Keep In Touch

The 2016 season is nearly underway, and I have lot’s of upcoming news to share! You can be the first to hear it all via text.

I’ll be sending texts with schedule, news, updates and VIP deals from my sponsors to anyone who subscribes. You can subscribe by texting code AMBERPIERCE to the number 888-808-6555. You’ll get an immediate response with access to my schedule and some sweet deals from my sponsors. (If you don’t get an immediate response, check that the number and code were correct.)

By subscribing, you’ll get exclusive first access to deals, news and updates, before I post to social media or my website (plus you can opt out anytime).

Give it a try and let me know how you like it!

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Help me keep in touch with you while I’m on the road this season! Text AMBERPIERCE to 888-808-6555 for exclusive updates & deals throughout the year.
Keep In Touch

#TBT to #ClickThruThurs

This article originally appeared on Triple Crankset, a cycling website which sadly no longer exists, back in 2012. (Talk about a throwback!) I was prompted re-post it after Sarah Connolly of prowomenscycling.com posted this tweet today:

#ClickThruThurs is a simple idea, easy to implement, and could really and truly make a difference to women cyclists out there. Read on to find out how!

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Photo by Milay Galvez.

As some of you know, I host regular online live video Q&A sessions for cycling fans, in order to answer questions related to women’s cycling, training, racing and life as a professional athlete. The one question that arises during every single session is: How can cycling fans better support women’s cycling?

Gooooood Question!

In answering this, I want to first recognize what a wonderful question this really is. In Continuing The Dialogue: Women’s Cycling, I remark that there are no fair-weather women’s cycling fans. Non-fans who get to know a woman cyclist, who hear our stories, who see our races get hooked in a way that generates not only a passive interest in what we do, but a deep sense of appreciation and loyalty not seen in other sports fans. The same can be said for a large contingent of men’s cycling fans, but from my own experience, it seems that despite the smaller fan base for women’s cycling, a far greater percentage comprises die-hard fans who not only want to spectate, but also want to be involved, to contribute concretely to the support and development of women’s cycling.

This is one of the most motivational parts of my job. Sure, there is room for  improvement, but as for any industry or organization, progress is a process, not a goal, and the path forward for women’s cycling is lined with cheering, positive, generous people. Though it may grow from frustrating circumstances, our journey toward a more professionally and equitably managed sport brings out the best in our fans and reveals a very, very inspiring side of humanity. It is quite humbling to witness, and we athletes appreciate you more than you can imagine. Thank you!

Now, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what kinds of things fans can do to show their support.

Return On Investment

This is a business, and although sponsors are often drawn to the sport because of their own affinity for cycling, teams, events, athletes and programs need to demonstrate a reasonable Return On Investment (ROI) for their sponsors. To do so is actually quite tricky and can be difficult even for those professionals whose careers depend upon it. But you, as fans, can do a lot to contribute! There are two basic kinds of ROI – quantitative and qualitative – and you can help generate both.

Contribute to Quantitative ROI

Quantitative ROI means numbers. The most effective way to get sponsors on board is to tell a story with numbers: last year, we increased clothing sales by X; our Twitter or Facebook fanbase grew by X; our team’s association with the sponsor’s website increased traffic and interactive activity by X; readership of women’s cycling stories in an online cycling magazine grew at a rate of X. You get the picture.

One of the easiest things you can do is to increase these numbers. How? Follow your favorite athletes and teams on Twitter or “like” their pages on Facebook: if they can show a larger social media fan base, their sponsors will see value in that growing influence. Likewise, follow or “like” any media source, individual or organization supporting women’s cycling.

When you see a news story on women’s cycling, click on it. Online media calculates “click-through” rates and one of the biggest complaints I hear from the media is that stories on women get lower “click-through” rates. Let’s change that!

The same goes for team websites. Take the time to click through your favorite team websites, and really, take a moment to click on the links to their sponsors (from the team website or Facebook page or Twitter update). In general, these sponsors are in it for the love of the sport and because they really do care about the athletes and programs they sponsor, even though sponsorship, at its core, is a business. You as a fan can help these companies justify their investments in your favorite programs, athletes and organizations by clicking through and increasing web traffic via the programs they support.

#ClickThruThurs

To this end, I would like to propose a new social media tradition and hashtag:  Click Thru Thursdays (#ClickThruThurs). Every Thursday, take a few minutes to “click through.” If you want to recommend particular athletes, programs, teams, news sites, or other organizations to other fans, post them with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs. Everyone can search the hashtag and take a few minutes to click through articles, “like” a page, or follow new athletes. Here are a few suggestions, but please, feel free to contribute more!

