Blog - Cycling Things

"Just do it!”

Why I started mountain bike racing at age 42 


Melanie was never an athlete in school, but cycling was always a constant. At 42, she felt ready, writes Melanie Chambers. But that didn’t diminish the fear. 

By: Melanie Chambers , Toronto Star, September 11, 2015

“You looked shell-shocked at the start line,” says my boyfriend. Poised to push off the pedal, all I could think: “What am I doing here?” Never an athlete in school, why did I decide to start mountain bike racing at 42? And while my fellow, more-experienced, riders said they felt the same way, I wanted to bolt home. 

Countdown begins. Ten. Heart is pounding. Nine. Wow, that woman’s legs look strong. Eight. Friends think you can do this. Seven. I’m old. Six. Can I puke now? Five. Four. ThreeTwo. Pedal! 

We’re on a dirt road in Uxbridge, the site of the first Ontario Cup race of the summer series I’ve committed to racing.

After 90 minutes of breathlessness, climbing hills too steep to walk comfortably and pinballing between trees on a narrow dirt trail (singletrack), I land in second place. Dancing and giggling, this exhilaration is new to me. “I didn’t want to tell you before because I was afraid it would psych you out, but I knew you could make podium,”my boyfriend saysWow, and after only one race, I’m starting to believe it. Six more to go.

Growing up, I wasn’t into sports; I didn’t have athletic heroes. I’ve never trained, or competed, but cycling and fitness have been a constant in my life: in 1996, biking from Amsterdam to Spain seemed like the most natural way to experience Europe for the first time. 

So when a new boyfriend, a former Ontario mountain bike champion, suggested I race, and I wasn’t committed to a writing job overseas — the first time in 13 years — the timing was perfect. Friends agreed: “Melanie, you’ve been training all your life for this.”

Weeks before the race, I bought a lightweight road bike for multi-hour rides, and the occasional days of quad-burning hill sprints. Sprinkle this with more mountain biking and advice from boyfriend Paul, “light on the bars in the climbs,” and my favourite, “suffer well,” I didn't know my potential, yet.

And at the most technical race of the season, the sixth of seven, I would need courage. At 42, I feel ready. But that didn’t diminish the fear. 

My friend called from the hospital after a practise ride on the legendary “Buck”  in Bracebridge. She launched over the handlebars, got stuck between two rocks and sprained her wrist. 

Cycling Buck is like riding a series of whale backs — only whale backs made of Canadian Shield granite. On the morning of the race, after a spotty sleep, I’m back in the dreaded corral. 

“Ten seconds … go!” Starting on a rooty dirt road, I’m near the front until the trail funnels into singletrack (a narrow mountain biking trail so narrow that riders must ride single file). A woman in front hits a tree and flies off her bike forcing me to a stop. The pack is gone. 

Panic grabs my chest: a boulder ahead. I can, I can. Jerking the bike up, the front tire grabs the rock; a couple strong pedal strokes and I’m on top. I’m amazing. Excitement lasts seconds. 

Gripping the bars over a network of jagged tree roots, I’m too slow and hit the wrong angle; the bike bounces off a root and knocks me off to the side. Steadying my shaking leg back into the pedal clip, I push off but the bike is motionless: the chain is off. 

Calm down. In seconds it’s on again. 

Teetering on the ridge of another whale back, then swooping down into a sharp banked corner, the bike goes horizontal, effortlessly swooping into figure eights. Fear is replaced with confidence. And joy!

“How did you do?” asks my friend, who skipped this race. 

“Fifth out of seven.”

“But you finished,” my friend says. 

It was the toughest race in the series. And I did it.

