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Hunting Miles and Hills: Say Hello to Laurie Lehman

From Issue 80 • Interview by Brad Roe, Images by William Tracy

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We heard you went to Italy to get a custom Crisp? 

Yes, I did go to Italy to get a custom Crisp. About three years after I really got into riding, I decided to start looking for a better bike: lighter, higher performance, etcetera. I didn’t really know much at the time but all I had read and heard suggested that possibly having better equipment might make riding easier and expand what I could do. So I started researching and was intrigued by titanium. I am a goldsmith by profession and as a metal it interested me. In my searching, I found Darren Crisp and his handmade bikes. I had a 60th birthday coming and decided to contact Darren. After numerous emails, I decided to take the plunge.

I had a bike-fit done here in California and assumed that we would do the project long distance, as he lives and builds in a small town in Tuscany. On a surprise afternoon, an old friend called me and invited me to go with her to Italy; she would take me to meet him. She speaks the language and knows the country well. The next day I was telling my friend Greg this and I said I didn’t know what to do. The friend said, “Are you effing crazy? You’re gonna buy a ticket and go! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

He was right of course and that is what I did. I traveled to Castiglion Fiorentino to meet Daren at his studio that July. At that time, he was doing all of the building work personally. He showed me the shop, bikes in progress, finished projects and, of course, we discussed the details of my dream-bike-to-be. He is the nicest person and it was a most memorable experience and we have remained in touch.

By November, my incredible Ti frame, Enve fork and Chris King headset arrived on my doorstep. During the 18 months’ wait time, I had chosen and purchased the wheels, gruppo, etcetera for the build. Once I had everything, Jim Cadenhead, my favorite local mechanic, built it up and made it perfect. I took my first ride early that December. It was magic. The bike has exceeded my expectations and it continues to teach me about riding. It fits me so perfectly that it seems to disappear, and that great titanium ride quality is really good on my very long rides.

You’ve only been riding for six years? 

I have always loved bikes. I remember cruising around on summer nights on my first three-speed bike when I was about 8 years old. I bought my first road bike in high school and commuted to school that way. But over time, work, family and life filled in and the bike was left behind. In 2011, I found out that my cholesterol was quite high. I had put on weight and was told that a good fix might be more exercise. I had already been thinking about getting back to riding, so now it was time. I dug out an old mountain bike and started going for some short rides. Quickly, I knew I wanted a road bike. So in August of 2012 I put money down on a steel Bianchi. That was the real beginning. I started with two rides a week then three, then more. I had to work so I went early in the morning. I wanted to go more often and ride longer distances, so I had to get up earlier and earlier—5:30 a.m. is still my favorite ride time.

I found that I loved riding in the early morning, seeing the sun rise and feeling the day wake up. It is quiet and there are hardly any cars on the road. It is also very dark and, with good lights, this is not a problem. When you walk or ride a bike, you experience your surroundings more intimately. One big difference between the two is that on a bike, you can really cover distance and go places. One of my favorite things is being far away from everything, out in nature and only hearing the sound of my chain and the breeze go by. When I’m on my bike I feel so free and it feels good to be active and to sweat. I have also discovered that I really like to challenge myself: set reasonable goals and meet them. At first I would be tired after my rides, but soon I would begin to feel more energized when I got home after riding. The more I did, the better I felt. The more I rode, the more I wanted to go riding again. My health issue went away and I lost 40 pounds in three years.

say hello to laurie lehman

You ride a huge amount of miles! You are over 11,000 miles already this year. What motivates you? 

Challenging myself is a big motivator. Feeling good, being healthy and being fit is a great reward. There is a thrill in pushing myself to the limit. Usually, pre-ride, I plan a route. Sometimes I rework it a bit, but usually I stick with my original plan. Unless there is a really good reason, I always finish what I start. Sometimes this means going slower, taking a brief rest, or on a steep climb, walking the bike. Yes, I’ve been known to walk in my socks! But the important thing for me is to accomplish what I’ve set out to do and, of course, enjoy my ride along the way. Strava can’t be underestimated as a motivator. People are watching and so there is a level of accountability. Also, I see what others do and it inspires me to try new routes and challenges. And then there is friendly competition with other Strava riders. I never thought I had a competitive bone in my body…well, that has changed!

you ride a huge amount of miles you are over


you ride a huge amount of miles you are over
you are at 500000 feet of climbing so far this year

Tell us about your longer training rides. The 200-plus-mile rides you do? 

I love my long training rides. People have asked me what I am training for and my answers is: “Life.” I always feel like I’m setting out on an adventure, which I am. When you plan to be in the saddle for 10 hours plus, you have to be self-contained and prepared because a lot of things can happen. Flats, mechanicals, weather changes, wind, nutrition and hydration all have to be carefully planned for, if you want to have a successful day. If you can’t carry it, you have to know how and where to get it along the route. I always prep the bike, food, water, kit, etcetera the night before so I can be on my way quickly in the early morning. The more ready everything is, the less time you will have to consider just going back to bed!

Most of my long days are solo. I love riding with others but I don’t get a lot of takers for the 5 a.m. start time. I do enjoy, however, having hours of time to be with myself away from my daily routine. I think, problem-solve, listen to music and pedal. Sometimes I don’t think about anything at all. I find it very therapeutic. I enjoy the early-morning hour and I have seen more sunrises in the last six years than maybe the rest of my life put together. I do focus on the riding itself too—my cadence, pedal stroke, speed, my perceived HR and effort. I push myself hard and then just cruise.

When you ride 140 miles or more in a ride, you have time for a little of everything. I take short stops and eat small things along the way to keep my energy up. Endurance riding is a different game. You must fuel, hydrate, pace and conserve to make the distance. On a long day, I may pass through three or more towns where I have favorite places that I go for real food and coffee. Coffee is a must! At my meal stops in new towns, I meet new friends, refuel and rest. The length of these rides has slowly increased; and, again, it is the challenge that I seem to crave. I say to myself, “I rode 120 last week, can I ride 130 this time?” So I go for it. There is great satisfaction in reaching the bar that I have raised for myself.

You are at 500,000 feet of climbing so far this year? 

When you live in an area that has varied terrain and ride as many miles as I do [near Santa Barbara], you accumulate a lot of elevation. But if you want the big numbers, you have to hunt the hills a bit. I love the mountains here, wild and rugged. I love the seasonal colors and the views. I do enjoy moderate climbing that comes with most of my rides and often will choose the “high” road when it’s an option. Climbing strengthens you in different ways than riding fast. As far as extreme climbs go, I’m not a huge fan. However, I love to descend and the two seem to go together. There is a definite sense of accomplishment when you reach the top of the mountain.

Doing big climbs is as much mental as it is physical. You have to be strong enough but you also have to believe you can do it. I remember the first time I made it to the top of Gibraltar Road. I believe it’s just under 7 miles and it is rated as HC. When I finally reached the top and was looking out over the coast, islands, etcetera, it was so satisfying. I was thinking, “I reached this place without any motor, gas or noise. Only under my own power. Just me and the bicycle.” It felt very empowering. And then, of course, I got to ride down!

From issue 80.