  • Follow or “Like” news sites that feature women’s cycling news articles on Twitter or Facebook
  • Re-tweet or share news articles about women’s cycling
  • Click-thru websites for events that offer equal prize money, or promote women’s cycling
  • Follow more women cyclists, teams, events or programs on Twitter or Facebook
  • Click through women’s team websites, women’s event websites or athlete websites, with special attention to their sponsors
  • Re-tweet or share posts from women’s teams, programs, athletes, sponsors or organizations
  • Comment on athlete posts, blogs, team websites, sponsors websites, etc
  • Post your favorite athletes, sponsors, websites, teams, events, programs etc with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs to remind and encourage other fans to show their support

If fans take just a few minutes per week every Thursday to voice their support, I believe we can collectively spike some of these quantitative ROI numbers in a way that will encourage existing sponsors to stay involved with the sport, as well as to encourage others to get involved. There is no need to limit this to women’s cycling, either. Take this opportunity to show your support for clean riders and programs, for junior development programs, or educational programs. Whatever you see out there in the world of cycling that is good and worthy, click through!

Contribute to Qualitative ROI

Less tangible than quantitative ROI, but arguably more valuable, is qualitative ROI. In my response to Chris R.’s comment on Continuing the Dialogue: Women’s Cycling, I describe how current marketing strategies should seek to create a brand culture; in other words, focus less on brand exposure (e.g. eyeball impressions) and more on the emotional connection between the brand and its target market. Cycling presents a perfect opportunity for brands to associate with all the qualities of dedication, camaraderie, grace, excellence, sportsmanship and pursuit of human potential that define our sport, and creating a brand-culture built on those qualities can be equally if not more valuable than brand exposure.

So how can you contribute to qualitative ROI? First of all, clicking through also supports the qualitative side of ROI. Simply by showing your appreciation and support of sponsors and programs working for the good of the sport, you are sending a very clear message: these investments are meaningful and valuable. In a way, you’re “voting” for the continuation of such positive support.

To contribute directly to qualitative ROI, I suggest taking a few minutes on Click-Thru Thursdays to write a quick email, Tweet, Facebook update, blog comment, website comment, feedback form, or whatever, to a sponsor, athlete, program, team, new site, radio show or individual to tell them how much their sponsorship, work, support, news coverage, etc mean to you as a fan.

As fans, you have far more power than you realize. Our sport depends upon you. What we athletes do has little or no meaning in a vacuum, and for sponsors, this is a business that demands ROI in order to grow and progress. You – the fans – have the power to fuel this forward movement. Remember your power, and use it well!

Other Ideas

Aside from Click-Thru Thursdays, there are infinitely many other ways to get involved. A wonderfully creative example is the 2012 Unofficial Social Media Jersey Award created by Sarah and Dan over at the Unofficial Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Blog. They collected donations from fans and held a vote for the women cyclists who use social media to engage with fans. The women athletes were then awarded lovely certificates and prize money, all created and funded by the fans. This brilliant project served several positive ends: it promoted women’s cycling and individual athletes, generating online buzz spanning several months; it promoted several major women’s races; it supported women athletes not only with fan-appreciation, but also financially; and finally, the award itself demonstrates very clearly to sponsors how much these athletes mean to the fan base. This is an excellent example of how motivated fans can show their support for the sport. Get creative! With the number of motivated, passionate cycling fans out there, the sky is the limit!

Some other ideas to consider would include making individual donations to athletes or teams. You may notice that some athletes include a PayPal “Donate” button on their personal websites. Trust me, donations of ANY amount are welcome and will help that athlete cover out-of-pocket expenses related to racing during the season (you would be surprised how much we athletes must cover, beyond what the teams will reimburse). (This also ensures that your donation goes directly to the athlete, as donations to some organizations may not always reach the athletes you want to support.) Some teams and federations have set up non-profit foundations to which tax-deductible donations can be made; support those that you think are doing a good job.

Also, buy products from companies that give back to the sport. I don’t advocate consuming for the sake of consuming, but if you need to get, say, olive oil, why not Colavita over a different brand? Or if you need cycling gear, support the brands that are sponsoring a women’s team or program or athlete. If you do buy brands specifically because they give to the sport, send them an email or Tweet or update or comment letting them know that you do and why.

This by no means represents a comprehensive list of what you can do, so please add to it! If you have more ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment. If you like the idea of #ClickThruThurs, please post or Tweet or share this article with other fans, and let’s spread the word.


Now that you know about it, check out #ClickThruThurs on Twitter, and share your women’s cycling favorites with other fans! If you’re interested in reading more about ROI in sport, check out my series on sponsorship for Network for Advancing Athletes.

#TBT to #ClickThruThurs

Gift Goods!

It’s that time of  year, and in case you’re still stumped on finding a gift, I have some ideas — all things I have tested and recommend, especially for active, health-conscious folks. Wherever possible, I’ve also shared deals or discounts to help you save on your holiday shopping!

