So far 2014 is shaping up quite well for me in terms of cycling. Riding out three times a week is becoming a habit and my body itches to get out. But for those first few weeks of owning a road bike I remember the fear.
There were a few reasons why ‘the beautiful red one’ didn’t get ridden and sat in the garage for a good while. My other half would pester me to ride out with him and I’d find any excuse I could not to go. Secretly I was scared and the fear was stopping me.
I spent a lot of time wondering if I would be able to ride a bike with drop handle bars. What if I couldn’t reach the brakes properly? (A great reason, by the way, to buy a women’s specific road bike. There’s a reason women’s specific bikes exist. We’re built differently to men and so are women’s specific bikes).
What if I fall off? Those tyres are ultra thin compared to any bike I’ve ever ridden – they’re not going to keep me up surely?
It’s going to hurt…the saddle, the riding position…falling off. What if I get to where I want to go but I’m too tired to cycle home again?
Then, once I had conquered those initial fears and had put a few miles under my belt, my other half said I’d find it much easier to cycle with clip-in pedals. My cycling would be much ‘more efficient’. Well, he was right, but I was terrified of cycling and not being able to unclip my feet from the pedals and reach the floor.
We ventured down to a flat, straight, very quiet piece of road. No one was around; no cars to fall off and land under and no passers-by to mock my ineptitude. I cried. I tried. I cried some more. But I did do it. And I didn’t fall off. No – that inevitable slow motion tumble that comes with the realisation you’re going too slow and need to put a foot down but can’t unclip in time came a few months later. Whilst travelling uphill. And I cried again. More from injured pride than an injured anything else.
I’ve pretty much conquered the clip-in pedals and got to grips with the funny shoes you have to wear which mean you walk like a penguin whilst trying to find the loo or order your coffee and cake, but even though I’ve conquered those initial fears of road cycling, just when I think my confidence is building, another fear comes racing along.
After this weekend and cycling 66km over two consecutive days, I’m feeling happier about my ability to complete 50km for #TeamHonk and Sport Relief on 25 February 2014. It won’t be easy, I haven’t cycled that far ever, but I will be able to do it. Now, cycling just short of 500km for the London to Paris cycle ride is a whole different worry. If I think about it too much I break out in hives and can’t breathe properly, so for now, at least, I’m burying that thought and just focusing on #TeamHonk.
It was my birthday on Monday and my other half and I cycled out to a pub for a celebratory drink. It’s not often we have any child-free time and can ride out together, plus he cycles a lot faster than me and pushes me to do better, so it was a lovely treat. But then came the fear. We decided to take the scenic route home. “Great, a few extra miles will be great training”, I thought.
The scenic route ended up being a closed road due to the incessant rain we’ve experienced and the scenic route went on to be the A52 at a time nearing rush hour.
Petrified isn’t the word. Cycling along as close to the road edge as possible in drizzle with lorries buffeting past you is not fun. And I’d chosen that day to take the expert cyclists’ recommendation of riding commando in my newly acquired padded shorts. Let’s just say, although it was close to the end of the ride and I was knackered, I suddenly found a whole load of energy to pedal faster.
Then today, someone sent me a link to a feature in Women’s Adventure Magazine (WAM) about women cycling in Afghanistan that made me realise I really don’t have a clue about fear. Suddenly my fears about cycling seem so silly and insignificant.
In Afghanistan in the 1990’s, women riding bikes wasn’t allowed due to Taliban control. Even now, the ‘obscene act of straddling a saddle’ is seen as less than suitable for the women of Afghanistan. But one of twelve cycling clubs in Afghanistan allows women and that club has eleven female cyclists.
The interview tells of Mariam, 22, one of Afghan National Cycling Federation’s top riders. Mariam fractured her lower back when out cycling. An Afghan man pulled up alongside her and verbally harassed her for cycling. When she refused to stop or to pull over, he drove his moped into her bike bringing her crashing to the floor. As a female cyclist in Afghanistan fear of violence and harassment comes with the territory. But the women of the Afghan National Cycling Federation don’t let it stop them. They get on their bikes and they ride. They ride like they don’t care.
So I think #12 of my challenges for 2014 has been decided. It’s time to remember how lucky I am to live in the UK and to be allowed to freely ride a bike in whatever kit I choose. Women’s cycling here still has some work to do in terms of equality but we are lucky to have come as far as we have. As Mariam says in her story: “Riding a bike is not possible with fear”. She’s right. Fear holds you back.
Remember the quote:
Sing like no one is listening.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching,
and live like it’s heaven on earth.
Well, my #12 challenge for 2014 is to ride like I have no fear.
There’ll be adrenalin, I’m certain of that, but that’s a whole different thing, right?
What cycling fears have you overcome?
You can support my #TeamHonk 50km cycle ride on 25 February by sponsoring the Nottingham Team here. Thank you.