From Nebraska to Germany, Brigid Siegel has led an active cycling life and has no plans to stop anytime soon. Her experience braving the triathlon scene and leading European tours has afforded her a wealth of knowledge in the sport. Nowadays, Brigid uses her knowledge to raise awareness for social justice matters, such as HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
LifeCycle Biking connected with Brigid recently to get a more in depth look at her biking life cycle.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Brigid! Let's get right to it. Who or what has inspired you to start cycling?
In 1977 at the age of fifteen, I spent the summer living with my grandmother in Linz am Rhein, Germany. I was an early athlete playing team sports like basketball and softball, but I never considered the sport of cycling for myself until that summer. I spent a lot of time with my cousins, one of whom was already an avid cyclist. He had a racing bike he would ride in the hills along the Rhein river valley. I loved everything about this: the racing bike with the drop handlebars, the gear he was wearing, his leather cleats in cages on the peddles, the fact that he shaved his legs- to me the sport was thrilling.
In your life cycle, what’s been your best moment on the bike so far?
I find I have a lot of “best” moments but I would say some of my favorite moments are when it is one of those perfect cycling weather mornings- cool, clear, sun is shining and I am on my touring bike on easy rolling hills where I can keep the bike in the same gear and travel for miles feeling the bike beneath me, the smooth road I am on and the wind against my face, while I am taking in the nature all around me. This happens almost every year during the Braking AIDS ride during the morning on day two.
As a tour leader in Europe, your terrain experience has been very diverse. How did you get into leading tours? Do you have a favorite story from your journeys?
I grew up in Nebraska and worked my way through college. One of the many jobs I had was as a server in an upscale restaurant in downtown Lincoln. As a college town, the clientele during lunch was mainly professors, government officials and the moneyed folk visiting the capital. At this point in my life I had already done a number of sprint triathlons with my first Cannondale and fancied myself an avid biker. During one of my lunch shifts, I overheard a visiting professor from Cambridge University discussing the tours he sponsored through his work with Bythe and Company, a touring company from Toronto Canada. This professor was looking for tour guides for the following season’s tours. I simply told him I was interested in applying and shared my qualifications. I was chosen due to a number of skills and competencies: Fluent German speaker, cyclist, natural curiosity, leadership and simply I had ten weeks of time to devote to the company.
Looking back on the two tours I led, there are many stories which I can highlight as a favorite. The first tour consisted of a total of twenty-five students, two tour leaders and one student leader. In an age of analog everything- simple logistics, communications and directions were a daily challenge. We were in France on the Tour de France Sunday and the weather was rainy and cold, we had many flats and spokes were popping from hubs left and right. At some point, one of the students simply could not ride on his wheel any further as it was shaped like an S. Finding an open bike shop was not even possible, but through a cycling miracle, we met an older man who happened to have a bike shop in his garage. This smoking, beret wearing man muttered under his breath his disdain for the throw-away society had become and began to rebuild the entire wheel, spoke by spoke. Needless to say, this took hours. We entertained ourselves watching the Tour on his small black and white television and marveled at his handy work. When the wheel was finished, we were able to get back on the road.
Is there anything you would like to change in today’s cycling scene?
The cycling scene has a variety of realities. The competitive NY/NJ scene is very male dominated and is looked upon as a group of weekend warriors who break traffic laws, cause congestion on roads, and are a menace. In many ways, this is not wholly an inaccurate description. I think we need to ensure that cyclist obey traffic rules in our urban areas, and that vehicular traffic give more respect to the cyclists. One fatality is one too many.
More recently, appreciation for women cyclists has grown- what has been the biggest improvement you’ve seen regarding women and cycling?
I now see whole lines of bikes and gear specifically made for women. We can now buy a bike which we do not need to retrofit to female dimensions. This ensures less injuries and better biking overall.
Totally! Speaking of biking accessories made for women- one of our most popular items is our Rosie the Riviter short sleeve jersey in our Provisions shop! What advice do you have to women who are new to riding a bike?
There are a few things a new cyclist should do- determine the kind of riding they want to do and buy a bike which fits that goal. The bike needs to be fitted well along with a great helmet. Understand how the bike works and practice in a safe environment which is traffic free. Find a buddy who has more experience. Ride a lot. Learn how to change a tube. Don’t worry about getting dirty!
We have our own "LifeCycle Rides" cycling team that focuses on inclusion and community. You are a part of a cycling team as well- "The Honey Badgers." What does your team focus on and where did the inspiration for the group/team come from?
Our team captain, Courtney Meier, was looking for a way to increase her ability to contribute more to Housing Works through our participation in Braking AIDS. She, along with fellow team mate Mason Scherzer, brainstormed the team name as they were inspired by a YouTube video. The subsequent team was formed on a number of fierce principles from this rough and tough animal: Honey Badgers don’t give a S#&t, are nastya#$ and are fiercely devoted to eliminating AIDS as an epidemic by 2020, working through Housing Works and the governor’s office.
What do you see as your biggest influence in the cycling community?
At fifty-four, I show my cycling friends that age is just a number and that by staying fit, participating in Braking AIDS and contributing to our cycling community and the community at large, cycling is something which can continue to be part of your life for many years to come. Most people around me do not have the same length of experience as I do and many seek my advice on a variety of things cycling related. I experience a real sense of contribution to my community through cycling.
Are there any notable cyclists that inspire you? Or any other people that are doing inspiring things in the cycling world that you think we should highlight?
I met a woman on the Braking AIDS ride last year- Sharon Kliegman- in her mid sixties who recently road her bike across the United States. This has been a dream of mine for a long time and I was inspired to keep the dream alive!
Here in New Jersey, of particular note is a bike shop, Breille Cyclery, which has been owned since 1970 by Katherine Penna with locations in Asbury Park and Brielle. This full service shop really supports women, their needs and cycling goals. I highly recommend stopping by, saying hi to Kathy and checking out all of their great bikes and gear- a cyclist can never have enough!
On that note, I'm going to have to throw in a shameless plug for our LifeCycleBiking Provisions Shop that just launched! We are definitely in agreement that a cyclist can never have enough gear that is right for them and will enhance their ride.
But thanks, Brigid! Can you finish this sentence? "In my life cycle, biking has been . . ."
Biking has been part of my DNA. I really never see a day which I will retire from it.
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