“I BELIEVE strong communities are built around strong women and bicycling slows things down a bit, allowing us to appreciate our community, nature, and our true selves. When we unite our actions bring about positive change and as we learn new skills our courage and strength are brought to new heights uncovering what we thought impossible.”
~ Cindy Petted
Cindy Petted wants girls and women to enjoy bicycling as much as she does. That’s why she started Wisconsin Women Cycling. As chief sojourner, Cindy gives them the chance to learn everything about bicycling in a fun, non-threatening environment.
She encourages and helps females to do everything the guys do – because they can! From fixing bikes and troubleshooting dropped chains and flat tires to building skills like hill climbing, drafting and riding as a group, it’s all stuff that many girls and women just aren’t completely comfortable with, either because the guys always jump in and “help,” or they feel intimidated by their lack of experience.
“I’m just an average person with 50 years of biking experience,” Cindy says. “Whether on the road or off-road, if you want to learn how to ride a bicycle or improve your skills, I can help you do that.”
Cindy’s love of all things bicycling began when she was 6. Her first bike, a Stingray, had a banana seat and monkey-bar handlebars, and it wasn’t long before she was riding all over her neighborhood in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin. Pining for a new bike as she got older, she began hanging around at the Wheel & Sprocket bike store, next to the post office where her mother frequently stopped for the family business.
Her parents owned Thomas Disposal, a garbage pickup service and landfill serving the Greater Milwaukee Area. As with many family businesses, the whole family helped out. In her teens, Cindy became pretty good driving garbage trucks and maneuvering the Cat 977 bulldozer at the landfill. Her dad encouraged her to learn how to use his tools both on the job and at home. When the neighborhood kids decided to turn their family riding lawn mowers into modified ATVs, Cindy was right in there with a wrench, removing the deck so she could race around on the trails in their big yard.
“Naturally, I was inclined to figure out how my bike worked by taking it apart, inspecting it, cleaning it then putting it back together,” she says. She helped out around Wheel & Sprocket, too. When moving from store #2 to #3, Cindy offered to help Chris Kegel (then the manager) move the store’s inventory to the new location nearby and, in exchange, he gave her a powder blue Falcon frame they unearthed from a pile of boxes in the storage shed. Saving up, she was able to fit it with period Campagnolo groupset. “I still have that bike. It’s in perfect condition. A real gem,” Cindy says. “I also have a ‘73 Eddie Merckx by Falcon.”
She got pretty good at fixing and assembling bikes. One day, owner Frank Tamel made a bet with Chris that Cindy could not build out a bike from a box. In the spirit of the bet, Chris approached Cindy and said they were in a pinch: A customer was coming in a few hours and needed a bike built.
“He asked me if I thought I could do it in time,” Cindy recalls. “’Sure, I’ll give it a try!’ I said. “So, I did.” With that, Frank lost the bet and Chris offered Cindy a job. That’s how she became Wheel & Sprocket’s first female mechanic
As a kid, Cindy would ride with her friends to a local hangout they called the moon crater. It resembled what we now call a pump track. With the removal of a barn’s foundation, piles of dirt lined the depression in the earth. They spent long summer days trying new tricks and trying to outdo each other.
In high school, Cindy thought nothing of riding her bike 15 miles each way to see friends. At 16, she trained and raced for Wheel & Sprocket at the Washington Park Velodrome Track in Kenosha. At 17, she rode her first supported 100-mile century ride. Also that summer, she took part in the Race Across Wisconsin; a 300-mile race from LaCrosse to Racine in 36 hours. She was hooked!
“It was super hard, but I really loved the camaraderie,” she says. In the next years, she continued to do century rides (64 & 100 milers) all over the Midwest with her two-wheeled friends.
She recalls riding a double century on the Mississippi River Valley one year when her rear shift lever broke halfway through the first day. “There were SAG (support and gear vehicles) but I was riding with some really neat guys and decided to manage until we finished,” she recalls. “Along the Mississippi on the approach to Dubuque, it is hilly! I had to think quick. On the up, I’d grabbed the shifter in my right hand and, placing my elbow on my top bar, leveraged an arm curl to shift into lighter gears. I had toe-straps so that helped some, but all my weight was on my butt. I’d relax on the descent, then repeat until we got to a bike shop in town that had the part so I could fix the bracket. Day two was a breeze!”
