Kiki Demopoulos seems to have found the fountain of youth and happiness… As you might guess, it’s on her bike.
Like most of us, Kiki was active in her youth. She figure skated. In high school, she was on the badminton team. But then, well, life got in the way. When her three children were younger, they kept her on her toes. Otherwise, she was inactive. “Chasing children is all the activity I did.” And, with time, as Kiki describes it, she “got too friendly with the couch.”
After being on the couch for ten years, only last year, a good friend invited her to join a charity ride in the spring. Kiki’s son had been racing road and track bikes for about a year, so the thought of cycling wasn’t exactly foreign. At the time, she had an old hybrid that she tried riding around town with her husband. On that bike, Kiki could barely make up the “hill” on Sheridan Road at the Baha’i temple.
She found cycling was much easier on her friend’s women’s specific Specialized bicycle – except for the toe clips! “Yes, I promptly fell.” As for the bike, Kiki remembers thinking, “This is so fast!” Kiki picked up a Specialized Dolce Elite of her own from Higher Gear. “I love it, love it!”
With a new bike of her very own, Kiki built up a little mileage under her belt. Fortunately last winter and spring were warm, but Kiki still didn’t have much time before an early season charity ride. Her longest ride prior to her event was 35 miles. But that didn’t deter Kiki. She managed to pull off back-to-back days of riding for the Twisted Spokes team at the 2012 Ride MS: Tour de Farms. Kiki covered 75 miles on her first day and 35 on her second!
How does one go from couch to century in such little time, with such little training? * Kiki says it’s important to take it one bit at a time.
“A century is absolutely doable. You’re riding no more than 20 miles at a time between rest stops. You get off your bike, you go to the bathroom, you have something to eat and then you get back on your bike… You’re really riding lots of 25’s. Or lots of 15’s. You stop, you eat and then you go again.”
And the best part of all that effort? “The feeling you get the first time you do that is absolutely outstanding. You get such a sense of accomplishment and pride.”
Once Kiki had that charity ride under belt, she sought out her “next carrot.” She registered for the first annual Venus de Miles ride in Illinois and then the North Shore Century. (A conflict kept her from participating in the Wrigley Field Road Tour.)
To improve her riding skills, keep her mileage up and take advantage of the social aspects of cycling, Kiki asked her son if he minded her joining his team’s group rides. She still remembers his witty and honest response, “Mom, cycling is such a dorky sport, it’s okay if your mom tags along.” But that group ride was more than Kiki bargained for. “It didn’t go well. They’re racers. While they did no drop to Highland Park, I just wanted them to drop me!”
Kiki had read about Higher Gear’s group rides and she decided to give the Saturday morning ride a try. “I love the Saturday ride because it can be as challenging as you want it to be. If you’re feeling slow that day, it’s okay. If you’re feeling like a challenge, you go with the faster group.” She also met like-minded cyclists. “The people are so nice. Brendan’s fabulous. I’ve met lots of great folks on the Higher Gear ride.”
Kiki kept building up her mileage last summer, with her sights on the North Shore Century. On the Higher Gear ride, she became friends with a woman who was training for an endurance event in the fall. The two of them showed up to the Saturday morning ride last August 25th. Because the Wrigley Field Road Tour was the weekend before, most riders who showed up were looking for a short, celebratory recovery ride.
But Kiki and her new friend were hoping to get in more miles, so they decided to keep heading north when the group turned back. At first they figured they would make it up to Lake Forest or Lake Bluff. Once they got that far, her friend suggested that it wasn’t that much farther to the WI border. So they decided to keep heading north.
“It was all so spontaneous. It was just a gorgeous day, one of those perfect days – not too hot, not too windy.” The two made it all the way to Kenosha. At the border, Kiki called home to check in with her family. When she told her cyclist son of her accomplishment, he responded, “That’s great, mom. Just make sure you eat & drink.”
Kiki thought nothing of it. She had one Clif bar in her pocket and ate that at the border, before heading back for home. They made it all the way back to Glencoe before Kiki experienced a new feeling. “I had heard the term ‘bonk’ before. But I did not know what it meant until we got to Glencoe. I literally couldn’t pedal anymore.” Fortunately the two women found themselves right by a cute little café. In Kiki’s words, “That was the best chicken salad wrap I’ve ever had in my life!”
“It was the first time I had ever worked myself that far.” As she ate that wrap, “It’s like you could feel the food affecting you, bringing you back to life. I never thought food would be that much of an issue, but it was.” Lesson learned. “I always have food and money in my pocket now.”
After riding all summer, Kiki wanted to keep her momentum on the bike. She joined her son’s racing team to keep in shape over the winter. She also joined a CompuTraining Studio. “I can’t say enough good things about that. CompuTraining did a lot to help my fitness over the winter and to keep me motivated over the winter.”
