Le Tour de Bayou 2018

Earlier this month, I participated in my first ever cycling event: The 7th annual Le Tour de Bayou in Alexandria, Louisiana. This event benefits the Kent House Plantation, the oldest standing historic site in central Louisiana, which receives much of its operational budget through this and other fundraisers. The race featured distances for every level of biker–including 101, 69, 40, 25, 10, and 2 mile rides.42663223_1881907135258742_5476494691547480064_n

All distances showcase the lovely Bayou Rapides and the farmland that lies just outside the city limits. The 101-milers rode all the way to the community of Gardner, where I live with my family about 30 minutes outside Alex in the woods of the Kisatchie National Forest. (I cheered as I passed a few bikers on my drive home around noon).

I’d seen banners, flyers, and colorful bicycles around town in the weeks leading up to Le Tour de Bayou. The last few years that my family has lived here, we’ve seen the bikers on race day speeding down our street. But I never thought to sign up until this year–a week before the race, to be exact.

The truth is, I don’t have an expensive road racing bike, and I barely understand the mechanics of my own Trek hybrid. I was worried I’d embarrass myself if I participated.

So I went to the Kent House to register in person, and was assured that it wasn’t a race; it’s just for fun. Feeling encouraged, I signed up for the 10-miler. I washed my bike, filled my tires, and did a couple challenging training rides during the week in the hills around my house.

Saturday morning I woke up ridiculously early so I could see the sunrise Blessing of the Bikes and watch the 101- and 69-milers take off. The group was pretty small, and I had some major bike shame after seeing their fancy specialized bikes (remind me to ask Santa Clause for one). An hour later, at 8:30, a Kent House employee counted down the takeoff for our 10-mile group.

I couldn’t help but get competitive as we cycled down Bayou Rapides road. To my surprise, within minutes I had passed the pack and had only three bikers ahead of me. Pedaling as hard as possible, I slowly gained on them until I was in 2nd place. Unfortunately, the route wasn’t marked and none of us had studied the route well–so when we hit a crossroads, three of us stopped to look at the map.

Losing my momentum, it was like starting over mid-race. I cycled as fast as my heart would let me, re-gaining my 2nd place status–but with the two others close on my tail. Sure enough, right at the finish line they passed me. This guy and gal sure motivated me to try my best and leave nothing on the road. The three of us crossed the finish within a couple seconds of each other, with a time of 38:50.

Bike racing is not easy. You know the flustered post-race feeling–heart pounding, legs like jelly, and swearing you’ll never do that again (until 20 minutes later when you wonder: When’s my next race?)? I was definitely feeling it.

With the sun high in the sky and not a cloud in sight, the grounds looked beautiful for the post-race party. Kent House staff and volunteers provided chocolate milk, snacks, jambalaya dinners, and beer. There were free tours of the plantation house, massages, a DJ, and local vendors.

I learned some interesting history in a 30-minute tour of the house before enjoying lunch and a “recovery” beer. A friend of my dad’s introduced me to some folks in the biking community, including the owner of a specialty bike gym. The future is bright for my biking hobby.42491610_235362433810255_7373238011368046592_n

Le Tour de Bayou is a fun race with a flat, fast course and distances for all levels. It gives bikers the chance to see central Louisiana’s beauty and support the community. I had tough competition to push me to do my best, but it wasn’t so competitive that I felt discouraged. This may have been my first bike race, but it won’t be my last!


Rookie cycler: Bike shopping

If you scroll down my blog, you’ll find a bucket-list post roughly outlining my most ambitious goals (most of which are in the fitness category). Well one of them happens to be completing a triathlon. As a swimmer who has sucessfully run a few 5Ks, I feel ready to take on a tri. The only problem? I haven’t owned a bike since I was a kid. So after registering for a local women’s triathlon that consists of a 350-yard swim, 12-mile bike, and 2-mile run, my search for a bike began. 

Who knew that buying a bike would be so complicated?! I began at a specialty bike shop with the expectation that I could find something decent for $150. As if! The cheapest bike available was well over $400. I had no intention of spending that much, but I tried out a few bikes nonetheless. One was a hybrid, which offers the speed of a road bike, but it’s a little more comfortable and rugged like a mountain bike. The other was a road bike, which is built for speed; this bike has you leaning forward more, and it feels really weird if you’re not used to it. Apparently new cyclers usually go with a hybrid and upgrade to a road bike if they want a more competitive edge in races. 

My next stop was Academy, where the bikes were well within my price range. The bikes here seemed great, and I was pretty set on saving money by going with one of these. My pick at Academy was the Women’s Schwinn Network 3.0, a hybrid in a cute baby blue shade for $250. Schwinn makes good bikes, and one advantage to this particular one is that the front wheel detaches, making it easier to fit in the back of the SUV. After doing more research, I found a few cons to buying this bike: 1) It weighs 40 pounds, 2) When you buy a bike from a “big box store” like Academy, there are no bike gurus making sure the bike is properly fitted to you, 3) If you have problems later on, there’s no one there who will fix it.

Although specialty bike shops sell more expensive products, if you do purchase a bike from them they’ll offer a year of free labor to fix any loose screws or whatever you may need fixed. If you buy a bike at a “big box store”, you save money initially…but if your bike needs service you may end up paying $100 over the next year for one of the gurus at the specialty shop to tweak it.

Later in the week, I stopped in at another specialty shop that happened to be a Cannondale dealer. The store owner couldn’t have been nicer or more informative. He took out a magazine and showed me a Cannondale hybrid called the Women’s Quick 6 for $460. I loved this bike, but unfortunately it wasn’t in stock at his shop or at the manufacturer (something about them selling all their old models before Christmastime?). I spent hours searching online for the bike, but again–if I had it shipped, I would end up spending hundreds getting someone to assemble it for me and tweak it later.

So I went on Craigslist. There were a few decent bikes that would have fit my needs for a triathlon. But they were just as expensive as the ones at Academy, and why would I buy something used–with no warranty or return policy–when I could have something new? Seriously, People of Craigslist…get realistic.

By the middle of the week I was back at the initial bike shop where I started. The sales associate/bike junkie who helped me was very knowledgeable, and I felt good about buying a bike from this place–even if it was going to cost $$$ (ouch!). I found that the best bike as far as speed, comfort, cost, and attractiveness goes was the Trek 7.1 hybrid in lime green. Apparently I have freakishly long arms and legs (??), so I ended up getting my Trek in a 20′ men’s version.

Can I just say that I LOVE this bike? The guys at the bike shop hooked me up, and I know I made the right choice. At a weight of 24 lbs, with a detachable front wheel, this bike is very portable. I threw it in the back of my SUV this morning and went for a 12-mile ride at the university with a group of about 50 ladies. Since my cycling muscles are out of shape and I’m still getting used to my bike, the ride kicked my butt. But as far as the Trek goes, it served me well.

I’m looking forward to more cycling adventures and getting involved with this new hobby of mine! 🙂 Keep tuned to find out whether I survive the triathlon next weekend!