Photos by Jesse Lash
When I spoke to Ayesha McGowan, she was in the car making the 2-hour commute to her part time job as a preschool music teacher. “I like to take calls while I’m driving,” she’d told me when I called her to set up the interview. “It helps keep me awake.”
This spunky lady is an expert at multi-tasking and planning, making use of every minute in her day. She’s a tireless planner. “I even plan my downtime,” she laughs. But apparently something she is doing is working, because Ayesha is on track to become the first ever professional female African-American road cyclist after racing for only 3 years, while also acting as an advocate for minority groups in cycling and putting effort towards a number of different projects and volunteer work.
Ayesha moved to California last year for better outdoor year-round training opportunities, but she’s originally from the East Coast. She grew up in New Jersey, moved to Boston to study music at Berklee, and starting riding bikes because the public transportation system in the city wasn’t great. “I’m the type of person who wants to find the most efficient way to do everything,” Ayesha says. So she grabbed an old bike from her parents house that still had a baby carrier attached, got it fixed up, and started commuting to class on it.
Soon after, she got involved in her local bike shop, learned about bike mechanics and advocacy, and became a bike messenger for a short period of time. After school, she moved to New York City, where she found it hard to make friends, until she got involved with a number of different cycling groups, including We Bike NYC, an organization dedicated to empowerment of women through bicycles, and InTandem, a program that helps get people with disabilities on bikes.
The community of people she found through these groups encouraged her to stick with riding, and helped with her fear of trying new things, such as racing. “The hardest part of trying something new is being vulnerable,” she says. “I like having someone to try it with.”
Ayesha took a track racing clinic while living in New York, and thus began her journey as a competitive cyclist. She started out with alleycats, but soon realized she wasn’t as aggressive in traffic and city riding as those races demanded. She then enrolled in criterium races, took a few more classes and learned the ropes, and had a great first season in 2014.
As she continued to upgrade in rank and class, she realized something. There weren’t any other African-American women in professional cycling. “Representation is important,” says Ayesha. “If I’d seen another black person in cycling when I was a kid, maybe I would have been inspired to get into it sooner.”
That’s when she made it her goal to be the first. And not because she just wants to be first, but because she wants to inspire other people to overcome obstacles and odds stacked against them. Her mission is so much bigger than cycling. It’s about inclusivity, chasing dreams, and realizing potential. It’s about getting black people, or any other underrepresented group, to realize that they too can reach their goals.
This year, Ayesha is racing at Cat 2 level. She has the opportunity to compete in pro races, and she’s at a level where she could be recruited at any minute. This is her time. “I’ve made a big noise about what I’m trying to do,” she says. “It’s up to them to decide whether or not I’m worth it.”
Currently, she rides 16-20 hours per week, goes to the gym at least twice a week, and practices yoga. In addition to riding and training, she also juggles her part-time job as a teacher, producing a podcast called Fix It Black Jesus, work for non-profits like InTandem, writing for her blog, and getting other people feeling empowered and stoked on cycling through projects such as her virtual ride series, called “Do Better Together.”
I asked Ayesha what some of her favorite and most rewarding moments have been in her journey as a cyclist. “I love planting the seed in people,” she says. Like last spring, when she convinced her 80-year-old grandmother to ride a tandem with her around Atlanta. Or, when she gets messages from other black cyclists and people of color going after their dreams.
“Don’t just talk about it,” Ayesha urges. “Write it down, make a plan, and do it. You’re totally capable.”
The Madone has been the staple of Trek’s elite road bike lineup since the Armstrong era, and while you’ll still find it in Trek retailers, a new model has surpassed it as the lightest production bike Trek has ever built. The new Émonda line shows what Trek’s decades of experience building with its OCLV carbon fiber can create.
Weighing in at just 14 pounds as tested, the bike is in a category that simply needs to be experienced to be believed. As bikes get lighter, each additional pound of weight shaved off represents an even larger percentage of its mass. and while knocking five pounds off my mid-section might help me get to the top of the climb just as quickly, a bike this light has an instant tailwind.
While the Madone is still the out-and-out aerodynamic race bike, the Émonda was designed to appeal to a broader range of riders. While not everyone is pushing a bike hard enough to enjoy the aero benefits of the Madone, everyone can immediately notice a lighter bike. To ensure everyone can enjoy one, the Émonda is available in a remarkable 16 sizes with two different fit profiles from 47 cm to 64 cm, not including the Trek WSD women’s specific sizes.
The simple white-on-black paint with gold accents of the Émonda SLR8 recalls the John Player Special livery of the 1970s Lotus F1 cars. While most modern bikes have crazy aero shapes and bizarre curves, the Émonda has a handsome, traditional look to it. And just like Lotus race cars have done for decades, the Émonda gets its advantage from “adding lightness.” A bare Émonda frame weighs a ridiculous 690 grams. That’s less than a full water bottle.