Full Disclosure: I am sponsored by these companies, but none of them paid me (or even asked me) to list them. (In fact, they are sponsors because I specifically sought them out and wanted to work with them!) I’ve written much on the topic of sponsorship  (here, here and here), and I think it’s important to clarify how genuine these relationships actually are.

These aren’t just companies or brands. These are people whose products improve the lives of others, people who believe in what I do and believe that together, we can improve even more lives. I believe the same, and that’s why I love working with them. Through mutual support, we get to help others better their health, ride safer, explore more, and be more comfortable while they do — an authentic, positive mission.

So, if you do decide to purchase a gift from the list below, you’ll a) get quality stuff that’s pro-athlete tested and approved, b) support the sponsors who support me, and c) advance a pretty awesome mission!

Gift Goods!

Ally’s Bar
I love these bars. Ally has been a longtime friend, and I’ve been fortunate to sample her homemade bars over the years. Ally’s Bar constitutes the outcome of these many years of experimentation, taste testing and a steadfast dedication to whole, natural ingredients. So good! One quick scan of the ingredients and the quality nutrition of these great energy-boosters is immediately clear. All the good stuff for fueling your #allysbaradventure! Free shipping through December (just choose FREE SHIPPING at checkout), plus Ally’s Bar t-shirts, hoodies and other gear are on sale now too! Check out allysbar.com.

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Did I mention I love these?

sam® Sport
This sleek, portable ultrasound machine accelerates your body’s natural healing process, and works wonders on soft tissues, both for healing injury and accelerating the recovery of muscles broken down by intense training. It’s incredibly lightweight and easy to use. I can do everything from yoga to grocery shopping while wearing it discreetly under my clothes. If you know someone who struggles with a strained muscle or tendinopathy, this little thing will relieve pain and probably even resolve the issue. It’s that good. You can use my discount code CYCLING for a massive discount. (Please note, when ordering online, the Rx needs to be in the name of the intended recipient.)

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Using sam after a tough workout to relieve sore tibialis muscles.

BikeTag
This is another ingenious little device making lives better through tech. The BikeTag uses an accelerometer and highly-tuned algorithm to notify an emergency contact list in the event you happen to crash on a ride. Not only that, but you can also set it to notify your loved ones when you start a ride, and when you safely return home. I train a ton on my own and love the added peace of mind that my BikeTag gives my husband and me. All you do is attach it to your bike. You don’t have to start or stop the device. It just starts working when you roll, and stops when you stop. Connect it to your Strava account to automatically record workouts, plus they’ll soon enable a live tracking feature, so family members know where you’re riding. (Right now they’re offering 25% off!) Click here to order or read more.

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So easy! So much peace of mind!

Farm-To-Fork Fondo
My husband and I got to experience the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival last year, and I can’t say enough good things about the team that made it happen: Wrenegade Sports. It was so awesome that I’m making a point of getting to as many of their 2016 events as possible: The Farm To Fork Fondos. For someone who loves cycling, good food, fantastic scenery, social good, and great people, an entry voucher to one of the Farm To Fork Fondos would be an amazing gift. (Only available for purchase until January 1, 2016.) Pair it with some of their rad gear available here!

Inside Tracker
I wrote a whole blog post about this awesome service, but in summary, Inside Tracker uses blood tests to make personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations to help you optimize your health and performance. You can order a gift card for the test(s) of your choice. Another gift that will help your loved ones get closer to their performance or health goals! (Use my first name as a promo code to get a complimentary Inner Age test added to your order!)

Hyperice VYPER Foam Roller
This is Next Level, people. I use the Fusionetics app (customized movement efficiency training program on my phone – super rad for injury prevention and addressing muscle imbalances – message me if you want more info), and it was through them that I discovered the VYPER, a high-intensity vibrating foam roller. TOTAL GAME CHANGER. Okay so it increases circulation and all that, but the thing is: when you finish a foam rolling session, your muscles feel like warm putty. Foam rolling can be a bit painful, but the vibration takes the edge off and helps your muscles relax as you roll.  As they put it: “If a foam roller is a sword, the VYPER is a lightsaber.” (Update: free two-day shipping currently available + a discount on the Holiday Fit Kit!)

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Rolling my calves with the Vyper after a long ride.

Mavic Ksyrium Pros
If you really want to spoil the pants off someone, a set of Ksyrium Pros will more than do the trick. I’ve been testing these personally and love them. Weight-saving ISM4D technology and fore drilling (= no spoke holes and no need for rim tape) plus a wider rim and tire (25mm) means you get the best of all worlds: lightweight comfort, stiffness AND durability. I also highly recommend the Ksyrium Pro Exalith: the Exalith-treated brake track increases stopping power with quieter braking and a killer matte-black finish. These are awesome all-around wheels; reliable for training, light enough for  racing.