She continued to ride through her adulthood. Commuting to college or work, on vacation, exploring a new place, or simply hanging out with friends. When her son, Nic, was born, Cindy bought a Burley and toted him around everywhere. When he was older she took him on forest roads and on the Nicolet Roche Trail near the family’s cottage. “I have many fond memories going on adventure rides with Nic,” she adds.
Cindy met her husband, Brian, at a mountain bike race in 2012. Brian, chief technology officer at Laird Technologies and electrical engineering professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), has competed in bicycling events since the ‘90s, including road, cyclocross, gravel, mountain, and most recently, fat-tire biking. He also plays crucial roles in the success of Wisconsin Women Cycling events. “At our house, we pretty much live and breathe cycling!” Cindy says.
Cindy, who has worked in IT, retail, financial planning, nonprofits, and event planning, has always been up for a challenge. Through the years, her tenacity and grit have helped her survive difficult personal setbacks, including three miscarriages, a stillborn birth and three separate battles with cancer. She had early-stage cervical cancer in the late 1980s. When she was living in Manitowoc in 2009 and operating Insight On Events, a business she launched a few years earlier, she fought breast cancer. That spring, she took swimming lessons at the YMCA. … then tackled her first triathlon in July, the TrekWomen Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie.
In October of 2014, just weeks before marrying Brian and launching her first all-women bicycling event (a winter ride), she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She recuperated from surgery and not long after, enjoyed a beautiful wedding that November. Alas, she postponed the December cycling event.
Cindy had done a lot of research on bicycling events, however. She found that while there were all-women groups, clubs, and teams, Wisconsin did not have an annual century ride designated for women only. She mustered everything she knew about business and biking, and in April 2015, Cindy registered Wisconsin Women Cycling as a business. By that July, she hosted the state’s first century ride for women. The annual event starts in Cedarburg, the community she and Brian call home.
“According to People For Bikes, there was a 13 percent decrease in women cycling between 2000 and 2010,” Cindy says. “That is so sad. Bicycling can offer so much freedom and joy when you’re confident in what you’re doing. It’s a fun, healthy activity you can do with your family and friends.” All the miles in the saddle and all the great people she’s met have made Cindy quite confident on a bike.
“These are the reasons I started the Wisconsin Women Century,” she says. Wisconsin Women Cycling offers a 12-week training program leading up to the event, depending on the route you choose; from 25 to 105 miles. There’s even a double century. With training, there is a route for every skill level. “We don’t only celebrate crossing the finish line, we celebrate the effort these ladies put in for themselves; to set obtainable goals, learn new skills and get out on their bike through a routine that works for them.”
Cindy continues to improve cycling as a national, state and local bicycling advocate and by completing coaching and instructor training. Through her business, she holds clinics & classes, supports the WWCycling Club and speaks to groups all to inspire safe cycling and to grow the sport of women cycling.
While Wisconsin Women Cycling now offers several rides each year along with training events and bike maintenance and safety workshops, the road has not always been smooth for Cindy. Two weeks before hosting her third annual women’s century ride in 2017, Cindy was hurt in a biking accident, suffering injuries to her head, left shoulder, left hand, and right leg. With the support of the WWCycling Club members, non-cycling friends, and faithful volunteers, the event went off without a hitch.
“If you want to race, I’m not your girl,” Cindy says, “but I know people who do that.”
While she concentrates on helping beginner and intermediate cyclists (male and female) reach their goals, she has also made an impact on the competitive side of the sport. Wisconsin Cycling Association race directors have said that because of the work she’s done through Wisconsin Women Cycling, they are seeing an increase in women stepping up to the start lines. Most people will never be in a race like those at the ToAD (Tour of America’s Dairyland) or WORS (WI Off Road Series), of course. But if you want to learn how to race, Cindy can help you find clubs that specialize in competition.