Keeping up Appearances

Cycling and appearance has been making the news at the moment.

Chris Hoy declared in his new GQ style article that:

‘professional cycling gear generally looks awful on pretty much anyone heavier than eight stone and with more than five per cent body aerodynamic fat’

He has since apologised and said that the article was ‘tongue in cheek’.

For me though, the damage is kind of done. I don’t think I’ll be buying a Hoy bike any time soon.

After all, I might break it – I’m well over 8 stone.

What he said may not seem like that big a deal. I don’t think that Sir Chris really thinks that what he said is that big a deal. The thing is, it is that big a deal when it is said by someone like Chris Hoy. A man who is looked up to and admired by thousands of cyclists.

When I ride the cargo bike to get to places and ferry my kids about, I wear ‘normal’ clothes. Generally jeans because I frankly lack imagination when it comes to my wardrobe. I choose to dress like this because I am going about my normal daily business and the bike is just how I get there.

When I ride my road bike for pure enjoyment, I wear lycra. I choose to dress like this because it is so much more comfortable than jeans. I don’t actually care that much what it looks like. I care about whether I am warm enough. I care about not having my clothing flapping about in the breeze since this would slow me down. I may not be all that fast on the bike, but I would like to be as fast as I can be. Fast is fun. Quite frankly, I care about whether or not my arse is sore after a couple of hours on a bike saddle.

I have been cycling for years. I know why I do it (because I love it and it makes me feel like me). I don’t really care what other people think of my hobby or my clothing.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

Right now, more and more people are getting on bikes and this is fantastic. It is fantastic for individual people’s health. It is fantastic for easing congestion and pollution on our roads. It is fantastic for setting an example to our children.

Right now, more and more women are getting on bikes. Even more fantastic because women are under-represented in cycling at the moment.

Lots of these women will be concerned about what they look like. And lots of these women will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments. And the vast majority of them will be over eight stone in weight. Where does this leave them? Are people sniggering at them when they walk into cafes like Sir Chris suggests?

Right now, there is a major problem with girls leaving all forms of sport and activity as they become teenagers. They leave sport and activity because they are worried about what they look like. They then fail to develop the habit of physical activity. A habit which would keep them healthy for life.

These girls are massively concerned about what they look like. And lots of these girls will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments too.

Eight stone is not a healthy weight for many people. I’m sure that Chris Hoy didn’t intend to suggest that eight stone is a healthy weight to aim for. But the thing is, he is Chris Hoy. He is an icon that people look up to. I can make flippant comments all I want because very few people care about my opinion. If you are Chris Hoy and many many people care about your opinion, you need to be a bit more careful what you say.

In his defense, I think the article is so poorly written and confused that it’s hard to know what Sir Chris’s meaning really was.

Not that much of a defense though.

So cyclists, wear what you like. Be comfortable. Be whatever weight and shape makes you healthy and comfortable.

And be careful who you look up to.

And wear an aerodynamic helmet if you want to. Even if you’re not at the Olympics.

Me. Not at the Olympics.


Ode to Joy

I had a fantastic day out on the bike today.

Once a month, I have a day off being Mummy and I go out with my cycle club, Hervelo.

As I said in my last post, I am suffering from Turbo fatigue and remembering that I love riding outdoors. Today just reinforced this.

I did realise the benefit of turbo training as I felt stronger on the bike than I have done in years. I felt like I could of ridden for miles. I felt like the hills had got easier.

This is probably also in no small part due to the hugely effective strength training provided by the cargo bike.

As we hit a steady slight downhill section with smooth tarmac and a lovely tailwind, I felt incredible.

I felt free.

I felt strong.

I felt alive.

I felt real joy.

It was the kind of joy that small children feel so often.

The kind of joy that made my son run around in circles with his hands above his head for an hour because the beach we had just arrived at was just so amazing.

The kind of joy that made he and his sister jump up and down on the spot on Christmas morning because Santa had really been.

The kind of joy that makes them both chase bubbles for hours around the garden.

The kind of joy that young children express with their whole bodies.

It was a beautiful feeling.

It occurred to me that I see this joy in my children several times a week inspired by the smallest of things.

How often do we feel this as adults?

Even more worryingly, how often do we see this in older children?

Where does this incredible feeling of joy go?

I have a theory. It is a theory based on no evidence. A theory which I only thought of as I rode home.

I think we view our children’s emotions as amusing. Sometimes we view them as frankly annoying – “seriously, we need to get shoes and coats on right now because we are going to be late. The lego model you made is marvelous and we will look at it when we get back”.

