Beautiful Godzilla: Cycling Behind-The-Scenes with Debbie Larsen

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Illustration: Ryan Perkins

There are a lot of over-the-top personalities in the cycling world––myself included. These people often get recognized because a) they lead a lot of group rides or have some kind of bike-related job; b) they are always out on their bike, rain or shine; c) they’re incredibly loud and obnoxious cyclists. Then there are people like my friend, Debbie Larsen, who spends her 9–5 working as a social service worker, would rather be on a hike than on a bike, and will never be described as loud or obnoxious unless she develops late onset Tourrette’s Syndrome (highly unlikely). Most will know her as the wife of Nathan Larsen, owner and designer of Velo City Bags. Working with Nate on bike stuff has resulted in a life-long friendship with the duo, and Debbie has become an inspirational human being in my life. We’re self-described “impostors” in the bike scene due to our love/hate relationship with the machine, but Debbie’s role is a critical part of the backbone of Salt Lake’s cycling society––moreso than the guy poppin’ wheelies at the front of the pack during Critical Mass––and one that few really know about. So, after a little convincing and some brunch at Vertical Diner (Debbie is 95-percent responsible for my decision to go veg), the following interview ensued:

BG: What is your first memory of riding a bicycle?
Debbie: I was learning how to ride and I was about 7 years old. I was riding on the sidewalk in front of our house and a tree jumped out in front of me and knocked my tooth sideways and killed it.

BG: I’m surprised you ever got on a bike again! Contrary to what I had assumed, the fact that Nate started Velo City Bags isn’t what got you into cycling––you had a bike before Nate did?
Debbie: … I wanted to start riding my bike to work, but I didn’t have a bike. So, Nate and my brother, Alan [Berg], went to the Bike Collective and put together an old mountain bike for me, and that was my Christmas present that year … It was an easier option for me to commute than to take public transportation at the time, and I thought biking would be fun.

BG: You and I have a love/hate relationship with cycling. I can’t seem to find a saddle that gels with my lady bits, but what is it that you dislike?
Debbie: I always feel like I’m slowing people down––and I hate going up hills.

BG: That’s a complaint I hear from a lot of women, actually. What would make it more enjoyable for you?
Debbie: If I’m riding with people who I know I’m not slowing them down too bad, or who already enjoy going slow, like me. I think it would make it more pleasant if I was going on more nature rides, like my rides around the Jordan River, with friends.

BG: Nate quit his day job and made Velo City Bags his full-time gig when the storefront opened, making you the main breadwinner in the family. You’re also putting in the same hours at events like Craft Sabbath and Craft Lake City with VCB, you’re at the shop after hours helping cut out material when it’s busy, and you’re an integral part of planning and executing events like Velo Weekend. Essentially, without your support, a lot of really cool aspects of the Salt Lake urban bike scene wouldn’t exist. How does that feel?
Debbie: I don’t really think I’m that big of a deal for the bike scene … I know that it’s such a big deal for Nate––it’s what he loves to do. Velo City Bags is one of the most important parts of his life, and I want to support him in that even though it’s really difficult for me at times. I try really hard so that he can live his dream.

BG: You also have some crafting skills, crocheting beanies and hip bike caps sold at Velo City. How did that hobby come about, and where do you hope it goes?
Debbie: I have been crocheting handmade beanies for probably about eight years––my coworkers taught me how to crochet. I would wear beanies every single day if I could, and I decided to make my own beanies because of that. I mostly crochet pretty simplistic ones that are more masculine looking, maybe because that’s my style, and I’m trying to make a side business out of it now for some additional income to help with the bills. I’m thinking of calling it Hooked On Beanies … They’re currently sold at Velo City Bags, and I’ve decided I’m going to give away a beanie to the homeless for every one that’s sold.

You can meet this awesome lady at any Velo City Bags event or out and about on leisurely, scenic bike rides––and don’t forget to pick up a handmade beanie next time you’re at the shop!

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