“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”

 Human on a bicycle protest banner

Today I needed a short break from jigsaw pieces. I’d made this mini banner a few months ago and decided to release it in to the big wide world.

Now I’m a little biased, but I think cycling gets an unnecessarily negative press. We are repeatedly told that cycling is dangerous, there is a danger of theft, that professional cyclists are cheats… People often overlook that cycling (in its many many forms) can be invigorating, beneficial for the cyclist and their surrounding environment, empowering and, most importantly, fun.

This mini-banner, displayed at Reading Station as a sign of respect for all the cyclists still traveling by bicycle in this cold weather, says ‘Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer  despair for the future of the human race’. The quote is credited to HG Wells, though there is some dispute about whether he actually ever said it. Either way, the sentiment remains.

Cyclists of Reading and the big wide world beyond, here at Little Stitch, you inspire us. We salute you and your pedal powered endeavours. More power to your pedals.

HG Wells Bicycle banner at Reading station

My mini banner kit came from the Craftivist Collective, you can buy your own one here.

The Aussie’s Birthday: The Kennet & Avon Canal (Reading to Newbury)

Special occasions deserve special days out, and despite recent flooding, on the Aussie birthday we decided to explore the canal path to Newbury – me on the mountain bike, the Aussie on his cross-ready Karate Monkey. Despite the mud under wheel, we were rewarded with beautiful bright blue autumn skies. Though what the good people in the pub thought of the state of my long suffering saddle bag, I’ll never know…

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Cycletta: New Forest

I’m going to be honest with you, six months ago I had never even heard of a cyclosportive. My road cycling world was either dominated by watching the pros, laughing at the fact my Dad shaved his legs more than I did, or was still aching from the psychological damage of watching amateur time trials in the 1980s (come on, they are boring. Especially when you are 6 years old). But having made the significant purchase of my first road bike (aged 34…) I needed some focus, just riding it on my own wasn’t enough. I wanted to participate, I wanted to be challenged. Step forward Cycletta and their enticing promise of ‘fitness and fun’, ‘female cycling revolution’ and a timed, organised, mass participation road cycle event. I had discovered sportives.

Two things appealed about Cycletta: Their choice of venues was astonishing – beautiful landscapes, stately homes and (my personal choice) national parks. You don’t have to ask me twice about spending a morning on my bike in the fabulous surroundings of the New Forest.  I also was reassured by the fact they were female-only. Being a bit of a ‘tomboy’, I’ve never been normally attracted to female-only events. Nor do I want my cycling defined by my gender – if the boys can do it, so can I (just ask the Aussie about me out-sprinting him…). But this was different, riding a sportive was completely new and I didn’t want to feel like anything would stop me from doing the best I possibly could. Apologies gentlemen, but I didn’t want to be intimidated by machismo.

So I signed up and vowed to train. And did a lot of vowing but not much training, bar hacking around town on my folding bike. I knew I could just about ride 20 miles on the road bike, I knew I could just about ride twenty miles on the mountain bike. How hard could it really be? So on the last glorious Sunday morning, we drove to the New Forest, I pinned on my numbers and lined up with over 300 other women to take part in my first sportive. My first proper road cycling challenge.

And what did I learn? Firstly, that I really really need to learn how to convert kilometres in to miles – the last seven miles hurt a lot when you have given everything for the previous ten, mistakenly thinking those were the last ten miles of the course. Lesson 1: Know your distances and energy budget accordingly. Secondly, that you wear layers for a reason – if you are hot, take something off – don’t forget you are wearing arm warmers and carry on hot and bothered regardless. Thirdly, that mucking around on a single speed folding bike can count actually as training, when you are faced with a steep hill and a broken front derailleur. I could have got off and pushed, but I hung on in there and hacked up regardless – slowly, in the wrong gear, but I didn’t get off. And I’m really proud of that. I cycled it all, every single leg burning mile of it. And lastly, I learnt that Jelly Tots are possibly the greatest energy food known to mankind.

So that was my first sportive. 42 kilometres in 2 hours 26 minutes 55 seconds. A small but good start to hopefully see me on to bigger and maybe even better things. A proud new road cyclist with a heart filled with joy at what she achieved. Thank you Cycletta.

Ventoux

Damn damn damn, I’m excited…

Mont Ventoux

All photos were taken (by me) on various adventures around Jonquieres, Bedoin and Mont Ventoux in Provence during 2011 and 2012. I’ll see you back there on Bastille day, the 14th July 2013…

Fans Backed Womens Cycling

While part of professional cycling implodes, shall we turn our attention to something more (ahem) positive?

When I Grow Up I Want To Ride Like Marianne Vos

Back in July, after returning from the Tour, I stood in the pouring rain in the newly opened London Olympic Park watching The Greatest Cyclist In The World be pushed all the way to the line by a vegetarian from West Yorkshire. Enthralled, excited and motivated, I rushed to the Olympic Park Megastore to buy a Great Britain branded cycling shirt and vowed to buy a road bike. I wanted more. The Olympic Velodrome opened and Queen Victoria stepped off the throne to be succeeded by a young pretender from just up the M11. But I still wanted to see more. So I stood in the baking Kentish sunshine at Brands Hatch and unashamedly cried as Sarah Storey destroyed not only her own race field, but also that of the mens’ race that started 3 minutes in front of her. I sat in Look Mum No Hands with a lump in my throat watching the Road Race World Championships as The Greatest Cyclist In The World won the rainbow stripes, thinking how privileged I was to be watching her race. Thinking about how I would tell my children about watching her in the same way as my Dad told me about watching The Cannibal. Having lost my way with football, having got tired of the air of suspicion that hangs over men’s cycling, I realised I had found a sport that truly moved me. I wanted more. I needed more. Much more…

But the joy of this discovery was overshadowed. I found articles about Emma Pooley having to consider retirement because of the lack of support she was getting. I went to watch an event at the historic Herne Hill Velodrome where the lack of female cyclists entering was openly criticised. I read Sarah Storey imploring more women to get involved in cycle racing, so I nervously entered a sportive. And I trawled the internet looking for more women’s Pro Cycling events I could go and watch, but they just weren’t there. So I asked for help…

Tweet from Sarah Storey

Which is when I discovered #fansbackedwomensteam and #fansbackedwomenscycling, an intiative started in part by an article on Cyclismas by Stefan Wyman from Matrix Prendras about the role of fans in women’s cycling. This quote spoke particularly strongly to me:

“In many ways, women’s cycling lacks history; certainly compared to the men’s side of the sport. This era of raised interest in women’s cycling is a chance to make a new kind of history for the sport, in a new, interesting and socially inclusive way.”

The opportunity for a community based model for cycling really excites me, something inclusive and accountable to the fans but also a fantastic opportunity to give these talented sportswomen the platform and audiences they deserve. And to give us more of the fabulous, enthralling women’s cycling that I am so desperate to watch.

The Fans Backed Womens Cycling project is continually evolving, but I strongly suggest you follow Stefan Wyman and #fansbackedwomenscycling on Twitter for progress. This is a massive opportunity for cycling fans, to take back pro cycling from the dominance of dodgy Texans, dubious media magnates and questionable governing bodies and make it in to something that is true and exciting and ours. All of ours.
My magnificent Marianne Vos T shirt, pictured above, is by Freebird Velo