high wheel racing, mountain biking, and knowing I’ll make it


Hello from Colorado!


en route to Glenwood Springs


The weather here is lovely, the mountains are beautiful, and so far, the sports history conference I’m at has taught me a lot. Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking away with valuable future jeopardy knowledge. Other times, I get super interested in what a person has to talk about. That’s exactly what happened with one of the bigger addresses from yesterday, Ann Hall’s “Muscle on Wheels: Gender, Class, and the High Wheel Racers in Nineteenth Century America.”


She talked about high wheel racing in the 1800s, something I wasn’t even sure I could picture in my mind. Luckily, her talk filled me in on what the bikes were like, what the culture of the races was like, and about some of the people (men and interestingly, to me, women) who raced. She talked about how high wheel races, which were often days in length and saw people racing on their bikes for hours upon hours and miles upon miles around a track, were largely about spectators. Though they were entertainment, they present an interesting case since they’re also a sort of sport. Women, who couldn’t race in sanctioned events by the 1900s, were regular competitors.



One of the points that stuck out to me from the talk was the description of one of the 10 day races that one of these women participated in. Over the 10 days, on a track, one woman rode over 1000 miles (I think the number was 1,050 miles). 1,050 miles in 10 days!


Besides giving me some new background on the history of cycling and on women’s cycling, something that’s a bit of a mystery to me, this also made me feel better about the little nagging doubt that my bike ride next year is going to “kill me.” 3,457 miles in 33 days is a lot, no doubt, and not something to mess with. But 1,050 miles in 10 days on a (strange) high wheel bike in the 1870s? In circles around a track? Sure makes biking across the country seem like an exciting option, doesn’t it? I think I’ll take any “I’m not sure if I’ll make it” thoughts in my head and use them to make sure I take the training and preparation seriously and nothing more. If they could do it back in the day, I can certainly do it now.



In other reasons to feel good about myself, I managed to go for a mountain bike ride without crying or letting myself get frustrated yesterday. One of my classmates who’s here is a fellow cyclist and we decided that we needed to bike while we were out here. The original plan was to rent road bikes (which we still are going to do!), but I let her convince me to get a mountain bike and then followed her up a trail that I probably would have turned away from if I’d been on my own.




Last summer, I tried mountain biking when I was out west with my family. Brent was very patient with me, but I spent the afternoon we rented bikes supremely frustrated with myself for not being good at it (or even capable of it—I think I mostly walked with my big heavy bike, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was at the time I had my stress fracture). Probably exacerbated by my always wanting Brent to think I’m the best at all the things (who doesn’t want to impress the person they love?!), the fact that I want to be good at everything but have never rode a mountain bike made for an afternoon of me taking myself too seriously and crying.


So yesterday, I knew I needed to try a different approach. I went into the ride not expecting much from myself, committed to taking it easy on myself (we’re at altitude, which made it easier to let the “I should be working harder” thoughts go). It really couldn’t go worse than last time. I also asked Erin a lot of questions I was too proud to ask Brent.


Turns out, I had a lot of fun! I still ran with my bike a lot and found myself getting stuck on rocks and such. I fell once, but we won’t talk about it (I’m fine). We took lots of pictures and enjoyed the sun and the scenery. I can see why people like mountain biking, even if it remains mildly terrifying for me!

What makes you feel more confident about doing something that’s scary for you?
If you’re a cyclist, do you ride mountain bikes?
Did you know about high wheel racing? 



3 thoughts on “high wheel racing, mountain biking, and knowing I’ll make it

  1. Great to hear about you trying new things and about big wheel racing on the 1870s! Who knew? I bet you’ll rick that ride next year.

    I’m still mildly terrified every time I go out on my road bike. The only way past letting it stop me is to do it anyway! Mountain biking is not in my repertoire at the moment. And maybe I’m too old!

  2. Why did the high bike fall out of popularity? Why did it become popular in the first place? Confidence really never comes for me when doing something that frightens me, I just get to the “now or never” point and accept that whatever it is I am doing will either be a good thing or a mistake, buy the ticket, take the ride mentality.

  3. Pingback: responsibility and health: giving up on the obesity epidemic, but not in the way you think | Happy is the new healthy

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