less upright position, at least from my subjective experience. I started to commute as soon as spring came around, and got really comfortable riding, right before I moved to the US and left Berlin for good.

Let me tell you this: At first, I was scared of literally anything that could’ve come up on my ride through a massive city like Berlin. My mind kept racing with questions like "Will the bike path let me make a left turn, or do I have to use the car lane?", "Will I get lost?", "Will I ride into another cyclist or crash against a lamp post?", "What happens if the bike path comes to an end?" "Will I find a spot to lock my bike? Or will I be searching and struggling to lock it somewhere tricky, under the eyes of a bunch of people sitting outside cafés and restaurants?" Sometimes I felt like jumping off a cliff every time I got on the bike. But it turns out that one can learn incredibly fast how to adapt to other cyclists, traffic, lights, and so on.

Admittedly, my anxiety might have kept me from being too self-confident in the beginning, but overall it was pretty unnecessary. I bought a sparkling, purple helmet (got a lot of catcalls on that one) and made my way through Berlin. At that time, I had four different jobs in various parts of the city, so I just had to suck it up and ride.

Same bike, different city

Although it was super exciting to re-experience Berlin on a bike, I finished up my master’s thesis in May 2016 and decided to move to Los Angeles. I’ve seen enough of Germany for now - it was time for a new chapter!

Being new to LA, I didn’t do many things on my own at first. It took me a couple of months to get a new bike, mostly because I saw cycling more as a means to get from one place to the next, and I didn’t really have anywhere to be. Still, I didn’t even think about buying anything else than another city bike or cruiser, although I continued to hate being in an upright position. I took the easy way out, researched a Breezer dealer in Venice and bought almost the exact same bike that I had in Berlin, just a size bigger and in a different color.

I also lived through the same anxieties again, until I got comfortable enough to do small distances to the beach on my own. Since I didn’t drive a car, and couldn’t afford to take Ubers everywhere, I had to make the Breezer my primary mode of transportation to the mall, to the beach, and to work. I started to truly appreciate the bike lanes in Santa Monica and the Marvin Braude bike path along the beach.

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In December 2016, I started to regularly cycle to the end of the bike path in the Pacific Palisades. I made it a habit to stop at a bench on Will Rogers State Beach to take a deep breath, watch the ocean, spot some dolphins and listen to my favorite music. It was amazing! Naturally, this spot quickly became my refuge, my sacred place that only I knew, and where I could escape to when things were too much.

I have to add that it was an exciting but tough time when I first moved to LA, and I was extremely dependent on my now ex-husband. Honestly, I felt so foreign and scared in this new country that I just let him take over decisions regarding my life on a daily basis. I lost my independence mostly by allowing it to happen. Riding to my spot at Will Rogers gave me the feeling that I was still my own entity, not just someone’s wife who’s too scared to do anything on her own. It was me riding there, and I didn’t have to ask anyone to help get me there.

It was one of the most liberating feelings I experienced after moving away from Germany.

Why can’t I go faster? I need speed!

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There are several reasons why I ultimately got into road cycling. It subtly started with a roadie who stopped next to me on a red light, looked at my bike and said something like: “Awesome bike! Looks like a {insert some kind of motorbike type I don’t remember}.” He might as well have been teasing me, but his compliment sounded sincere, and he waved goodbye when he raced off once the light turned green.

Funny thing was, I noticed that I was able to somewhat keep up with him when I pushed it hard enough. That’s when I began to pay more attention to the cyclists on the bike path - I kept passing tourists and locals alike, always wondering how they could possibly be happy going that slow. The only cyclists faster than me were on road bikes or e-bikes. I thought to myself: “If I’m not as slow as a tourist but not as fast as a roadie, who am I?”

I was never into sports, and more than one time did I call myself the most un-athletic person ever. I’m not even a very competitive person by nature! Yet, something told me that cycling could actually be worth pursuing. Not necessarily to win, but to push myself beyond my own limits, get out of my comfort zone and break free of negative self-images that I held for years.

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From then on, I started to track my rides with the the app “Map my Ride” by Under Armor. Yes, I was such a newbie that I didn’t even know what Strava was until months later. Also, the faster I cycled, the more I started sweating under my sparkling, purple helmet. So, I switched to one from Specialized that was supposed to let more air in. Plus, I noticed random people pointing and laughing at my sparkling helmet (not even kidding), so I was happy to try one that wasn't sticking out as much.

I spent a couple of months cycling along the bike path, riding to my first job interview in Santa Monica, starting to commute a couple of times per week, and making sure to stop at my favorite spot as often as possible. Suddenly, the distances that seemed long and intimidating became short and easy.

One thing that ultimately sent me out on the hunt for a road bike was this: No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t pick up as much speed as I wanted to. I pedaled, and pedaled, and pedaled, but three gears are just not enough if you wanna fly alongside cars on the streets of Los Angeles.

In July 2017, I had enough of my heavy Breezer Downtown and decided to get a faster, lighter bike. One month later, I was the proud owner of a Serotta CTi. But that’s a story for another day!

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