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Life as a Bike Jockey: Planes, Pains & Automobiles

How to get to far-flung races? Judy Freeman's been there done that

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JFreeman-Kenda-Mug1Though snow is still covering trails across most the U.S., the national mountain bike calendar will be kicking off in a few weeks with its first stop at Bonelli Park in Southern California.

That means it’s not only time to be race ready, it’s also time to be ready for travel.

For years I’ve been making race travel plans to get around the U.S., all of which had to be on budget. I’ve tried a number of methods to achieve the objective; carpooling with friends, hitching rides with friends of friends, bumming floor space on couches or under dining room tables, sleeping in cars. Can’t say I know enough to open a travel agency, but I have learned a thing or two.

The Magic Number

My road trip from Boulder, Colorado to Fontana, California last year had intros tow truck drivers and mechanics.
Judy Freeman's road trip from Boulder, Colorado to Fontana, California last spring had introductions to tow truck drivers, mechanics and insurance agents.

Organizing a small group to share rental cars, food and lodging has been the best route. Four people seem to be a good number; large enough for cost sharing benefits and small enough to be manageable. You can usually fit four in one hotel room but it does take some Tetris-worthy organizing and solid communication skills because the hotel help isn’t always savvy to broke-bike racer plan.

Somehow trying to book a room with two beds large enough to sleep four adults always loses something in translation. I’ve had conversations that have gone something like this:

Me: So the room has double beds? Double double beds?

Clerk: Yeah, double.

Me: Two double beds, right?

Clerk: Yeah. double bed…works for two.

Not caught in time that sort of dialogue adds up to lots of talks with the front desks or a Jenga-type sleeping arrangement.

Nice to Meet You?

Traveling with the same group also helps because you find a groove, but that luxury doesn’t always work out and I’ve ended up tagging along in groups with people I don’t really know. It’s cool getting to hang out with new people, but the ro-sham-bo for bed space at the Motel 6 can land you in an awkward situation. Waking up in the middle of the night to find your rock-paper-scissor throw landed you in bed with a drooling sleep-snuggler hugging on you like a woobie is a weird introduction.

Up in the Air

With all the time needed off work to drive to some races, flying has actually ended up the cheaper prospect, especially if you can rack up the frequent-flyer points for a free flight. But the cost of flying with the bike can make it null and void. Checking my bike on one of those free flights through United cost me $175 once. One way. And at 6 a.m. with no other options to make my connections all I could do was grit my teeth as I handed over a credit card for the mugging.

I’ve had better luck on Southwest lately with their flat $50 bike fee. It also got a lot easier once I got a Pika Packworks soft case. That bag and my bike easily come in way under the 50 pound weight limit, leaving loads of room for extra tires, gear and a sherpa named Ming-mat to lug it around for me once I arrive.


All said, a good road trip always holds appeal for me, if only for the adventure. I spent one season sleeping in my station wagon. My dad helped me put in a small bunk for sleeping and storage space and I hit the road for almost every race. Looking back, I saved some cash on hotel rooms but I think the bills I racked up for Advil and chiropractic visits kept me in the red.

I met a lot of nice people though and I’ve enjoyed seeing them at the races for years now; all of us brought together by the luxury suites in the parking lot.

But that station wagon has seen it’s better days now. My road trip from Boulder, Colorado to Fontana, California last year had a few too many introductions. A mechanical breakdown four hours into the trip and a set of keys locked in the car two states later got me pretty acquainted with tow truck drivers, garage mechanics and insurance agents. Nice people – just wish we’d met under different circumstances.

Dare to Dream

Things are a bit easier now. Our team doesn’t have full travel budget but we do get help with lodging, which is awesome. I usually get my own bed these days and as far as I’m concerned, I’m living large.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for Bonelli on March 12. My coach has been helping me get back to a regular riding program now that my broken foot is ready for action. I’ve started 2011 with a bit less fitness and a bit more safety chub than I’d like after three months in a boot, but it’ll turn around and I’ll soon be back in the groove. Because you know, it’s just like riding a bicycle.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2011, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2011 include Kenda, Felt, TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Sun Ringle, Pearl Izumi, Voler, WickWerks, KMC, FSA, Crank Bros, Fi’zi:k, Pika Packworks, Smith Optics, TriFlow, 2XU, Action Wipes, Louis Garneau and Mighty Good Coffee.