Cycling is not exclusively male and is not “inherently dangerous” no matter what Strava says. However, Salina Christmas finds that getting back on the saddle takes a lot more than getting kitted out and owning a bicycle. She first has to overcome the fear of falling and getting hit, both part and parcel of cycling in Central London.
I had a chat recently with a manager of Runner’s Need, who told me that the female customers often come up and ask for a pair of running shoes apologetically. “In cycling stores in particular,” he observed, “you see them going up to the staff and ask quietly to look at a bicycle”.
Woman issue: Does my bum look big on this bike?
Body confidence poses an issue to women at different levels. Before they even get to deal with the issue of stamina and endurance, they have to deal with society’s perception of the ‘right’ physical appearance. Certain looks and body shapes are privileged within the Western society, while some are not. To make it more complex, in some ethnic minority groups, sports are not encouraged in women except away from the male gaze – not practical if you live in the UK. Not surprisingly, cycling, a male-dominated activity of sport and leisure, and a bicycle shop, can be intimidating to women.
I got back into cycling motivated by a desire to be healthy again, after my illness, and to deal with my fear of traffic. I had a very good friend at my first university, who sadly passed away in an accident while I was in my final year. I got over that, got my driving license, but I never liked driving or cycling.
An illness, however, changed things for the better. As soon as I got well between winter 2011 and spring 2012, I went back to running, ten to 20 minutes of duration at a time until I was strong enough to do 45 minutes. I didn’t do it by mileage. In my experience, doing a run according to mileage doesn’t necessarily make you fit. This might not be true for others. Nonetheless, I find that if you push too hard to clock in the mileage, you are likely to get injured, as keen beginners or those who feel compelled to run half marathons often do during training. Like my coach said, “It’s time on your feet”.
Cycling was a leap of faith. I took up a job in summer 2012 with the prime intention of buying a bicycle. I bought my entry-level Trek 1.1c with my first salary. The aluminium beast is not as light as a Canyon or as breathtakingly beautiful as a Condor. But it does the job.
If you don’t fall, it’s not cycling
My first few rides to work were scary. I thought trying to look like a “proper cyclist” was hard work. As soon as I got on the bike, the vanity disappeared. Safety, I found, was paramount. One morning, I got hit by a cab and didn’t tell anyone until days later. Then I got hit another two times, the last one being a door prize that threw me to the roadside. It must have been a sight seeing a cyclist in the Serpentine kit splayed on the tarmac. I fell a few times more whilst getting used to unclipping my shoes, whilst trying to balance by letting one hand go, by turning the corner too fast… I just fell a lot.
The guys at Evans Cycle are used to seeing me pushing my Trek with bent handle grips. The last time I asked for help, the staff gave me a good ten-minute instruction on cornering, feathering the brakes and cutting nicely across the apex of a sharp turn. “Do not brake when you turn the corner,” he advised. “There is nothing worse than the front tyre being gripped solid whilst you slant your bike sideways in the act of cornering.”
Running and cycling, like water for chocolate
Until I started running longer distances with my club, my palms used to hurt after a long ride. One guy at CycleSurgery advised me to switch to a ladies’ bike so that I don’t have to lean over so far to grip the brakes. He was right, but I don’t like ladies’ bikes, though. They’re too pretty. Running fixed the problem because it improved my core stability. My torso got stronger and I no longer rely on my shoulders and forearms solely to support myself whilst cycling. I am still not a fast cyclist, but running helps me deal with chest burns and side stitches. As a result, I don’t feel like exploding when grinding uphill.
I am not sure if I am any better at cycling now then before my time at university. I used to cycle a lot between the age of nine and until I finished high school. The accident that involved my friend put a stop to it. That, thankfully, changed, although not in the way I would have liked to.
I got given a second chance, and thus, I felt that I owed it to her to get on a bicycle. I cannot imagine not cycling now. It didn’t matter that it took me that long to get back into it. My bike only happened when I was ready to get on one.
See more Cycling Photographs and Graphic Artwork at Holmes.cc Studio