When Susan Vigland, Michigan’s number one female road-bike racer and member of the Hagerty Cycling Team in Traverse City, saw her older brother pull off the stunt when she was 11 years old, she knew she had to try it. She dragged her blue 5-speed out of the garage, climbed upon the shiny vinyl seat and barreled into the humid evening air coming off Lake Cadillac.
“I saw him do it,” Vigland says, “and thought ‘How cool is that?’ ” Vigland picked out an old maple tree to serve as the starting line, its branches reaching over the road. She steadied her wheel, assumed a nonchalant position, and took off around a lake made famous by the asphalt strip of M-115 that edges its southwest shore, slowing and holding drivers fora moment in the spell of its calm waters.
And the girl who refused to wear a dress and learned to water-ski by age 4, cracked what she came for: Biking all sevenmiles around the lake no-handed. Once again she was keeping up with the boys.
Vigland is now a member of the Hagerty Cycling Team in Traverse City, and she’s proven her physicality more than a few times since her hands-free circumnavigation of Lake Cadillac. In 2003, on a lark, the then 34-year-old Vigland entered the Iceman Cometh Challenge in the female Sport Division. The race is a 27-mile point-to-point trek through the Pere Marquette State Forest from Kalkaska to Traverse City, a race known for sand pits, mud pits and hills, and November’s wind, sleet and snow.
She won. In a town like Traverse City where every truck, car and van has a Thule or Yakima rack on it, that’s a victory that earns bragging rights.
“My friends convinced me to try the Iceman,” says Vigland, who spent her 20’s on two wheels in the mountain-biking meccas of Moab, Utah, Boulder and Telluride, Colorado. But “it wasn’t until I won [the Iceman] that I realized I had potential on a bike.”
In 2005, she bought her first road bike, a used Trek—neon yellow and green with out-dated down-tube shifters—for $250.She was hooked. She loved the speed, the open roads and the camaraderie of riding side by side with friends, different than the solitude of mountain biking.
She joined the Hagerty team two years later and, last summer, Vigland netted Michigan’s ultimate road win: the women’s professional state championship at the Superior Bike Fest in Marquette. Vigland pulled ahead at the 23-mile mark and rode the last 34 miles of the 57-mile race alone. The feat was unheard of in Michigan’s premier road race, and it revealed not just that Vigland is a remarkable athlete, dominating the race over women half her age, but it also revealed the sophistication of her team—their race tactics, their strength, their skill.
“My teammates worked together to hold back our biggest competitor Priority Health, and I rode as hard as I could to the finish line,” Vigland says. “I’ll never forget it, how it all came together.”
The win even landed her a mention in Sports Illustrated. Vigland was sure that friends rigged her photo in the magazine’s “Faces in the Crowd” section, a hoax, a bit of Photoshop wizardry—but it was legit. A childhood dream come true.