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The dead sexy Ksyrium Pro

Halo Headband
These headbands are great for anyone who likes to sweat. They don’t just soak up sweat — their patented Sweat Block technology actually channels sweat away from your eyes, so no matter how much you move and sweat, your eyes stay clear. My favorite is the Halo Slim Sweatband Pullover. I love their hairbands, too! (For free shipping, use coupon code HALOSHIPFREE, and for 10% off use coupon code DEC10OFF. Be sure to enter both coupon codes to receive discounts.)

Gift Goods!

Strengthen The Heart

Last week I rode 450 miles over five days across the Anza Borrego Desert with some downright awesome folks. It speaks volumes that after spending literally hundreds of miles on the bike together, we not only still like one another, but also already (!) miss the rides and the company.

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While the miles now in my legs have made me stronger, it was the connection with other campers, the delight in sharing our appreciation for  the odd but profound satisfaction in choosing to pedal hundreds of miles in the desert together, that seems to have strengthened me most.

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All credit goes to Janel Holcomb, longtime friend and former teammate, who organized the Borrego Springs Cycling Camp presented by Mavic, pulling together an eclectic bunch of cyclists for a week of long rides, abundant laughs and (duh) pie. It takes something special to bring together so many riders from such diverse backgrounds, but the sense of camaraderie and belonging among everyone at camp is evidence for Janel’s ability to inspire and bring out the best in people.

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As a racer, it’s easy to develop a form of tunnel vision, zeroing in on training logs, intervals, power numbers, future goals, and other quantitative benchmarks. And those things are important for progressing as an athlete. But even more important is heart.

Heart is the sum of all the qualitatives and intangibles that delight us about bicycles and pedaling and wind in our faces and becoming through cycling. It’s all the things you can’t verbalize but understand completely when you catch the light in eyes of a fellow rider and smile together in silent appreciation of what doesn’t need to be said.

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At camp, we shared our stories of how we found bicycles and how they changed us. So many stories, so many walks of life, such different journeys — the common thread not simply bicycles, but the universal ineffable joy they inspire.

Falling in love with bicycles is awesome. The only thing better is getting to share that ineffability with others. Thank you to everyone at camp for the powerful reminder that the best part of bicycles can’t be recorded, measured, charted, Strava’d, Tweeted, or Instagrammed. And especially, for making it all the more awesome through shared adventures.

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The skies in Borrego never disappoint.
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My personal favorite: real cheddar melted over a Julian apple pie. #happinesswatts
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The desert around Borrego Springs features incredible art.
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Mavic’s Charlie Gray and Tanner Kietzman had our backs every inch of every mile.
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The desert offers some stunning landscapes.
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The Yeti of Ranchita.
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WD-40 Bike kept our bikes gleaming. I sorely regret not having taken photos of my bike before and after this pro wash by Per. Night and day!
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Photobombed by The Yeti.
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Riding in the middle of nowhere is beautiful and exhilarating. And so much more enjoyable when your crew includes The Yellow Car. Thank you Mavic.
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#LeSangJaune
Strengthen The Heart

Listen To Your Body

(Short on time? Scroll to the bottom of this post for a sweet discount on Inside Tracker plans and gift cards.)

As an athlete, I’m presented with plenty of opportunities to ponder questions of physiology, going down the rabbit hole of endocrine pathways and chemical feedback loops that might explain why, say, one fueling strategy might make me feel better than another. On one hand, it’s a fun thought exercise. On the other, the body has evolved so many systems and feedback loops that no matter how much we think we know about human physiology, we still don’t really know how it works, or how to manipulate our physiology to do what we want it to do.

I can comprehend how training adaptations like enhanced capillarization or mitochondrial activity would build my aerobic capacity, but I can’t press a button and make it so. I can’t even necessarily force those adaptations through training, and even if if I could, I probably wouldn’t get it right. My body must account for an entire and incomprehensibly complex system, optimizing adaptations within context of such innumerable inputs and constraints that it would be impossible for me to conceptualize even a fraction of the information my body processes instantly in real time all of the time. Even if I were to understand some of the small, simple pieces of the puzzle, I could never integrate it completely and accurately. Yet my body does — every moment of every day.

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Crazy tired and analyzing data after a tough workout.

When I train, I don’t view it as trying to force physiological changes to improve my fitness. Instead, I view it as making a request of my body: this is what I would like to be able to do; please find the best way to help me become better able to do it. 

My body knows best, because only my body can process all of the information necessary to optimize adaptations for my own physiology that will help me become a better athlete.

