Monday Night is Women’s Night

This article was written for The Bristol Bike Project, and originally published here.


Walking into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project is a sensory experience. You hear the clinking of metal on metal, and the grinding of ratchet spanners. You smell the grease, the oil, and the rubber. You feel the grime of these things on your skin, and it’s a welcoming sensation.

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Photo from Women in Flow, a series by Rosa Lewis

Because if you’re walking into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project, it’s likely that you enjoy this kind of thing. You want to get your hands dirty, play with some tools, and make a real connection with your bike.

But wanting it isn’t enough. You have to walk through the door, and for many women, this part isn’t so easy. Walking into a workshop can be intimidating for some women, because it is still a very male world.

Even in 2017, girls are not encouraged to learn mechanical skills, and there’s still an assumption among many people that they are less capable in this area. Many women don’t have the confidence to get stuck into the maintenance side of cycling, believing it to still be a bit of a boys’ club, and instead rely on bike shops or male friends to keep their bikes ticking over.

So as a woman in the workshop, it’s difficult to put your hand up and ask for help. You don’t want to be that girl who doesn’t know anything, and you may not want to rely on a man to help you.

But we’re changing that, one Monday at a time. Monday night is Women’s Night.

Because it’s important for women to learn these skills, and gain the confidence to enter the workshop. It helps them to become more independent cyclists, able to make necessary repairs while out on the road.

Many women who start this way really get a taste for it, and may even go on to become a bike mechanic themselves. Having female mechanics in bike shops is hugely encouraging for female customers, and could even result in those women walking through our doors on a Monday night.

So when you walk into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project on a Monday night, you still get that same sensory experience: the grease, the oil, the grime and the grinding. But there’s one big difference: it is filled only with women. Monday nights are about providing a space for women to come and develop their skills and build their confidence, without concern over judgement or being overlooked for their male counterparts.

It’s just like the Thursday night Bike Kitchen: all the workshop’s tools are there for you to use, there’s a coordinator to run the session, and usually volunteers on hand to help you if you get stuck. But the onus is on you to get your hands dirty, and work on your bike yourself. There are no silly questions, and there’s no preconception about your capabilities.

It’s just you, your bike, some inspiring women, and the workshop.

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Photo from Women in Flow, a series by Rosa Lewis
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Taking Dori off-road

I told you that I’ve been allowing myself some play time on the bike. I also mentioned that my confidence and skill level has really started improving.

I decided to take myself to Ashton Court to practise riding on gravel. I sometimes do Parkrun there, and I know the route it takes goes up a gravelly climb. I figured this would be a good place to start.

Originally I’d planned to take Regina, my lovely Orange CX bike, but alas, I stupidly cross-threaded one of her pedals in my eagerness to get out on a ride. Silly me. So I took Dori instead. She’s more than capable of these things, and knows gravel well already, despite our relationship still being in its early months.

I’m pleased to say the gravel climbing went well straightaway, so I attempted some gravel descending. It was okay at first, being a nice, gradual decline. However I must admit when it dropped steeper I lost my nerve a little.

To my left I saw an opening that led into the woods, and what looked like a bridleway, so I decided to explore that instead. It was nice: a bit muddy and riddled with tree roots, which made for an interesting challenge.

In the end I grew so much in confidence that I did something I didn’t think I was capable of. I took Dori – my steel touring bike, with her 32c tyres – onto the mountain bike trails.

Despite not being the right bike for the job, she certainly held up well.

Not only did I go on the trails, I spent about an hour flying through them, occasionally picking up a good pace and taking on some technical parts that would normally freak me out if I had time to think about them first. It was the fact that everything was moving so quickly that helped me keep my nerve. I didn’t have time to chicken out, I just tackled what came and reacted on instinct.

I had an absolute blast, and didn’t fall once. I felt in control of the bike, and on the few occasions where I felt I was losing control, I was able to stop on a flat part and regain my composure.

I’m so bloody proud of myself.

Nova Trail
Photo: mbswindon.co.uk

#WednesdayWisdom: Pass it on (part 4)

This will probably be the last instalment of this series, as I have other things I want to write about, now I’m back from my recent adventures. However if you want to see more, or if you want to contribute to the series, let me know and we’ll figure something out 🙂

For my final instalment, we turn to Lucy Greaves, the writer of one of my current favourite blogs, Brain Cranks.