Coming out of the winter, Kiki did her first road race in Hillsborough, a 28-mile road race. “I hung on for about six miles before I got spit off the back. I was by myself for a while, then I worked with a few women from team. I came in second or third from last. But not last!”
“I learned from that. When you get spit out of the group, try to work with someone else. Otherwise, it gets really lonely.”
Kiki did her second road race in Kettle Morraine. For her, it was the same kind of race. When she got spit out from the group, she targeted a woman in front of her and made it her goal not to let the woman behind her pass. The three women ended up working together.
Road racing was a learning experience and a challenge. “It was a challenge to see if I could do it. Especially since I had never done any endurance sports. It was an attempt to challenge myself to the next level, to see if I could do it and to see if I would enjoy it.”
In the past year and a half, cycling has presented Kiki with several opportunities to challenge herself. She’s been presented with several tests and as many successes. At a cycling training camp this spring, she found the uphill climb to return to their base at the end of every ride the most challenging part of the day. After having to walk her bike up the hill for the first two days, Kiki was able to make it up on her bike on the last day. She had to “paper-boy” up the hill, but she did it. She made it up the hill. “Did that. Survived that.”
Kiki also gave criterium racing a shot. She describes her first crit as “the hardest thing I’ve done in my entire life.” But she found that type of racing isn’t her cup of tea. “I really enjoy the centuries and long rides. I will probably do a road race again. But that was more to see if I could do it.” And for Kiki’s next challenge?
To celebrate her 50th Birthday, she and her husband are riding 100k together at the Dairyland Dare this year. “We heard that last 50k are where the hills get really big. We’ll do the 150k next year; we’ll leave ourselves a challenge.” While she’ll miss the Venus de Miles and the WFRT this year, she has two more century rides on her radar.
“My daughter made me promise to do relay cross race. It looks so hard. Watching everybody’s faces, it looks so tough.” And, after spending their Thursday evenings at the Northbrook Velodrome watching their son race, Kiki and her husband decided that next year, they will give track a try.
When talking with Kiki about cycling, her enthusiasm keeps stirring up the following image:
“I tried to get to the gym. I tried to keep in shape, but I never stuck with anything. [Bicycling is] the first exercise that I really had enjoyed. I mean, I get to ride my new bike! I get to ride my bike!”
So, what is it about cycling that continues to keep Kiki off that couch with which she had become so intimately acquainted?
A couple things. First of all, it’s the fun of being out there on a bike. I get to go ride my bike! It’s like being a kid.
You’re outside. It’s pretty. You get to look at the pretty houses, the cows in the fields.
Also, even if you just get out for an easy pedal, you’re still out there. When you go to the gym, you’re just going to the gym. But, even if you don’t feel like exercising, you can still get out there on your bike. You can decide, ‘I’m not going to do anything, it’s just a bike ride.’ And then you challenge yourself up the next hill. It’s a lot easier.
Kiki’s advice to anyone looking for motivation to get out there and try cycling:
- Don’t be intimidated by the spandex. It’s not so attractive, but it serves a purpose.
- Don’t be intimidated by the people in spandex. They are the nicest people, the salt of the earth. I used to be so intimidated. Cyclists looked intimidating & snobby. They are the nicest bunch of people you’re ever going to meet in your life.
- The group aspect is so important. Find group rides. It’s such a lovely group atmosphere. And it’s so nice to go out and ride with a group of friends.
- Find a bike shop you’re comfortable with. Higher Gear has been lovely. They are so good at making you feel welcome. There is no intimidation factor at all there. I’ve felt very welcome and supported.
- Find a friend who likes to ride a bike. It’s always better with a friend.
- Just do it. Just get out the bike and ride. It makes you happy.
Robert Kennedy described youth as “not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” If that’s the case, Kiki seems to have discovered the fountain of youth. And it’s on a bicycle.
- Even with Kiki’s encouragement, you still don’t think you can do a century ride? Check out what Higher Gear customer Glenna Lampner has to say about riding 100 miles.
- Thinking about trying a century? Your Century Ride Begins Here.
- Whether it’s your first century or you’re an experienced century rider, we have training plans to make this century your best.
- Not sure what to pack for your century ride? Here’s Higher Gear’s list of Century Ride Essentials.
- Learn about Bike MS: Tour de Farms seasoned pro and Higher Gear customer Chad Smith.
- Questions about how to get started with cycling? Please feel free to come in and chat with us.
- New to group riding? Check out our Group Ride Rules.
- Want to know how pacelines and drafting work? Read Paceline Rules.
- For a look at newbie mistakes and how to avoid them, check out Leveling Out the Learning Curve.
- Read more stories from Higher Gear customers.
* Higher Gear knows that many people will do a century or another charity ride with little training or preparation. It is possible to do, especially for those who are already active. But we also stand by our belief that your century ride will be more enjoyable and your recovery more swift if you prepare, which is why we worked with Coach Craig to offer you training plans for the 2013 Wrigley Field Road Tour.