R♥W♥W: Big Changes on a Little Bike

Lisa K. Lehr

I fell in love with mountain biking within the first 50 feet of riding (what I now know is called) single track. At that point, I was 48 years old and had, until a few years before, been 100 lbs overweight all of my adult life. Once I lost most of my excess weight and got active, I decided to get a bike but had no idea how it would change my life.

With the help of a great bike shop and a cyclist friend, I settled on an all-purpose Trek that was great for me at first. As soon as I got hooked up with local mountain bikers and rode more trails, my friend suggested I get a ‘real’ mountain bike. After doing a little research, I found the perfect bike to fit my very short (4’10”) self – the extra small Gary Fisher Piranha. It was love at first stand over – I didn’t even have to ride it to know it was perfect. Riding it solidified that fact so I was able concentrate on learning how to ride trails with a bike that felt like it was part of me.

A lot of things happened within the first few of weeks of getting that bike, including riding what’s now become my favorite trail for the first time. During that ride, I got a call that my brother in law had died from cancer. It wasn’t unexpected but I was upset and crying. He had been a good mountain biker and would have wanted me to finish – so I carried on with my first long ride.

It was going to be a few days before going to the funeral, so I did a mountain bike “fun” race (Ride for Reading’s Dirt Guts & Donuts) the following morning. I had been on that trail before, so wasn’t worried. Lack of sleep, led to fatigue, which led to a major judgment error, and I found myself in a lake after sailing off an embankment that seems to get higher every time I tell the story (really about 8-10 feet). I did have the presence of mind to stay calm, remind myself to get my head out of the water immediately and to let go of the bike. Amazingly enough I landed between 2 dead trees and in water deep enough over rocks that it broke my fall not my neck. I lost my contact lenses and couldn’t see to get out, so waited for a knight in shining armor to appear and overcome his fear of snakes, ticks and poison ivy enough to help me. We rescued the bike first (she was fine) and I eventually got out of the lake. It made for quite a bit of excitement at the inaugural race, but I was okay.

At the funeral a few days later in Connecticut, numerous large bruises revealed themselves in all kinds of beautiful shades. When asked about them, it was the first time I was so proud to say – I am a Mountain Biker. My family thought I was nuts but I couldn’t wait to get back on the trails – and this was the first time I recognized that I could be physically quite tough.

I already loved mountain biking but after that, it became my passion. I’m not good but that doesn’t keep me off the trails; I’m out every chance I get. More than that, I talk about mountain biking to any and everyone who is willing to listen with all the fire of a middle aged woman who has found love for the first time.

I helped a friend learn to ride a bike so that she could train for a triathlon. I have encouraged co-workers to ride; particularly when they see me bring my bike on my monthly trips to the Cincinnati office so that I can ride while there.

My sister, who used to mountain bike, knows she’s on my radar to get her back on the trails. Last spring, at a party while visiting her, I talked to a fellow for two hours about riding again after he gave it up in the years since his divorce – later I found out he did get back on the trail but he wondered why I didn’t stop talking about riding and pick up the on fact that he was interested in me.

One of the best times I’ve had was arranging a ride at my favorite trail (AEDC in Tullahoma, TN) with 20 riders, most of whom had never had ridden there before. It was a great turn out and wonderful day for riding.

I feel that I have made an impression on people with the fact that I love to ride a lot of trail miles – 40 is my record. It’s great to be recognized on local trails by people I don’t know because of being so vocal about my love of riding.

Trying to be an inspiration got me into trouble recently. The day I got a new Specialized Myka Expert 29, I went right out to the trail. I met a young man there who was just getting back into riding and didn’t know the trail well. I thought it would be fun to show him around, encourage him and to get to know my new ride. Riding too fast on a down hill turn, I wiped out hard and felt something wrong in my ribs immediately. I didn’t want to get off the bike but the pain was intense when breathing, so I had to be rescued again (ribs were just bruised).

I haven’t met any other female mountain bikers my age yet, but I know they are out there – although I don’t know of any that started riding as late and under the same circumstances as I did. If I get my way, though, mountain biking will become the rage for old ladies of all shapes and sizes.

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  • Catherine

    As a 51 year old woman who just learned how to ride a bike for the first time in her life a short 14 months ago, and who just purchased her very first mountain bike so she can learn mountain biking, reading this story is very encouraging! It is good to know that I am not the only “old lady” to catch the bug :)

    • Lisa Lehr

      Thanks Catherine – you are the first old broad that I’ve heard about starting so late – I’m thrilled to meet you. Are you going to the conference? I’d love to meet you and compare aches and pains :)

  • Catherine

    Yes I will be there, and I guess that they have had others our age at this clinic :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/SCFTG Michele Lamelin

    Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa… you are such an inspiration! Come ride with us Santa Cruz Fat Tire Girls out here in California… we’ll show you some super sweet trails :) Like you, I was a late bloomer, falling head over heels in love with riding singletrack in my late 40’s. I was 46 when a friend beckoned “follow me” down what looked to me like a hiking trail off a fire road we were climbing for fitness. Up until then, I had never much enjoyed being on a bike; however, after that first taste of skinny trail, roots & rocks, I was hooked! Before long, I was riding with a wonderful group of women ranging in age from 20’s to 50’s of varying levels of fitness and ability. We have a great time together, and are lucky to count amongst our group pro riders who generously share their wisdom. We are also fortunate to have the support of some really awesome male riders, and a fantastic local mountain bike club (Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz). Thought I’d drop you a note to add my encouragement… shred those trails, dirt girl! Follow that bliss!!!

  • Sharon L. Strickland

    I toast to your new beginnings of riding single track, falling down and figuring your way over obstacles! Mountain biking can be whatever you want it to be and it doesn’t matter if you are any good as long as you have a great attitude, which you obviously do! I hope to ride with you at the Midwest Women’s Mtb Clinic! I know we are competing for the prize but I had to congratulate you and no matter who wins – we all win because we are promoting mountain biking to other women that may be scared to try it. Thanks for your story! :)

  • http://Girlbikelove.com Mary Wadsworth

    Love your story! You already were an inspiration to me!

    The Sister Who Used To Mountain Bike

  • Lee

    I am 44 started 6 months ago. I quit smoking and biking is the replacement for it. Now I get told by hikers that I am crazy for climbing a steep up hill. Hey I am climbing a steep uphill. It is hard on my lungs. Love your story and keep going.

    • Lisa Lehr

      I just tell the runners or hikers that I forgot my ‘slow moving vehicle triangle’ for my back. Usually gets a laugh – but, hey, if i don’t get off and walk, I win as far as I’m concerned. :)