I recently caught up with my new non-profit partner, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They are one of the largest bicycle advocacy groups in the country! For over 40 years, they have been making the streets of San Francisco more livable and safe places by promoting cycling and walking for everyday transportation.
In 2016, I am promoting their new initiative, Women Bike SF, which encourages more women to ride bikes confidently and comfortably. The interview below can also be found on SF Bike's website here.
We recently caught up with Sara about cycling in San Francisco and beyond, and this is what she had to say:
SF Bicycle Coalition: As a new member of the SF Bicycle Coalition, what aspect of our work is most exciting to you?
Sara Headley: The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has a real understanding of the cycling challenges we face as a community, and they also have smart, logical approaches to tackling them.
For example, when the City threatened a bridge toll on the Golden Gate Bridge for people walking and biking, the SF Bicycle Coalition started a petition, held several meetings and encouraged everyone to tweet directly to the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. It worked. Now, I’m so happy there’s no chance I’ll have to pay a toll when I go on a training ride!
As a person new to biking in San Francisco, what do you see as the best part of bicycling in the Bay Area?
The weather is the best part. If it’s raining or the wind is howling, you don’t have to wait long for the sun and blue skies to come back again. Oh, and the views! The views from the city and from the coast in Marin will never get old.
What inspired you to pursue pro cycling? What keeps you going?
I first became interested in road racing as a college student at the University of Vermont. Every year, I would watch these women race around downtown Burlington, and I just thought, “I could do that.” It wasn’t until four years after I graduated that I started to focus on training, thanks to some encouragement from a friend.
To be able to race my bike around the world with a professional team is a dream. It also means taking risks, doing the hard work, putting myself out there. Also, being successful in women’s cycling requires humility, vulnerability and trust. Those are challenging attributes, but I like the challenge.
Is there one race that you’re most focused on this year? Why?
This year, I’ll be racing with the new British UCI team, Podium Ambition Pro Cycling powered by Club La Santa. Since I’m fairly new to the European peloton, I am going to use my fitness and take some chances with an aggressive racing style. Of course, I have to be smart and play the tactical game as well.
I’ll be peaking in time for U.S. Nationals, which will be held Memorial Day weekend in Winston-Salem, NC. It is one of the only times I’ll race in the U.S. this year – a big switch for me! Also, our team is hoping to make a name for ourselves on the international stage this year, winning stages at some UCI races and placing well at the Team Time Trial at the World Championships — goals that I’m excited to help them accomplish.
Any tips for other women who are interested in bicycling, but not yet riding regularly, or for women who are interested in pursuing competitive cycling?
For women who are new to riding, try heading over to JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park on Sundays to ride on car-free roads. You can also buy or borrow a mountain bike and ride on the trails in the Marin Headlands. You could get lost for hours while remaining close to home.
If interested in competitive cycling, try getting a professional bike fit. It’s worth it! I once did a long training camp back in 2009 before getting a proper fit. I did too many hard miles on a bike that didn’t fit me properly, and the overuse injury I developed still nags me sometimes.Also, go to a bike shop that has a tool to measure the width of your sit bones, then buy a saddle to fit that measurement. Again, comfort is key to sustainable riding.
Oh, and one more thing – check out Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose. It’s an awesome (and safe) way to improve handling skills, ride in a pack among experienced riders and learn the basics of racing.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another way to start racing. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) is a nationwide high school mountain biking league. They would like to develop high school mountain biking coast-to-coast by 2020. It's simple, "Get kids on bikes."
Mountain biking is particularly cool because no one bench-sits, ever. If you are parent of a high-school student, consider introducing them to the supportive environment that is NICA. As an adult, you can also get involved by coaching or volunteering time to the numerous tasks that make this organization hum.
What connections do you see between the racing, recreational riding and transportation cycling communities?
Whether it is pedaling to work or racing on a cobbled road in Belgium, I think everyone can appreciate the freedom a bike offers. Also (and this is only my observation) people who ride bikes are happier. So if you want to build a circle of happy friends who like adventure, my advice is to start riding more!
Why do you think bicycle advocacy is important in San Francisco?
Cycling creates community and community is what makes San Francisco so special. I think it’s our duty to encourage others to get on bikes and share what we all know and love.
Become part of the SF Bicycle Coalition community. Join or renew your membership today and help make our city a better place to live, work and bike.