I was expecting a super rigid ride to go with the stiffness and weight, but when out on the Émonda I was often checking to see if I had a low tire. The ride is taut yet refined—it sends enough of a buzz through the frame to remind you that you are on one heck of a fast bike, but it remains remarkably poised over impacts like potholes. Last year I rode and reviewed Trek’s spring classics-inspired Domane model, with its unique isoSpeed decoupler system, and while the Émonda isn’t quite as supple on rough roads, it is darn close.
Climbing is what the Émonda was born to do. Every meager watt I can generate goes straight to the road through the bike’s massive down tube and BB90 bottom bracket. The full-size 53/39 crankset is clearly meant for racing, but the 11-speed 11-28 cassette gave me plenty of range to tackle the local hills.
What goes up must come down, and the Émonda responds to corners with a razor sharp response, but settles in once it spots the apex and sets an arc. It can’t quite match the glued-to- the-road feeling of the Domane, but it can change direction remarkably quickly. Controlling the descent is a pair of Shimano’s dura-ace direct-mount calipers, which require a specially designed frame and fork to mount. They’re likely the finest rim brakes to ever see the road before disc brakes inevitably take over. The rest of the Dura-Ace running gear works as flawlessly as a Swiss clock, though i do think the throw of the cable release levers is a bit long.
The SLR8 model comes equipped with Bontrager’s RXl tubeless-ready wheels, with a generous helping of carbon fiber in the XXX OCLV handlebar and Paradigm RXL saddle, which certainly looks intimidatingly slim but is in fact remarkably comfortable.
As the keystone model in Trek’s road bike lineup for the foreseeable future, the Émonda is likely to reset riders’ standards of just how good a modern bike can be.
- Price: $7,880
- Weight: 14 pounds
- Sizes: 16 sizes, plus women’s specific models; size 62 H1 tested
By Nicole Duke. Photo by Nils Nilsen/N2Photoservices
We all have a choice—What speed would you like to live your life? Tackle the obstacle or revel in the moment? As a professional cyclist and just all around bike lover, I’ve learned a lot about speed throughout my life and career. When I was younger and a downhill mountain bike racer on the World Cup and national circuit, it was all about how fast I could do everything, without regard for one very important rule: sometimes, you have to go slower to go faster.
As my cycling life and career have progressed, fast seems to be less of a concern for me. I’ve learned that speed—used correctly in the precise moment needed—is the key to enjoyment and success. I was riding just the other day on something I like to call my soul loop. I’ve done it with friends, by myself, in shape, out of shape, slow and sometimes just flat-out, soul-crushingly fast. It’s been awhile since I’ve done this loop alone and without agenda of pace. I’m just starting to train again, so my legs are just warming up.
This loop takes a little over two hours and has over 4,300 feet of vertical gain, mostly on gravel, with breathtaking views. On this day, I left all judgement behind; the pace was slow, many views were absorbed, pictures were taken, and a smile stayed on my face. Later, I noticed my time on the loop—even with all my departures from pushing the pedals—was only six minutes off my normal pace, and I received so much more enjoyment from the ride than I had in years.
Conversely, the rest of my day moved at a much more productive pace than usual after a hard ride like this. Maximum speed is not always best; find your flow and your rhythm and it will lead to more beauty and grace on and off the bike. This is a lesson for me every day now. I’ve managed to fine-tune this on the bike but need to transfer more of this awareness in everyday life. The bike can be such a great life giver and source of self-awareness.
When do I choose fast to go faster? It’s when most of us want to grab the brakes and our minds scream, “Danger, danger! Must slow down!” Most of us have a survival gene, thank God, that tries to keep us intact. Our first reaction to rough terrain is to freeze and grab the brakes. This is where most of us need to hit the override button. Speed is now your friend.
Sometimes you want to embrace the peaks and valleys, but not this time. You want to skim effortlessly across the tops, avoid the deep holes and bumpy crags. The only way to manage this is to trust yourself, the laws of nature; just let go and relax. Like a river flowing over rocks, this is what speed allows: smooth transition. Speed is now your friend! Speed is also about timing and approach. You must learn its subtleties, when to use it and how. Much like life it’s a balance, an ebb and flow. I’ve used speed throughout my life on the bike and in sports to actually find my limits, to feel my primal instincts, to arouse excitement. At one point everything had to be fast, or else I felt like I wasn’t living. Now, life comes to me more in those times of slow and delicate approach. Speed is beginning to leave my ego. I will use it for the moments needed with fire and grace, and dismiss it when it cries and begs my ego to rear its ugly head.
Yes, sometimes I want to skim across the top of life. I don’t want to feel every bump, but more and more, I want to feel, absorb and appreciate the stillness and beauty in my ride and in life. Speed is all in the approach.
This piece originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine by ordering a subscription today.Tweet Print
What would happen if 2012 World Champion cyclist Philippe Gilbert were to switch bikes—and uniforms—with a Belgian postal carrier and race up the hills in Monaco? Let’s watch and find out:
Via Milano FixedTweet Print