Through June, we are featuring our cycling athletes in our “strong legs” series.
This week, meet Sheldon Warner, a mechanic in our Soho store and a father figure to much of our staff, teaching newcomers how to ride safely in the city, and enthusiasts how to improve their competitiveness.
How many bikes do you have?
I think I have six. No, seven? [counting] Eight! My favorite bike right now is the Trek Superfly. It’s fast, light, good braking and can handle the road bumps and distances. I take it everywhere.
How long have you been riding?
My first memory on the bike is sneaking down to the river when I was 10. We weren’t allowed to go, but I snuck out with my friends. I put a better gear on my bike so I could keep up with them.
The bike saved my life! I was getting into trouble, but bikes kept me on a good road.
You changed the gearing on your bike, at only 10 years old?
Yes. I used to jump ramps with it. That’s how I broke it. [laughs]
For a long time, you were a competitive bike racer. What did you race?
I did all kinds of races: series, track, distance. I was a good sprinter, but I prefer the pursuit stuff, because you have to use your head. In shorter races, you don’t have time to think, you just grind. I loved winning, but I also loved the strategy of it. A longer race is like a big, moving chess game.
I don’t race anymore, but I still train like I do. I ride every day with a core group of friends. We go at least 40 miles. At least once per week we do 70 to 80-mile rides.
What advice do you offer to people who want to start bike racing?
I tell people to get rollers and learn to balance. Watch races and learn techniques. But most importantly, find a group or club to ride with, so you learn how to ride with others and how to improve. Good racers need to not just how to ride but how to ride with other people, to ask questions, to recognize strength, to pace each other. Groups are good for that.
A lot of new racers get on the bike and go, but they ride selfishly, they don’t know how to be attentive to others. Riding with a group will help you learn the important fundamentals of group riding and techniques, how to use your gears, how to keep your RPM up, how to train.
You’ve taught a lot of our staff how to ride safely in NYC. What advice do you give to people learning to ride in NYC?
It is important to respect the others around you, and to communicate with others on the road.
On the bike, the person in front of you has the right of way. There are times to slow down, pass respectfully, communicate. If you are going slow, respect others around you, too. Keep to a side, so riders can pass you respectfully.
Riding respectfully also means signaling to people. Don’t assume they see you or that people should know where you are going. Make it obvious to the drivers where you are going by communicating with signals all the time. Signal when you are turning, or if there is something they need to know.
What attracted you to working with bikes?
I denied being a cyclist for years. But after so long, I had to say it: I am a cyclist. I raced because I was good, an athlete. But now, I do all the same stuff – ride, laugh, push, suffer – I just don’t have to pay to do it! Working in a shop lets me touch and do what I love. The bike connects me to my life. I love the adrenaline and the endorphins. But also I love the freedom. If it’s raining, I get wet, but I’m not stuck waiting on a train. On the bike, nothing is stopping me from where I want to go. There’s a lot of freedom in bikes.
So, eight bikes?
[Laughs] I have my eye on a Madone road bike. But in New York, it’s always a question of where you’re going to put it!
When he’s not at our SoHo store, you can see Sheldon biking and skating in Prospect Park. (Often with one of our staff.) He welcomes you to stop in and ask him for tips on riding and racing.