Therefore, I’ve come to believe the best way to improve my health and fitness is to fuel my body well (e.g. give it the nutrition and recovery it needs), make polite and regular requests (e.g. training is my way of requesting to improve my ability to ride a bicycle fast) and then get out of the way (i.e. let my body decide the best way to use that fuel and grant my requests). I might not end up with, say, the exact body shape I want, but I can optimize my strengths and health according to what is optimal for my body. No magazine, internet, or even peer-reviewed article can tell you what is optimal for your body; only your body knows what is best for you and your specific, individual physiology.

Two keys to optimizing fitness: 1) make polite requests of your body, and 2) listen to your body well to understand what it really needs. If you want to improve fitness, a “polite” request is one that doesn’t overtax your body. Consistent, polite requests (e.g. appropriately progressive training stress) will get you further than overbearing demands (inappropriately hard workouts that could lead to overtraining).

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I love to fuel with healthy, whole foods. Ally’s Bar is definitely a favorite!

The other trick is to listen to your body well, to ascertain its true needs. Sure, that donut might look pretty good, and you might feel great for a few minutes as you enjoy the flavor, but if you’re honestly tuned in with your body, you’ll know that donut isn’t really going to make you feel great or give your body what it needs. Listening to your body is a tough challenge. It takes a great deal of practice, and even then, it can be difficult to ascertain whether you’re really giving your body what it needs.

Why is this so hard? For one thing, our bodies are exceptionally good at adapting to sub-par conditions. We can get used to just about anything, thanks to a constantly shifting frame of reference, or shifting baselines. Many people unknowingly live with celiac disease or a thyroid disorder for years before discovering the problem; they get so used to living with the symptoms that it feels normal to them.

So even when we try to tune in to our bodies, we might not always “hear” what our body is saying, because we are so used to feeling the way we normally feel. Our baselines may have shifted.

I recently starting working with Inside Tracker. Their motto is #blooddontlie. If you want to check in with your body, a blood test will give it to you straight.

My first Inside Tracker test shocked me. I’m a professional athlete and feel quite healthy, but my blood tests showed that I have high cholesterol (and not the good kind).

A few years ago, I suffered a major overtraining. I felt terrible, so it was obvious to me that something was really wrong. But when I took my Inside Tracker blood test in October of this year, I felt pretty good. If it weren’t for the blood test, I would never have known my cholesterol levels were putting my health at risk.

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I was surprised my blood test came back with seriously suboptimal results!

Now that I know, I can improve how I fuel my body, which will remove some unhealthy constraints and allow my body to better optimize my health and fitness. Inside Tracker also helps with this by offering easy tips for fueling your body better according to what it needs, and by sending daily reminders. I now eat oatmeal for breakfast and have added a fish oil supplement to my daily regime. Pretty easy.

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Good old fashioned rolled oats – my personal secret weapon.

The best part? I can continue to monitor how well I’m meeting my body’s needs. The better I fuel my body, the better it can help me achieve my goals.

I’d like to help you achieve your health and fitness goals, too.  Go to InsideTracker.com, use my code BFRAMBER for the deepest discount of the year on any of their plans (or gift cards!) between now and December 21st. 

Find out how well you’re meeting your body’s needs, and discover how you can make simple changes to optimize not only how you feel, but how much you get out of your nutrition and training. Blood don’t lie.

 

Listen To Your Body

#TBT Riding eBikes with Mom in Austria

This post originally appeared as part of my Anywhere Road column for Triple Crankset back in 2012. In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I’m sharing it here as a favorite memory of mine. 

View from my bicycle, overlooking the Styrian countryside.

I took this photo on a training ride near Graz. I’d just crested a climb, and the play of sunlight across the alm just about stopped my heart in one of those holy there-is-nowhere-else-I-want-to-be-except-right-here-on-my-bicycle kinds of moments. I experience a lot of those moments and will never take them for granted.

However, I often wish I could share this feeling with my parents. Living overseas, I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, and they don’t ride bicycles. As parents, they worry about me, so they can’t help but think of the physical risks of racing, the frustrating politics and the financial insecurity of what I do. What they don’t get to experience is the kind of visceral and spiritual joy of riding bicycles that so inspires and captivates me (and countless others).

Well, wishes do come true.

Last week — for the first time ever — my mom and I pedaled together through a forested stretch of dirt road on part of my favorite training loop in Graz. She laughed and with equal parts glee and awe, declared, “This is just magical!” I could not have agreed more, but for me, it wasn’t just the exhilaration of flying beneath majestic forest canopy: it was finally having the chance to share this magic with my mom.

When my parents first began planning their visit to Austria, I began plotting a mission to share my favorite bike rides with them.  Unfortunately, my Dad caught a cold. My mom, however, agreed to my crazy scheme.

