Nicknamed Fit Chick by Bicycling Magazine (USA), Selene Yeager is an internationally acclaimed author, cycling coach, triathlete and mountain bike racer. Having just published her second book about how to lose weight cycling, she is one lady we just had to chat to. Here she tells us how she went from being just another ordinary American teen to becoming the go-to girl for all things cycling.
I got into cycling before I knew it was 'cycling'. I grew up in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and for some reason I always just loved riding my bike everywhere for as long as I can remember. I spent the day riding around my town. Then when I got older, I would ride the 10 miles to the local lake - no helmet, flip flops, Terry cloth shorts, little pack. I just didn’t know I was doing a 'sport'. I look at the hills and roads I rode then when I go back home now and I’m blown away. I never knew there were flat roads until I was much, much older. I’d honestly never seen one.
I sort of put the bike away during college, but shortly thereafter picked it up again and started looking for people to ride with. I rode most days a week and every weekend while living in the Philly area after college. I still didn’t consider myself a 'cyclist'. That came after I got my job at Rodale. There I met a bunch of people from Bicycling and the other magazines who took me under their wing and helped me find the right equipment and gear that makes the sport even more enjoyable. And I started racing around then, too, again with the encouragement of this group. It’s all gone from there. Today I do ultra endurance mountain bike racing and have raced around the world. It’s amazing. And I feel amazingly blessed.
My very first bike was a little red banana seat bike that was handed down through my family. Then my mum gave me her old bike which was this gorgeous 3 speed aquamarine Scwhinn. I named it Andromeda, because I was a dramatic little girl. The first bike my dad bought for me was a silver 10 speed Schwinn. I loved that bike. The funny thing is I didn’t know anything about tyres or tubes. Miraculously I never had a flat, which is a good thing because I never carried a tube or a pump and wouldn’t have known what to do with them had I had them.
I never knew there were flat roads until I was much, much older. I'd honestly never seen one.
I have a few bikes now. But my primary bikes are a Specialized Epic that I ride and race mountain bike on. I have a sweet Pink Pinarello Prince that I love. My cross bike, which I also use for ultra cross and gravel grinders is a Specialized Crux. I have a Singlespeed Mountain bike (a Specialized Crave) and a Singlespeed cross bike (a Raleigh).
How did your career in cycling fitness begin? I started off as a medical writer, but wanted to get into consumer press, like Bicycling and Women’s Health, etc. I also wanted to be self employed. I figured I’d have a better shot at writing for those magazines if I was an expert in my own right, so I got certified as a personal trainer and then later as a USA Cycling Coach.
My book Ride Your Way Lean was presented to me from the editors at Rodale. Initially I bristled at the idea of writing a weight loss cycling book because I didn’t want it to be all about being a certain size or weight. I believe cycling should be first about the joy, then about the fitness, and the weight is a side benefit to that.
But as I talked to people and got involved in helping people lose weight through cycling I realized that people who want to lose weight through cycling are almost an underserved market. You see all these super lean riders and it’s intimidating. The clothes are made for smaller body types. Even some of the equipment has weight limits. I realized it was a big challenge for larger riders who wanted to use this great sport to get fit.
A saddle of a bicycle is my most peaceful place.
Bike Your Butt Off is a similar story. The editors presented the idea to me and I thought, “But I just did a weight loss book." Then I realized that this book was going to cater to an entirely different population - those people who are interested in the sport, maybe are in love with Spinning class, but aren’t regular riders or self identified as 'cyclists' though they would like to be.
I’ve worked with so many of these men and women over the years. They have a bike. They want to use it to get fit. But they don’t really know how. They know how to pedal of course. But they don’t really know how to shift, corner, descend, ride a paceline, climb or do all the things that help you get the most out of your bike and really enjoy riding. It’s not their fault. No one ever tells you how to do those things unless you have a good patient group that caters to novice riders. It was enormously satisfying to work with the focus group for BYBO because by the end they were empowered enough to do group rides and charity rides and really embraced the sport - and yes, they lost some weight along the way.
I ride and race an awful lot and at this point in my life I have figured out how to fuel myself in a way that keeps my weight very stable. That said, I was an overweight kid and preteen and struggled with body image issues and weight in college to a pretty unhealthy degree. I developed multiple eating disorders during my freshman year that caused me a lot of pain. When I finally worked through those, I gained about 20 pounds and was at the highest weight of my adult life. Finding cycling in my final year of school and afterwards helped save me from all that.
I do ultra endurance mountain bike racing and have raced around the world.
What would be your advice to women looking to start cycling to lose weight? Find some friends to ride with. You’ll ride longer and harder and have more fun than if you go it all alone. On a very practical level, fuel your rides, so you can get the most out of them. Too often women (and men) don’t want to eat before or during because they’re trying to lose weight, but that’s counterproductive. Go into your daily ride with a little snack like a banana. If you’re riding more than an hour and a half or so, have something in your pockets to keep you fuelled. This will keep you from getting ravenous when you’re done. It’s very, very common to overcompensate for rides at the end.
There’s just nothing like cycling. I love how it feels to spin down the road. I love how it feels to push hard up a climb. I love how it feels to ride fast. I love how it feels to just pedal through the woods. A saddle of a bicycle is my most peaceful place.
Selene's two books on how to lose weight cycling are available to purchase from Amazon by clicking on the links below:
You can also keep up to date with Selene's adventures by following her Fit Chick blog on Bicycling (USA)'s website.
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