Through June, we are featuring our cycling athletes in our “strong legs” series. This week, meet Laura Lee Vo, Brooklyn resident and racer for our Radical Media women’s cycling team. Her friendly personality and lovable demeanor are one of the reasons she’s a perfect spokesperson as part of the CRCA women’s cycling clinic we love hosting each spring.
What’s your first bike memory?
I grew up in Oklahoma – it was a hot Oklahoma summer – and I distinctly remember my maiden voyage: on a pink Huffy, with streamers, without training wheels. I couldn’t believe I was going and not falling over. It is the clearest memory.
When did you start riding in NYC?
The first time I rode in New York City was the blackout of 2003. That’s the first day I started commuting. Even though there was no power, no transit, no subways, my boss said we still had to come to work. I lived in an artists’ loft space, so I borrowed a bike from the woodshop. I’ve been riding to work every day since then.
I was afraid of riding in the city. But after having to ride during the blackout, I fell in love with riding in the city. I actually rode the woodshop’s bike for a while. I finally got a my own bike, but for a long time I was riding around on this black cruiser with white speckles and a green fork.
How did you get into racing?
I’ve been racing for three years. When I was riding around, random people would just come up to me and tell me I should race. I think sometimes guys have an ego and if they get beaten, they have to convince themselves that the girl is really a racer, and not just a dorky girl on a hybrid with panniers going faster than they are.
Racing is fun. I don’t consider myself super competitive, I just enjoy the challenge. I’m always learning. I got started at the CRCA women’s clinic, and also did some Prospect Park races.
What kind of riding do you do?
I race every weekend; this year, I’m doing about two races per week. I’ve done probably 30-40 races this year. It’s fun.
I do more fun rides in the off-season, long meandering rides. But in-season I’m doing a lot of racing and training. Aside from training, I ride everywhere. It’s a great way to get around, often it’s as fast as or faster than a train, and it’s a lot of fun. It makes me happy.
What tips do you have for people getting into riding now?
When you’re out racing and riding, use those opportunities to get to know people who have more experience than you. For people who are new, you don’t try to figure it out on your own, you can find a community. This may not be as true in men’s cycling, but in women’s cycling, there are a lot of smart cyclists you can plug into. Anne Marie Miller and Tara Parsons, for example.
What’s your vision for cycling in NYC?
Citibike has definite growing pains. On the one hand, people who are riding, they are regular people – neighbors, sisters, friends. Bike share makes cycling more familiar and more mainstream. On the other hand, there are also people who don’t know the rules – safety, courtesy – they’re on their bike thinking it’s a spring day in the park, even if they’re in the middle of the road. They’re having fun, but if they suddenly swerve or stop, they don’t know how it irritates or endangers others.
It’ll shake out in time, I think. With increased awareness, there has to be a pattern, like we have with pedestrians and cars, an implicit understanding about how to interact. As cycling gets integrated into everyday life, the familiarity will create more respect. I’d like to see cyclists go from encountering resentment to encountering mutual respect.
So in 2003, you didn’t even own a bike. How many bikes do you have now?
Do you count parts in a box and framesets? [laughs] If so, currently at home I have six and a half bikes. My Cannondale commuter bike, a Tarmac road bike, an Electra beach cruiser with a robot dragon I painted on the front fender, a Focus cross bike, a dissembled De Rosa, and a hand me down, nameless track bike.
I used to ride my commuter everywhere, but at work we can bring bikes inside, so now I ride my Tarmac to work. That way I can train at the park and then head to work directly.
If you could ride anywhere?
I’d love to travel and do some long rides in places I’ve never seen, places punctuated with grueling climbs and amazing views. I’d love to start in France, perhaps. I would like to explore, and I think riding bikes is the best way.
When not smiling and riding the streets of Brooklyn, Laura Lee is an illustrator and project manager in New York City. She’s also a bike mechanic apprentice under Mark Purdy and occasional host for our women’s summer rides at Prospect Park.