To fully appreciate this story, you must understand a few things. First, my mom doesn’t ride bikes. She knows how to ride (naturally; she was a kid once, after all), but she hadn’t been on a bike for decades. Second, although the terrain around Graz is wonderfully varied with scenic options for flat routes as well as climbing routes, the most stunning views are those earned after some serious elevation gain. I wanted my mom to experience those stunners, and as any cyclist knows, such views are best savored having been earned through solid effort. Driving there in a car simply would not do. The key, then, was finding a way to keep the challenge, without making Mom suffer terribly, and without overwhelming her with things like clipless pedals or scary traffic.

I found the perfect solution a block from our apartment:  electric bicycle rentals from Velo Vital. With hybrid-style frames, wide slicks and flat pedals and handlebars, they feature mountain bike gears and an adjustable electric motor, controlled by a throttle on the right grip. One must pedal to engage the motor, and the rider controls how much help she gets from the motor via the throttle.

Here is my mom’s account of our adventure, in her own words:


Our trip to Austria could not have been more delightful and the highlight for me was going on a bike ride, or an eBike ride!

When Amber mentioned taking us both on a bike ride over one of her many training courses in the beautiful, lush countryside of Austria, I responded with great enthusiasm as my inner child has historically been adventurous and physically active, even though I have realistically not been either in many years and so I did have reservations. Atman, on the other hand, was more cautious from the beginning.

Mom at the base of the Hohkönig in Salzburgerland, Austria
Mom at the base of the Hohkönig in Salzburgerland, Austria

Realizing we are pretty sedentary people, Amber encouraged us by coming up with the perfect solution, an eBike (electric bike). The idea of getting a helping hand from the eBike was indeed very encouraging and again I was enthusiastic, but still with reservations. I had not ridden a bike for many years, or perhaps even decades. You never forget, right? Right? Visions of narrow European roads on steep hillsides without guard rails began creeping into my thoughts. I wanted to enjoy the rest of our time in Austria, in one piece, without bandages and/or casts.

The moment of truth arrived. Amber announced she had reserved eBikes for the two of us; by riding one herself, she would be in a better position to instruct me on how to use it. That was a great idea, because she had not yet used one herself, and we could both figure them out together. Atman was able to bow out due to a cold he was nursing, the perfect excuse and no one could blame him.

I had the perfect pair of comfortable capris and tennis shoes, and a helmet on loan from Amber. Off we went walking to the eBike store, sunglasses on, helmets and water bottles in hand.

We checked in, Amber paid while using her excellent Austrian German to communicate with the staff in the office. A young man had already set aside 2 eBikes for us, ready to go. He carefully placed them on the green carpet that was rolled out in front of the eBike store. He gave us very thorough instructions, I’m sure, but they were all in German. Amber nodded and confirmed them in German, as well.

Getting the e-bikes ready at Velo Vital in Graz

I followed every hand gesture as best I could. We got two keys, one for the motor and one for the locking cable for when we park the bike. We are to press a button to engage the motor when going up a hill. There is a throttle, and two brakes, front and back. I remembered how to use a throttle from my days as a teenager, riding my brother’s Yamaha 90. I saw the front and back brakes then made a mental note to always use both at the same time then I would not have to remember which is front and which is back. Amber confirmed that when I want to stop to use both at the same time. Good, we are on the same page.

Now, it’s time for me to pedal around a little in front of the store to see if I can remember how to do this. After doing so, the nice young man got a very concerned expression on his face and began to repeat instructions, this time in English. Yes, I had a hard time just getting started, and then an even harder time turning while pedaling. I was definitely shaky; well, downright wobbly, actually.

Amber gave me words of encouragement; she had so much more confidence in me than I had in myself. Thoughts of disaster went through my head, and worse, thoughts of failure, I didn’t want to fail, but the odds were not looking very good. A few more instructions, we secured our water bottles through the loops of the cable on the back of the bike, adjusted our helmets and sunglasses and we were off.

Helmets in place; we are ready to roll!
Helmets in place; we are ready to roll!

Amber paused and explained that she would be giving me hand gestures to indicate her intentions, left arm straight out for a left turn, bent for a right turn, hand on her back with fingers spread for when she is going to slow down and then generally pointing to objects in the road to warn me about bumps, holes and other potentially problematic areas. I was so glad to have an experienced rider to follow, one who knew where she was going and the best routes to take a novice on though a very busy city.

We first had to maneuver through the city streets and sidewalks in order to get out to the country side. There is a lot of traffic in downtown Graz that includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, cyclists and pedestrians. I had previously noted how well they co-exist, cyclists weaving in and out of traffic while dodging pedestrians, especially the ones who are walking without looking  where they are going (me).

I also noticed there are a lot of bicycle and pedestrian paths to facilitate the flow, a truly great idea to foster bicycle use. Another observation that gave me some comfort was the fact that cars do look out for cyclists, they are very aware and always yield to cyclists as best they can, even on the narrowest of streets. There just seems to be a natural give and take amongst the users of streets and sidewalks, a mutual understanding they are there for everyone to use. I love Graz!