SOURCE: Toronto Star, September 11, 2015

Milton Velodrome Offers Public Exhilarating Experience

By:  News Reporter, Toronto Star,  Sep 07, 2015

Steve Bauer is a Canadian cycling legend. He has raced in the Tour de France 11 times and he’s the first Canadian to take home an Olympic cycling medal. In a career spanning nearly two decades, the 56-year-old has received more decorations than my mother’s living room — but now, as the head coach of the Milton Cycling Academy, he faces his biggest challenge yet: teaching a clumsy Toronto Star journalist how to conquer the new Milton velodrome. 

On Tuesday, when the Mattamy National Cycling Centre opens to the public, you’ll be able to try it, too. 


You have to see the velodrome to appreciate the insanity of it: a 250-metre-long, oval track of untreated spruce with 13-degree banked straights and steep 42-degree bends. Standing at the top of one of those precipitous turns, I gasp. 

“The steepness is no different at the top,” Bauer says to reassure me. “You just have to push a little bit harder to climb the banking.”

Easy for you to say, Steve.



Milton, Canada - September, 1 2015 - The Mattamy National Cycling Centre (velodrome) is set to open to the public on September 8. The velodrome was built for the Pan Am Games. Toronto Star reporter Daniel Otis gives it a try. September 1, 2015 Richard Lautens/Toronto Star

After I change into borrowed bicycle shorts and a jersey, Bauer takes me to the velodrome’s rental room. I’m paired up with a lithe black machine. I look it over.

“Where are the brakes?”


Like all track bikes, this is a fixed-gear bicycle — that means no coasting and no changing gears. Need to stop? You have to freeze your legs and hope for the best. 

“Typically, on a track, you never want to be braking,” Bauer says. “Just relax and let the bike wind down.”


After I fail to get my toes in the pedal straps, Bauer helps me get started from a standing position. 

“Never try to freewheel,” he warns as I roll away. “You just have to constantly pedal.”

In the middle of the track, a bicycle trade show is in progress. Grinning merchants watch me wobble. Grimacing, I focus on the ground in front of me. 


To get used to the bike, Bauer has me do several laps on the flat inner track before getting me to ride on a slightly sloped blue band called the “côte d’azur.” When he feels I’ve grown comfortable with the motions of the bike, he tells me to ride between the black and red lines at the bottom of the track during the straights. That’s an angle of 13 degrees.

“Look far ahead to the banking,” Bauer says as I pedal past him. “The farther ahead you look, the more stable you are.” 

I do this for several laps, moving back to the côte d’azur before the bends. Bauer watches intently.

“Ok! Try the bend!”


Speeding into my first 180-degree turn, I feel the centrifugal force and gravity tilt my bike so it’s almost perpendicular to the 42-degree riding surface. 

“Oh s---,” I mouth. I’m terrified of falling. The bike trembles. I take the second bend, still riddled with anxiety. 

“Relax your back!” Bauer shouts as I ride past him. I do. Suddenly, everything becomes more fluid: my movement, the steering, the tilting, the bends. The bike begins following the trajectory of the course. On the third bend, fear gives way to exhilaration. 


“How high can I go?” I shout as I zip by. I must be grinning. 

“As high as you can! Just keep up your speed!”

I dare to near the blue line, which is halfway up the track. Bauer’s right — it’s just as easy to ride up here as it is at the bottom. I let the momentum of coming off a bend power me into a straight. On the next bend, I rise above the blue line.

Zipping around the track is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The momentum makes me feel like a satellite locked into a tight, unbreaking orbit. I pedal as fast as my legs will let me. The world becomes a whir. 


After several laps, my legs ache and my lungs burn. I come off the bend and do another lap on the flat part of the track, trying to slow down. I push back with my legs to brake, which only sort of works. As I near Bauer, I reach down to undo the toe straps on the pedals. I lose balance. Another, “Oh s---.” But Bauer’s right behind me, catching me in a bear hug as I tumble. 

“I knew that was going to happen as soon as you turned your bars” he says with a smile. 

Embarrassed, I free my sneakers from the pedals.

“You did great.”

Source: Toronto Star, September 7, 2015

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