A Wiggly Route In.
My two brothers, sister and I would spend school holidays creating stunt courses in the garden. Cobbling together cones, bricks and planks of wood, we would clatter around the grass.
As I got older, my dad would encourage me out on the odd ride, but the childhood charm had gone. I would moodily clunk behind with my head down, glaring at the handlebars.
Instead, I loved the simplicity of running; slipping on my trainers and getting a bit of head space. No bulky helmets, no busy roads.
But Dad’s passion for cycling was infectious. A few years had passed and my hormones had mercifully (for everyone’s sake) settled. Could it really be that bad? I tentatively headed into the garage and dusted off the bike.
I managed a couple of 18-milers and then Dad persuaded me to join a Saturday morning ride with his cycling group. 5 terrifyingly fit men, and me. Their chiselled carves were pumping like pistons as I clamped my teeth together and desperately tried to keep up. When I finally reached home and staggered off the bike, I was shell-shocked and a little teary.
But, as my body slowly un-moulded from the saddle and I regained feeling in my fingers, the trusty endorphins kicked in; I had managed it. I didn’t care (much…) that I’d been at the back, I had cycled further than I ever had before. I was used to the isolation of exercise; plugging in and battling along the roads by myself. Cycling was different. We were all in it together, slicing through the same headwinds and tackling the same hills.
Cycle by cycle, winding through the country lanes and gulping great lung fulls of fresh air, I was hooked.
As the country started to lockdown in March, I was lucky enough to be based in Dorset. Cycling became a family affair as my dad, brother, boyfriend and I racked up the miles. Feeling slightly outnumbered drove me to go further and graft harder. I felt proud to be representing the women. Castelli-clad men would swish past, but then I’d spot a female cyclist and give her a big grin – you and me, we’re in this together.
And we’re growing.
Velovixen, a leading retailer of women’s cycling kit, created a female-only Facebook group, a community that aims to unite women through their love for the sport. Velovixen said they, ‘want the group to be constructive and instructive, with…a prevailing spirit of fairness and kindness. We want members to be unafraid to ask questions, however ‘silly’ or technical they might be’. This sense of inclusivity and empowerment is clear. On a daily basis, women proudly post their ‘sweaty selfies’, praise each other for their rides and ask and answer questions. There are now over 9,500 members and the numbers continue to swell. A testament to this: I asked the group if they would share what cycling means to them. Within an hour I had over 100 responses. From paramedics to teachers and business women, there was a common thread – the sense of freedom:
“Cycling keeps me (mostly) sane. Getting out in the countryside, finding a decent trail, the sense of freedom is like therapy for me. Plus, there is a smug satisfaction to be had in beating the boys!”Vicky
“I cycle because when I’m on my bike I’m not mum, wife or business owner anymore. I’m just me.”Siobhan, 32, business owner
“The harder I pedal, the more my stress seems to float away.”Tracy, paramedic
“Cycling gives me a feeling of freedom and joy like no other exercise does.”Kiran, 33, primary school teacher
“I look after two kids and support two disabled adults. Cycling gives me freedom, space and some peace!”Catherine, 47, teacher
“A single parent, I had no other form of transport and used to carry my youngest on the back, as well as the shopping for my family of 5 children. On the rare occasions I got out on my own, I felt as if I was flying. It gave me the freedom and headspace I very much needed.”Debbie
“I love getting out on my bike; the freedom, the open road and exploring country lanes has me completely hooked. I’ll never be a pro but I’m happy being an extremely enthusiastic amateur.”Debbie, pharmaceutical sales manager
“I started cycling again in lockdown as being at home 24/7 was proving too much. So I grabbed my 18-year-old bike, pumped up the tyres and went. The feeling! It was like being free, cut loose from ties.”Nici, 46, accounting technician
For others, cycling provided a pivotal road to recovery. Several women movingly shared their stories:
“Never have I needed cycling so much, especially after the last 8 months. Cycling truly is my ‘therapy’, where I can escape for an hour or two.”Trudi, A&E nurse
“I’ve cycled all my life. However, it wasn’t until my partner tragically passed away that it really came into its own. My grief was unbearable, but cycling allowed me space with my own thoughts.”Chan Na
“I got into cycling when trying to escape an abusive relationship. It gave me the freedom and empowerment to get away. I’ve never looked back!”Harri
“It’s no exaggeration when I say cycling saved my life. I was unfit, overweight and in the deepest depression of my life. But then I started pedalling, and never looked back. My cycling club gave me purpose, and my bike gave me freedom.”Jaymi, 33, logistics administration
“I have always enjoyed social cycling but after IVF failures I decided to make the most of the ‘me time’. I haven’t looked back since!”Louisa
“My mental health deteriorated to the point that I didn’t know who I was. My recovery began when I started cycling. It’s my release and space away from my job.”Emma, 31, police officer
But most of all, no matter whether in their 20s or their 70s, hundreds of women shared the pure joy it gives them:
“I will cycle for as long as my body allows.”Julie
“I rediscovered cycling when, as a podgy middle-aged woman, I did the local triathlon dressed as Wonder Woman for a bet. I now love it!”Joanna, 42, paramedic
“Everyone is ‘good enough’ to cycle on whatever bike you have, in whatever clothes you wish to wear, however many miles you wish to ride.”Angela
“I’m 73 and still love every minute!”Linda
“Cycling has bought me many friends, opportunities and adventures. I wouldn’t be me without my bike!”Rachel, 25, Ironman World Championships 2019 Finisher
“It makes me feel alive and gives me an enormous sense of happiness.”Rachel
“Cycling is my happy place. I started out of necessity and transport and just loved it more and more!”Camilla
“It’s the friendships, the freedom and the pace I love. Oh, and there is also the cake!”Vicki
“My love of cycling began in 1954 when my single mother cycled to the laundromat with me on the back, my brother on the crossbar and the washing slung over her shoulder. I just remember how exciting it was to take off. Today, I am 72 and still cycling! I love the freedom and the joy of riding.”Linda
Ok yes, it won’t always be a smooth journey. There will be highs and lows, ups and downs and a hateful number of potholes. But, then you’ll hit your mile target, you’ll tackle that hill rather than simply survive it. It doesn’t matter how fast you pedal or how far you go, the sense of achievement will be unbeatable. So go dust off that old frame, hop on a boris bike, get on two wheels – any two wheels – and you’ll be flying.
A survey by Cycling UK showed that 75% of women who take up cycling do so thanks to encouragement from a family member, friend or colleague.
So, let’s spread the word!
Dame Sarah Storey
With a 14 gold medals, Dame Sarah Storey is the most successful female British Paralympian of all time. After giving birth to her second child in 2017, she returned just a year later to win two golds in the 2018 Paracycling Road World championships. She’s currently training for the rescheduled 2021 Tokyo Paralympics.
World and Olympic champion across a variety of cycling disciplines, Dutch rider Marianne Vos is widely regarded as one of the greatest cyclists of her generation. They call her ‘The Cannibal’ for a reason…
Beryl Burton OBE
During her 20 year career, Beryl Burton OBE, won over 90 domestic championships and 7 world titles. In 1967 she broke both the women’s and the men’s 12-hour time trial. She cycled 277.25 miles, surpassing the men’s record by 0.73 miles!
Originally published on https://www.writtenbyimogen.com. You can follow Imogen on Instagram here.