Amber said she is going to take me through the nearby park on the way out of the city so we can practice a little before hitting the real roads; she thinks of everything! Pedaling this bike was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, the eBike is heavier than regular bikes, and my leg muscles were already burning, less than one mile out, this was not looking good. Then, my bike wanted to go to the right, I told it to go left but my arms and hands did nothing, so I helplessly fell over, slowly, softly and gently into a little patch of bushes. This was convenient, and much more forgiving than the pavement.

Amber glanced back to see me lying on my right side, the heavy bike had trapped my right foot; I was fine, unharmed and struggling to just free my right foot which I did, but not very gracefully. I scrambled to my feet, well no, I managed to drag myself up and we decided to test the motor. Brilliant! Who needs hills to engage the motor?

Once I turned it on I didn’t turn it off (except for a few times) and I figured out how to use the throttle to help me get going from a dead stop and to give my legs just the lift they needed. WOW! What a difference! The motor does not engage unless you are pedaling, so it is not like a  motorcycle; you still have to contribute BUT it makes the whole process SO MUCH easier and SO pleasurable. Then, when you do come to a steep hill there is a “max” button to give you a little more help just when you need it most. I highly recommend eBikes!!!

Note to self: Remember to release throttle when dismounting from the bike. Again? Ah geez. Reminder: Remember to release throttle when dismounting from the bike.

So, there we were, cycling through the park, crossing the street, riding along the sidewalk in the bicycle lane, crossing another street, weaving through pedestrians, riding across a parking lot, going behind some buildings and in between other buildings as though we had done this together a thousand times. Amber, a cycling expert (indeed, she is a pro cyclist) and my personal guide, helped me along with arm and hand signals so I could anticipate turns, slow downs and bumps in the road. She knew just where to go and which way to take a novice. As we rode she would also signal points of interest and tell me about them.

We are climbing a steep hill as she points to new construction commenting on the contemporary style of the new home being built. I look and see the sleek design we often refer to as “Euro” in the USA. A bit further on there is additional new construction in the traditional Austrian style we think of as “Bavarian”. I note how well they co-exist, neither look out of place, they compliment one another well.

As my legs begin to burn while I struggle up the steep hill, even with the help of the eBike (on max now). Then again, my bike wanted to go to the right, I told it to go left but my arms and hands did nothing, so I helplessly fell over, slowly, softly and gently into a lush patch of grass along the side of the road. OK, now I know what to do, been here, done this before so I lift the bike off my right foot, drag myself up and note there is no damage to either eBike or novice rider. We start walking up the remainder of the steep hill pushing the heavy bikes along side when it occurs to us, we can engage the motor which will allow the eBike to essentially walk itself up the hill as we walk along side, holding it. Sweet! I love eBikes!

Styrian apples ripe in the orchards of Graz

We are leaving the city behind as we move past homes tucked here and there along the hillsides. It feels like we are several miles away from the city but actually we are quite close, minutes away for folks who live here, yet a real country feel to their environment. I can only compare it to the Berkeley Hills, but there’s a lot more vividly green open space behind the homes. The autumn air is crisp and clean yet moderately warm on this perfectly sunny day. I take it all in, the air, the scenery, the sheer joy of riding through it all on an eBike with my daughter.

As we ride along the topside of a hill I look down at what appears to be a perfectly groomed golf course spreading out across a large gentle slope to my left. I see what appears to be paved golf cart roads crisscrossing the course but then, I see regular cars driving on these roads, what? Amber explains it’s not a golf course; it is one of many open green areas with connecting roads. So much of Austria looks like a perfectly groomed golf course until you get up close and realize it’s a pasture or an open field. And many of their roads are extremely narrow. I look across the green expanse, over to the green trees, on to the contrasting white stucco homes with their red tile roofs and a church’s tall steeple against a backdrop of deep blue sky and would pinch myself if I didn’t have to take my hands off the bike grips.

Oncoming cars, trucks and tractors come towards us and wave as they pass; cars come up behind us then go ‘round when it’s safe, giving us plenty of room. Note: Tractors are commonly seen on Austrian roads and frequently driven by youngsters.

Amber is cruising along; I am occasionally cruising but mostly still wobbling when I pedal and grateful she is in front of me so as not to witness to all of my fumbling. When a car comes up behind me I wobble a little more, sometimes on purpose thinking it will let them know I am a real novice so they have to be extra careful around me. I focus intently on keeping my wheels as close to the edge of the road as possible, but still on the road. The wheels  sometimes go off the pavement onto a very narrow shoulder and I don’t panic, I just get back on the pavement, this gives me confidence.

When the road is clear it feels like it exists just for us to enjoy as we gleefully
celebrate life.

