I guess it could be assumed that I’m some kinda cycling person, what with my writing about cycling and my doing a 1600km cycle ride last month, but the reality is I’m not even close to being a cycling person. I just like the speed of transport it provides, the fact that I can more easily and with less likelihood of killing an innocent bystander, ride home from the pub drunk, it’s easier to get to most of my works by bike than by car or public transport and that when I do a crazy big adventure ride like John O’Groats to Land’s End… well, people think I’m COOL! kinda…
Anyway, my point is that I’m really not a bike person, just a person with a bike… and an interest in all things laydee related, thus! my promised post about the derth of laydee cyclists pottering about the back lanes of the mother country when I was over there in May.
I love and cherish the role that the bicycle played in women’s empowerment when it arrived on the scene back in the 1880s and 90s (in this I am referring to the invention of the “safety bicycle” the first example of what we would today recognise as a bicycle. Although human powered vehicles that were bicycle like had been in design and manufacture since much earlier it was this model that revolutionised women’s transport options). But, when I was plucked from my women-centric life in inner-suburban Melbourne and plonked at the pointy end of the Great British landmass with my pilot and a tandem named Violet, I never thought about it as a woman thing or a feminist thing or even an empowerment or making-a-point thing. It was just there and I was doing it. As we rode however we started to realise how rare what we were doing really was.
In the two weeks that my pilot and I took to traverse the 1000miles approximately from John O’Groats to Land’s End we encountered very few other women long distance cyclists… or women cyclists in general. And when we did, they were invariably with their male partners or part of large groups that were dominated by men. It got me thinking about why and more importantly (for me) why then was I doing what I was doing?! As for all my feminist rantings and damning of the patriarchy, I live in a very coddled, woman centred world with very few actual challenges against my gender. I work in a woman dominated profession and 99% of my colleagues are women. My physical pursuits are mostly horse riding (massively dominated by women) and circus, (not necessarily dominated by women unless you train exclusively at the Women’s Circus and only with other women). I’m a lesbian, so my romantic partners are women. I really don’t do a hell of a lot on a daily basis to challenge any status-quo except for via my language and this (and other) websites. So how on earth did I suddenly find myself doing something that so few other women seemed to be doing? And why on earth were so few women doing it?!
John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) is really not a massive physical challenge. It’s long and there’s hills but in the scheme of worldly physical challenges (climbing mountains, running marathons, cross country skiing across Antarctica) JOGLE is pretty lame. I don’t know what the actual gender breakdown of JOGLE cyclists is but a quick google search of information will expose blog after blog written by men and few by women and on the ride, the only other End to Enders that we met were men bar one woman in a party of 4 men and a couple of women in a big group in matching outfits. What is it that stops women doing this thing? And so many other things like it? In a safe country, with no restrictions on women’s movement, where bikes are cheap and easy to come by, where women cycling is not a surprising sight. Where are the female End to Enders?
A few years ago my dad was riding his motorbike around Australia and he commented on how many cyclists he met along the way doing the same thing on pushbikes. But all his stories were about heterosexual couples and male pairs. No single women or women pairs. Why!? What is it that stops women getting out on their bikes and doing some distance? Why are we so under-represented in a “sport” that so clearly doesn’t disadvantage us.
Obviously I don’t have the answers to these questions and clearly, there are many many many amazing and talented women out there doing their thing on bikes (a friend of mine is currently doing JOGLE herself with a female friend). But there is nothing close to parity and it concerns me that exploration and adventure, even on a fairly basic scale, is passing so many women by.
If you’re a laydee cyclist that likes doing distance I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you do so on your own or with a female friend/partner. Tell me about your experiences of pushing you and all your shit across big miles and tell me why you love it and why you do it and why you think more other women don’t.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. xxx