If there is a sport more beautiful than road cycling, I don’t know what it is. Even the most laid-back recreational rider can get a taste of what the professional riders of the Tour de France experience: the wind in your face, the sun on your back, that feeling when your riding buddy (10 years your senior and whose dust you eat even on your very best day) blows by you . . . on the uphill.
Las Cruces has an active — and growing! — road cycling community. ZiaVelo Cycling group, with its distinctive yellow and red kit, may be the most visible example of local road cyclists. You might think that they are what road cyclists are “supposed” to look like; however, with their emphasis on racing and elite fitness, this group is not representative of most recreational cyclists.
In fact, road cyclists come in all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes. Alex Kassim, co-founder with Ashleigh Curry of the Mesilla Park Cycling Club (MPCC), notes that MPCC has riders in their teens all the way into their 70s.
Alex, who has been riding for four years, began cycling after racquetball injuries forced him to find a sport less traumatic to the body. He gave cycling a try by pulling his old “$50 Walmart special” out of storage — but he did go to a local cycling pro shop to get a good helmet. At first, riding five or six miles was a big deal. As he worked his way up to longer rides, he realized he needed a lighter, more responsive bike if he was going to continue cycling.
Alex spent $500 on his first road bike and it was a “drastic change.” “Confidence is important when cycling, and knowing you are safer because the bike does what you ask it to — brake hard, speed up, or take a sharp turn — will significantly improve your experience,” he says. Indeed, Alex says he wishes he had picked up cycling 20 years ago because of the spiritual, physical, and psychological benefits he has found from cycling both on his own and with MPCC.
He and Ashleigh started MPCC to remove barriers to cycling: No one will judge, and people will help you learn to ride safely and understand more about cycling. Alex says “nothing is so wonderful as helping someone who is struggling just because their seat is too low and suddenly their ride is so much better!”
It’s a “no drop” group, but you do need some experience to ride with MPCC. You need a road bike (not a commuter bike or cruiser) and a helmet. The average group speed is 14 – 18 mph depending on who’s riding, and routes are designed with turnaround points if you don’t want to go the whole distance. Some ride leaders have beginner routes as short as 30 minutes. Search Mesilla Park Cycling Club (ask to join!) on Facebook to find out more.
Ashleigh emphasizes that women often have a lot of questions before they go out for the first time, and suggests a good starting point is the book Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling by Selene Yeager. Ashleigh encourages women to make sure they are fitted correctly to their bike and understand that the first few times on a road bike it feels like you are carrying a bowling ball on your head. It takes time to build the muscles that hold your head up, and it takes time to “break in” your nether regions as well. As Ashleigh notes, “The more you ride, the more your own personal saddle will adjust.” Padded cycling shorts are a great first investment.
Ashleigh’s words of wisdom apply if you are 6 or 60. “Say to yourself, I’m brave, I can do this, and I will do what I want and do it happily,” she suggests. Set your own parameters, and the very best thing is to find another woman who wants to ride, too.
With regard to MPCC, she encourages people to join, but stresses, “If you aren’t getting your needs met, do something about it. Don’t be shy to post. Say, ‘I’m a new cyclist, anyone want to go out for 30 minutes with me?’ You are absolutely allowed to take the initiative.”
Another type of road cycling is bike touring or bike packing. Tammy Schurr operates Two Wheel Tammy Tours (facebook.com/twowheeltammytours and [email protected]) for people who want to travel by bicycle — “not necessarily vacation,” Tammy notes, “but travel and interact with people and places.”
A bike tour can either be guided by Tammy or do-it-yourself, and your route can be inn-to-inn for the overnights or you can tent camp. Either way, you are carrying your own gear, so you’ll need to have a bike outfitted with panniers or a trailer. Tammy mostly works with cyclists ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, and a certain level of fitness plus the ability to ride 60 – 80 miles per day is needed. However, she says, an 8-year-old in good shape can do up to about 35 miles per day.
That said, Tammy designs your tour according to who you are and what you want to do. Recently, Tammy took three women from Austin on a cycling tour of the Hatch Valley. They wanted a leisurely experience and to enjoy the wineries and hot springs along the way. So they did fewer miles each day (about 40), Tammy did all the cooking, and the women had a marvelous time.
Tammy also recently designed a DIY tour for a man who just moved to Santa Fe. He was an experienced rider and wanted to spend four days touring “iconic” Northern New Mexico routes. Tammy notes that tours can be “for a long weekend, a week long, or cross country,” and some of the most popular tours are along rails-to-trails routes out-of-state, including the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha, the Erie Canalway Bike Trail, and the Paul Bunyan and Heartland State Trails.
Tammy has been leading tours since 2004 (she is also an Adventure Cycling tour leader), and safety is always on her mind. She advocates for better infrastructure for all non-motorized needs — the 5-year-old who wants to ride or walk to school, the 95-year-old who wants to walk to the store, and recreational and commuter cyclists.
Tammy does note that respect goes both ways, and “as much as drivers need to not be distracted and aware of walkers and riders, pedestrians need to use crosswalks, and cyclists need to abide by the road signs.” One of Tammy’s mantras with regard to safety is “control the controllable.” One example of this is deciding when to ride. Earlier in the day means less traffic, but will the rising sun be in the eyes of drivers (or setting sun at the end of the day), making it harder to see you? You need to plan accordingly.
Now is the best time of the year to feel the wind in your face and the sun on your back . . . and maybe, just maybe, this time your riding buddy will eat your dust.
So . . . get out and ride!
We asked local cycling experts for their favorite road rides. Here are just a few!
Velo Cruces (velocruces.org) board member Donald Wilson says, “The best rides are the ones you start from your front door. The challenge is how your neighborhood connects to the bicycle route system in the community.” His favorite ride? “Anywhere I need to go for which I don’t absolutely have to drive a car.”
George Pearson, Velo Cruces vice president, likes the Baylor Canyon Loop, found at ridewithgps.com/routes/35572694. George says, “This 33-mile ride is challenging because it’s uphill for about two-thirds of the ride. You can ride counter-clockwise to avoid as much uphill, but I think the clockwise direction is much more rewarding.” George is also a board member of the New Mexico Bike Summit (nmbikesummit.org), and suggests checking out the Bicycle Guide on the website for maps, routes, laws, and events.
Ashleigh Curry says, “Starting in Mesilla, go out Snow Road, then come back along Highway 28 or Valdez Road. It’s pretty, shaded, and peaceful. This ride is 9 to 12 miles, depending on where you start. This is an easy ride with no elevation gain at all.”
Tammy Schurr enjoys the Meandering Mesilla/Las Cruces: Breweries, Wineries & Cafes route, found at ridewithgps.com/routes/35540230. “This is an easy 18.5 miles, and I love this ride because you can visit a brewery, a winery, or local café, plus the ride takes you through pecan groves and along the river.”
Written by Elaine Stachera Simon
Photography by Alex Kassim and Tammy Schurr
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.
Posted by LasCruces.com