We are coasting down a gentle slope on the topside of another hill and it feels like we are flying. There’s a pretty steep drop off to the right, another lush green pasture where happy cows graze. There is no guard rail but I am not wobbling as I coast, it is free sailing (with both hands poised over the brake grips). Everywhere we went in Austria, (Styria and Salzburg), one sees vividly green pastures, even in autumn, with happily grazing cows – love it!

View from the Buchberg in Salzburgerland, Austria

I forgot to mention that Amber has a camera mounted on the top of her helmet so that as she rides along she reaches up to turn it on then turns her head in the direction she wishes to video, while riding, chatting and pointing out this or that. She is truly a multitasking cyclist.

One of the coolest things is that many of the roads we ride on are at the crest of a tall hill where the road follows the ridge line so you have drop-offs on both sides and you have incredible views that go on forever on both sides. It makes you feel like you are on the top of the world, on an eBike!

On another section we climbed through a forest on a narrow, winding, paved road and I told Amber “This reminds me of La Honda!”, she laughed and says yes, that what we think too when we ride through this area. Nature abounds as we ride through the different landscapes, taking in a variety of sights and smells, from fresh cut hay to freshly cut grass to the “aroma” of natural farm ‘fertilizer’.

At some point we come to a building, stop, park our bikes and secure the locked cable around the tire and frame. We are going to get a small bite to eat. We walk around the building and down a few steps into a large outdoor dining area with wooden tables, a placemat in the center with a plant, salt and pepper. This area is surrounded by trees with a lush green field in the background on one side, on the other are two buildings in Austrian style, one seems to be the kitchen while the other is a two story high, A-Frame with scalloped dark wood and glass windows to look out on the farm. It is a buschenschank restaurant in a very rustic and beautiful setting.

Mom enjoys the sunshine in the Buschenschank Gastgarten during our coffee & strudel stop

Amber orders for us in perfect Austrian German: a cold cut plate of cured meats and cheese, and an apple strudel with vanilla cream sauce for us to share. It was delicious and just the perfect amount to keep us going but not be too filling. Looking around we see people dressed in suits, some are dressed casually and we are in cycling attire. People from  nearby neighborhoods come by to eat, business people as well. We see a tree laden with what appears to be miniature apples. Austria, famous for Schnapps made from all sorts of fruit and nuts, also makes one from Quince so we are wondering if these might be young quince. I ask the waiter in English, he is happy to respond in English as are most Austrians. He explains that they are a species of apple but he doesn’t recommend eating them as they don’t taste very good in his opinion; I categorized them as yellow crabapples.

Coffee Stop

As we are riding a ridge line with views on both sides we see a forest up ahead, Amber slows to a stop. She wants to warn me that the next section of road is not paved but is hard packed dirt so riding on it is not problematic. We leave the pavement and begin riding on the hard packed road, which amazingly has no ruts. She’s right, no problem, in fact, the dirt road adds to the almost magical feel of riding through this forest.

After previously riding along the ridge line in the sunshine it was getting pretty hot, then upon entering the forest the air is suddenly cool, the smell of autumn replaces that of grass; the sunlight sprinkles through the leaves of shrubs and trees but rarely reaches the forest floor where all seems damp but not wet. I shout up to Amber as I proclaimed, “This is the ‘Magical Forest!’”, (truly a magical mystery tour).

Views of the Styrian countryside near Graz, Austria

Then, without warning, there are people, two on one side and one on the other; they have hiking poles and are dressed in hiking clothes and boots. I quickly note the flag of Austria painted on a tree as we sail past. Austria has miles and miles of carefully maintained hiking paths clearly marked by painted flags from one visual point to another to guide the hikers. Hiking in Austria seems to be a national activity, everyone hikes, and travelers from around the world come here to hike. (I prefer to eBike!)

Heading out of the forest and into the sunshine I have lost my wobble and don’t have to concentrate on how to ride my eBike anymore. I finally feel one with my bike as we continue on chatting away and enjoying the countryside. We climb up hills and wind down narrow roads; we ride along ridges while giggling at times like children. After a while, we descend into the city, ride along a river on a bike path, cross streets, weave around pedestrians and other traffic, enter the park and note the unicyclist on a corner. We get closer to downtown and soon find our way back to the eBike store where I proudly ride up without  wobbling and dismount like a pro.

Thank you Amber, for this adventure, the memories will be with me forever.  Austria is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and one of the best ways to see and experience it is from the saddle of an eBike.

I came away from that experience with an appreciation of how much fun cycling is and how much more interesting and exciting it is to view the world around us when we can be more interactive with the environment.

Fun with bikes!

– words by Carolyn Rais


Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you, Mom, for sharing this lovely narrative, and thank you most of all for trusting your inner child and riding with me!

And to the readers, thank you for reading.

#TBT Riding eBikes with Mom in Austria