women's cycling, overcoming fear
Image: Zach Dischner via flickr

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.





43 Comments on Ride like you have no fear

  1. Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear these past few days – particularly about the effect it has on me physically. I have anxiety issues, but I try to convince myself I don’t – which is fine until I my body completely ignores what my mind is telling it.

    I recently came off my bike – I skidded in the rain on my way home. It wasn’t a major tumble, and I was pretty much OK, but it shook me up. I got back on my bike as soon as I’d had it checked over to make sure it was OK, because it’s important to get back on as soon as possible, right? Except that I became terrified of losing control of my bike again. Every slight wobble had my heart lurching in my chest. The low point was last Friday evening, cycling home through the wind and the rain. With every gust, my body essentially froze – I knew what I should be doing, but my body wouldn’t respond. It was pretty scary.

    • Thanks Jude, I do hope you get your mojo back soon. Having a tumble is a scary thing, especially in the rain. But you did get back on again, that’s the important thing. And the chances of you coming off again are probably pretty slim in reality. Maybe the addition of some winter wheels may help you feel safer? Fear can be all encompassing sometimes and our minds play such a significant part in that. Don’t give up, your confidence will return 🙂

  2. Well done and very well written.

    My biggest fear is failure. Of course, the concept of failure is an internal construct and all too often a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I guess I just need to WTFU!

    Love the new pic in your gorgeous Star Jersey, by the way! 🙂
    Rebecca Olds recently posted…HELLO Fellow Cycling Bugs!My Profile

    • Thanks Rebecca, I love it too! It was a birthday present! I was chuffed to bits. You’re right, fear is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Positive thinking is definitely the way forward but somethimes that’s easier said than done!

  3. What a fantastic addition to your list. My son has just started riding a balance bike at the grand old age of 2 and he has no fear and is therefore pretty fantastic, although my heart stops as he speeds along, leaning into corners! Good luck for your Team Honk leg x
    Kirsty recently posted…Alfie Weather by Shirley HughesMy Profile

    • Thank you Charly! #TeamHonk is doing brilliantly well. The Nottingham leg will be here in no time – it’s come round so quickly. Just hoping we’ve done enough training but I think we’ll be fine!

    • You should have a look at Breeze rides. They’re often on very quiet country roads or in country parks and you could definitely take baby along on the back. I wrote a post on my experience of Breeze here and details of their rides can be found here.

  4. Another great read. I’ve been debating with myself for well over a year about getting a road bike. I’m not sure if it’s fear that’s stopping me or the thought of something different (what if I can’t ride down my favourite bridle path or is the tow path too rough in places?). My local shop is great so I think I’ll ask to take one out and go along the canal to see how I get on.

    I’m sure your 50km will be a breeze with all your training. My first ever event was a 250 mile York-Amsterdam-York and the furthest I’d ridden in training was 35 miles. You’ll be amazed at the strength you can draw from riding in a group.

    Good luck and I look forward to your next instalment (love the new jersey btw)

    • Louise, thank you for the kind comments – you have no idea how much better you’ve made me feel about the London-Paris ride. Hearing your first ride was York-Amsterdam-York is like music to my ears! Amazing achievement by the way, well done! Definitely speak to your local shop about a road bike. If they’re a good one that you know well, I’m sure they’ll give you some good honest advice. Let me know how you get on :o)

  5. This is an interesting read because I’m currently getting out twice a week (although not as many miles as you) but I’m still using my old mountain bike. I tried my husband’s road bike a few years ago and it wasn’t successful, but I should probably give it another go.
    Kate Davis recently posted…Goodreads #25My Profile

    • Kate, I tried my husband’s road bike before I got mine and found his quite terrifying! Even though I’m tall (5ft 10″) the reach to the brakes was a little too far and I didn’t feel safe. If you can try a women’s specific road bike, the frames are designed for our body shapes of longer legs and shorter bodies and you will probably find you absolutely love it!!

    • PinkOddy, thank you for reading and staying to comment. It’s amazing to think that for some women, something as simple as riding a bike can be so negatively looked upon in certain countries. I found it really emotional reading about these women! It really makes you think, doesn’t it? Our ride really was nothing in comparison.

  6. I would feel all those fears of I started to cycle! I cant believe how women in Afghanistan couldn’t cycle and it makes you realise how lucky we are. Love the quote at the end too
    Emily. G recently posted…HouseMy Profile

  7. Wow, what a thought – not being allowed to ride. I’m so proud of women for (sitting) for what they believe in…. It really makes you think how lucky we are to engage in any activity we like without harassment.

    Riding for me has been a big eye opener, something which has encouraged me to do more things which extend out into the likes of public speaking and what not. It’s been a confidence boost. Balance was a big issue for starters and the first road cycle of 18 miles which I did after 12 years of not being on a bike, nearly broke me… But somewhere in the ride, it motivated me. I soon realised that my balance was actually OK and soon enough I took to mountain biking – the adrenaline rush it gives me is amazing. Though it’s stirred up a load of phobias for me especially about the kind of terrain I ride, but now I keep my eyes ahead, with a finger at the ready on the back break and I thank my lucky stars that I have the mind and body to do it.

    • It makes you realise just how much we take for granted. These women are inspiring. I re-read this post today and felt so lucky to have the freedom to ride my bike. I get hung on my fears every so often and my confidence wanes when it comes to trying new things, even though I desperately want to. I need to remember just how lucky we are and remember to just go for it!

      Well done you on your mountain biking and keeping going after that very first 18 miles! Mountain biking is next on my list of fears to conquer. I will do it!

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