Hey everyone! Yesterday, you delivered chocolate and flowers and sincere sweet nothings to the one you loved, right? Of course. And now, you wipe your hands clean of all that love business, right? No. Wrong. In the spirit of sourcing love on those not-Valentine’s Days of the year, today’s installment of cool bike people around Wellington brings you a couple. Hang on, it’s a two-fer.
Cool Bike People #8 and #9: Sarah and Zeph Wadsworth
Sarah and Zeph Wadsworth both ride bikes. Well. Like, I believe there is probably very little terrain these two couldn’t ride over. Maybe they couldn’t ride on water. Maybe. But that’s probably it. These two can ride. They’re also as pleasant as a sunny day and just as full of potential. When they aren’t riding, Sarah makes and writes about yummy food and Zeph builds cars and bikes and garages. Seriously.
It’s not surprising then that bikes brought them together. Four years ago, Sarah jumped into a spot with a group of riders taking advantage of the closed road prior to the arrival of the Tour of California peleton. Zeph was driving support. They aimed to attack the longest leg, from Seaside to San Luis Obisbo, when the racers weren’t on the scene. In good conditions, the ride would be breathtaking and rigorous—it’s about 215 kilometers along scenic Highway One. In 2008, unfortunately for the riders but fortunately for Sarah and Zeph, the conditions pretty much sucked. The only woman in the group, Sarah was blown to a stop about 90 minutes in and lost the pack. Zeph shuttled between the riders at the front and Sarah. It took some convincing but she finally agreed to let Zeph drive her up to the others. Once she was in the van, the rain came. She settled into the passenger seat. Sometimes, there are better things to do than ride a bike. Over four hours, Sarah and Zeph got to know each other. Three years later, they got married.
It was inevitable that they would find each other. Both come from California’s beautiful central coast. They had friends in common. They both attended the same university—Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo—as well, but Sarah thought the Wheelmen cycling club was only good for poaching rides whereas Zeph enjoyed it for the mountain bike races and mechanical work. Both grew up on bikes as well although with different motivators.
Sarah says she “despised” bike riding as a kid, mostly because her parents made her do it. They were into family rides and they went fast. “We rode a fair amount and it wasn’t fun for me,” she says. It wasn’t until Sarah started mountain biking on her own that she discovered the pleasure of a solitary ride.
Zeph, on the other hand, rode a ton as a kid, across town to school and wherever he needed to go. It was mountain biking that really took him. “I got into it fast,” he says, “and I found my independence.” He’s only taken a couple breaks from riding: one when he broke his wrist twice in seven months. “I took time off for that and maybe right after university when I mostly just did downhill shuttle runs and drank a lot of beer.”
During university, Zeph worked at a San Luis Obisbo bike shop. After graduation, he took a position as the team mechanic for the Luna Pro Team. For four years, he traveled across North America and Europe to support the 12 female members of the team. The women competed in mountain biking, XTERRA, triathlon, and Cyclo-cross; there were usually three or four professional mountain bikers on the team and Zeph was one of two skilled bike mechanics hired to keep the gear going. He was also a driver and all-around “problem solver” on the team, likely a highly necessary role within a group heading overseas with bikes. “We called it the traveling circus,” he says. “My favorite part of the experience was seeing these amazing places in the world, way off the tourist track, and becoming more familiar with the trails each time we returned to them. California is dry and wide but the East Coast of the U.S. and lots of Europe is rooty and rocky. I got to ride in so many different conditions.” The best spot, in his mind, is Mont Sainte-Anne for its wealth of trails. Another part of the experience that stayed with him: “as a male rider, I couldn’t have an ego because those women could school me.” Maybe this is how he prepared himself for Sarah.
While Zeph was trucking across continents with the Pro Team, Sarah was probably dreaming up recipes and riding. Since finding her peace on the bike, she’s never let it go. She particularly loves high alpine single tracks in the Colorado Rockies and she’s a big fan of Deans Bank in Wanaka. “No brakes, 25 meters above the river and then you’re in a pine grove. It’s magical.” She’s never ditched the bike because she likes to feel in shape. “I feel disconnected when I’m out of shape; I’m not myself.” Zeph puts it this way: “Sarah doesn’t like to stop.” He meant on the trails, but it seems an accurate description of her. To Sarah, being “in shape” might mean a few things beyond physical fitness. Thinking back on her time on the bike, she mused, “in my teens, it was to get out. In my 20s, it was for escape. In my 30s, I need it for my mental stability.” There is no doubt, however, that she’s a super fit woman. She completed the Alpine Epic in 2010, for crying out loud. That was with Zeph and that’s what originally got them to New Zealand.
They’ve made their home in Wellington since arriving in early 2010. Since then, they’ve had ample time to look around and get a feel for their new home. Sarah loves that she can get from Brooklyn to the Transient trail in 10 minutes. They both love Makara and agreed that Deliverance can be a beast. Zeph qualified it: “only when it’s wet.” Sarah says, “anytime.” They also listed Trickle Falls, for its steep drops, and Long Gully for its downhill action, as some great advanced rides.
Fearlessness on the trail doesn’t mean total comfort on the roads, however. Since moving to Wellington, Sarah and Zeph chose to sell off their road bikes. They have cruisers and mountain bikes that get them where they need to be, and they have a car as well. But they got rid of the road bikes because the road didn’t feel safe for that kind of speedy cycling. Sarah says, “I came home from training rides shaking. I told Zeph I didn’t want the option anymore.” She also wasn’t keen on the behavior she saw among pack cyclists. “Sometimes, I think they’re asking for it. I see them take the whole lane and refuse to let cars pass. That doesn’t help other cyclists out there.”
When asked what could be done to improve the cycling infrastructure, Sarah was initially resigned: “It is what it is. We’ve got narrow roads and aloof drivers.” She thought it over and added that she’d like to see bike paths that provide direct connections across town. “People who walk take the shortest routes. People on bikes prefer to do that too. It would be great to see bike lanes that connect shortcuts because people would be more likely to ride.” Sarah and Zeph agreed that getting more advanced bike boxes around town would be great.
Zeph would prefer improved behavior on the road—by cyclists and drivers. “I’d like to see better education on road use. Drivers should be taught to share the road; cyclists should be aware and courteous.” He hates to see cyclists who hog the lane unnecessarily and commuters riding with earbuds. “Our heads have to be on a swivel. Don’t take away your hearing.” They’re both advocates of the helmet. Sarah said, “I protect what I have. I know too many people who’ve been in comas after an accident without a helmet.”
Do either of them give abuse to drivers on the road? Sarah doesn’t. “You always end up catching up to them.” Zeph is pragmatically optimistic. He’ll give a wave and a smile with the hope that the driver will recognize a dangerous maneuver. “Sometimes they get angry,” he admits. “Sometimes, they’re embarrassed. Because they know.”
Sarah and Zeph are both part of the Yeti Tribe which means they ride very impressive mountain bikes. Zeph is part of a team bringing Yetis into New Zealand so you, too, can ride the beast. Check out all the cool things these cool kids do and then say hi when you spot them in the real world. They’re much more approachable than real Yetis. Hi Sarah and Zeph!