I don’t think I always value my children’s intense emotional lives. I don’t think I show my children that I value their emotions.

And then they start school. They start so young and the pressure to achieve starts to build.

Whether we mean to or not, we quite clearly demonstrate to our children that we value academic achievement. We value reading. We value writing. We value counting to ever higher numbers and then learning to use and manipulate those numbers. We do this with the best of intentions because we want our children to succeed.

Maybe we should start to value joy?

My ill-informed views on Cycling clubs

My opinions on road cycling clubs have been formed by those clubs I have been involved with. That is really not very many clubs at all. I can count them all on the fingers of one hand. I wrote an earlier post about my first experience with a cycling club.

In addition to my very limited first hand experience, I have also chatted to other women about cycle clubs.

So, it is more than likely that my views on cycle clubs are entirely unfounded and unfair. Nevertheless, my experiences with these clubs had a huge impact on me and on my cycling. I thought I’d share my views. Feel free to disagree with me.

I think bike clubs can be quite intimidating, especially for women.

I think women often lack the confidence to try riding in a club. The fear of not being fast enough or skilled enough stops women from giving it a go.

This is not helped when existing club riders don’t always remember to identify and help new riders. If you are new to group riding then the gestures used to communicate in groups can be something of a mystery.

It is also not helped when club riders forget to consider how they come across to others on the road. If a bunch of riders wearing club kit speed past me without as much as a wave, I am unlikely to consider joining them.

I wonder too if women look for something different in a club to men.

Personally, what I want out of a club is that feeling of being a part of something. I’m not too bothered about training hard when I ride with a club. I can do that by myself. I really just want to ride my bike and have a good natter.

I am now a member of a cycling club which I absolutely love. Hervelo Cycling is a womens club. It is split between the ‘skinnies’ (road cyclists) and ‘mudhonies’ (mountain bikers). There are women in the club who race, there are women in the club who ride sportives and audaxes, there are women in the club competing in triathlons.

I do not believe that there is a single woman in the club who would not give a friendly wave to another cyclist.

I do not believe that there has ever been a rider with Hervelo dropped and left behind on a club ride.

I don’t know if this is down to being a womens club or just down to being a small club.

I do know that it is the club I will remain loyal to and whose kit I am proud to wear.

I think great things have happened in womens cycling in the past few years. But there is still a long way to go. We need to encourage more women to get out on a bike at all levels.

I would like to see more women racing, more women using bikes on the school run, more women riding together.

More women gaining all the benefits that cycling can bring. Health, sustainable transport, time outdoors, time in nature, time with like minded others, time with their children, time without their children, time to think, time to not think.

Cycle clubs have a huge roll to play in encouraging more women to get out and ride their bikes.

If you’re not already a member of a club, give it a go. Take a leap of faith and go out with your local club. And if it’s not what you hoped or what you’re looking for, start your own. Make it what you want. That’s what Hervelo came from and in my opinion, Hervelo is a fantastic club.

My first experiences with club cycling

I cycled alone for years, for transport mostly. After three years living in the back of beyond and getting more and more into road biking, I was keen to be part of something bigger and join a club. Cycle clubs were one of the first things I looked into when I left the back of beyond and moved to a city.

Time to head along to my first club run. As a large club there were several rides on offer for the Saturday run so I went on the slowest. It was ok. I enjoyed it. There were only 5 of us and it was fairly sedate so I felt confident to go along again the following week and join the middle group.

The middle group was far larger and far faster. It was far less friendly. It was the last club ride I did for some years.

I started chatting to the rider next to me, as you do. He confidently informed me that I had my training aims all wrong as I had just been cycling in Majorca. This threw me a little as I had been to Majorca for fun and to meet my brother. I’d had a great week. I didn’t have any training aims at the time. I hadn’t realised I needed any.

Never mind. It takes all sorts. On with the ride.

Ok, so I hadn’t realised that a chaingang would be involved. Fortunately a kind soul in the group explained to me what was happening. Fine. I could give that a go. We hit around 28mph and I started to turn somewhat purple. Fortunately (again) another kind soul explained that it was ok (well, sort of ok) to sit on the back and attempt to hang in there if I was struggling. Then we hit a very slight incline. This was pre- wisdom of Bob for me. Sadly, I did not have the energy left to wave as the group disappeared over the horizon.

I rode home alone. This was a route I knew so this wasn’t a problem.

I felt a bit down. I felt a bit disappointed. I felt like I wasn’t really a cyclist. It was ok because I enjoyed riding alone. I had kind of wanted to be part of something though.

I found that something a few weeks later when I joined a running club.