Thanks to one of our readers and now a contributer, we have a great community corner post, which we haven’t had in a while. Thanks Andrew for bringing a great perspective to riding in Houston vs other cities, as well as the lifestyle change that comes along with cycling. Here’s the interview below:
Austin to Houston – Lady Cyclist in Motion
Lee is a 56-year-old Texas native and recent transplant to Houston. Struggling with health and weight issues, she’s discovered cycling’s benefits and has transformed herself into a daily 20 mile + rider. We interview Lee about the impact of cycling in her life and her experience as a lady cyclist in Houston.
Lee, welcome. Tell us about how you first started cycling.
Well I grew up in Austin with parents who were pretty athletic. They were always doing outdoors activities: rock climbing, running, and tennis. I guess in my own way I rebelled by not participating past my teen years. After college at the University of Texas, Austin, I married, started a career and a family with my husband. I had played tennis as a child, but never really got into the swing of my parent’s athletic rhythm. Lack of activity followed me into marriage and motherhood, especially with 3 little kids running around the house. When the oldest was old enough, we took him out to a cul de sac in Shady Hollow, where we were living at the time and taught him to ride his first bike. He took to it immediately and we couldn’t get him off the darn thing! I had an old rusting cruiser in the garage and I started going on short rides with him through the neighborhood. That’s how it all started.
So how did you progress as a cyclist from there?
Well my son and I would go on these casual rides, just a few miles through quiet back streets. He kind of grew out of it and when his mom wasn’t cool to hang out with any more, we gave it up. My weight increased dramatically during the next few years as the kids grew up and all of a sudden they were all in college, my nest was empty and I was sitting in a doctor’s office being told that I have Type II Diabetes. It was a frightening moment. As a result I had to dramatically change my diet – no more Texas-style BBQ’s, creamed corn, pies, cakes, I now have to strictly control what I consume and how I do it. I also was instructed to institute a daily exercise routine, at least 1 hour every day of light cardio. I tried local gyms, women gyms, and just hated them. It felt artificial. Except for the brutal summer months, Texas has gorgeous weather and I wanted to be outside. That’s when I pulled the cruiser out and began riding around Austin on casual rides by myself, just 10 miles here and there. It felt so good to be active on a regular basis that the rides became longer and my weight dropped steadily over a period of a few years.
What was it like riding in Austin?
Well this was just when cycling was taking off in Austin, it wasn’t the scene it is now, but there were certainly a growing population of folks getting out there for rides. We were just starting to get some recognition from cars that cyclists had a right to share the road. The culture came a little later on.
How did you transition to more serious riding?
I think my attitude towards cycling actually shifted dramatically with a short trip to London for my mother-in-law’s birthday just a few years back. She had recently purchased a Dawes Discovery lady’s bike from a UK shop, Bikes N Bits. She had just turned 78 and was excited to get out on rides! That was it. I knew that if my elderly mother-in-law could do it, I could take my riding to the next level.
When did you move to Houston?
We got back to Texas from London a few years ago and my husband was transferred to Houston. I was a little nervous because of Houston’s reputation as a “fat” city. According to the statistics it is one, if not the, least healthy cities in the country. But what I have found here is totally different than the stereotype: there’s a tremendous community of healthful individuals who are active in all kinds of ways. I hooked up with a group of lady friends from UT Austin living in Houston. Through sheer serendipity they had recently begun a cycling club, with rides every Thursday evening and Sunday morning. I bought my first road bike and joined them. I also started riding on my own, discovering the huge bicycle network Houston has developed. It was such an incredible surprise to find that Houston has invested in cycling infrastructure the way it has. Folks don’t think about Houston as the “Cycling City”, but it now has over 300 miles of routes that take you something like 500 miles around the greater Houston area. It’s an incredible opportunity to get out and see the beauty of this incredible city.
Tell us more about the impact cycling has had on your life.
My health is totally stable. I carefully control my diet, working with my doctor and nutritionist to ensure the proper balance for my diabetes. I still allow myself to indulge in the occasional BBQ or slice of homemade pie, but they’re the exception, not the rule. My drug now is riding. I ride 20+ miles 6 evenings a week no matter what’s going on. It’s calming, soothing, invigorating. I love riding with the girls or with my husband, but I especially love riding by myself. It’s become a lifestyle and I can’t imagine a better city than Houston to live it in.