I met Lucy out on a ride to Dundry Hill with some Bike Project volunteers, and I could tell straightaway that she was a confident and experienced rider. Back then I was riding Ripley, my stepthrough Ridgeback hybrid, with flat bars and flat pedals, and I was in awe of her as she sped up hills clipped in, on her Croix de Fer.

We didn’t actually talk that much on that particular day, but somehow following that we became friends, and I’ve found her to be an extraordinarily motivating and inspirational person to ride with. She’s the reason I rode 200km. She pushed me to my limits and helped me realise that I was capable of more than I thought.

Which brings me very neatly to her contribution. I’ll let her speak for herself.

Lucy Greaves

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“Over the last year, the Adventure Syndicate mantra ‘we are all capable of so much more than we think’ has lodged itself firmly in my brain and, as someone who enjoys a challenge, I’ve been enthusiastically testing that hypothesis.

Back in May I dared myself to ride 100 miles. Having ridden almost that distance last summer I had a strong suspicion I was capable of riding it, so the barrier felt psychological much more than physical. 100 is a big number. Telling myself I could do it helped get me round.

Cycle touring through Wales in June I took myself up some enormous hills, carrying a fairly hefty load of kit. As I plodded slowly upwards the mantra I repeated to myself became ‘I just can‘. As in: ‘what makes you think you can get all the way up there?’ ‘Ah, y’know, I just can‘. (That voice in my head is much cockier than I am in real life, which seems to help somehow.) There were chunks when my gears just weren’t low enough and I had to get off and push, but I never doubted that I’d get up the hills.

Last month I dared myself to ride 200km (and took an unsuspecting Mildred with me, adding to our 100-mile route). Hard though it was, I knew we just could.

Now I’ve ridden 200km, longer distances don’t seem like such enormous psychological milestones. I feel confident that I can keep riding when things get hard, and I’m keen to push myself further. I’ve been getting ill a lot recently, however, so my challenge is now to know when to stop rather than go, something I find really difficult. I need a mantra for that.”

Thank you Lucy! And on that final note, she recently wrote an interesting piece about allowing yourself to stop when you need to, which is definitely worth a read. You’ll find it here.

Until next time, folks.

#WednesdayWisdom: Pass it on (Part 3)

For this week’s instalment of #PassItOn, we’re looking to Eleanor Jaskowska, who writes at Live In The Big Ring.

Until very recently, El has been storming across Europe in her first time racing the Transcontinental. In the midst of a brutal heatwave, which has caused many riders to scratch, she made the difficult decision to put her health first and do the same. She’s done phenomenally well, and she’s a true inspiration.

Over to you, El…

Eleanor Jaskowska

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“If I cast my mind back 6 months or so to when I knew I had a place on the Transcontinental race. I knew I had some ability in me to tackle this challenge head on, but not a clue of how I would train and improve to get myself to a position where I was capable. I decided that I should spend more time riding with other ultra distance cyclists, partly to get more bike hours in but also to glean advice from their experience. Riding with Audax Club Bristol has been so much fun, as well as challenging, and they have helped me push myself so much further than I would have gone otherwise. With the help of ACB and other supportive nutters like Rickie Cotter, I’ve gone from being a so-so social cyclist to Super Randonneur (riding at least 200, 300, 400 and 600km in a season). People no longer laugh when I tell them I’m racing the TCR!

I’ve picked up so many brilliant pieces of advice, and I’m glad to be able to pass some of it on. The best piece of advice is also the most obvious: just keep pedalling.

It covers all eventualities and acknowledges that if you are riding long distance it will not all be easy. There are always down patches. But they are temporary and if you keep pedalling you ride them out.

The flip side, of course, is that the good points are also temporary, so you learn to enjoy them while they last. I’ve learned that long distance riding is all in the mind. Yes, you need a fit and conditioned body (and probably a bicycle too!) but what really makes a long distance cyclist is that ability to keep turning the cranks when everything hurts, when you’d rather be wrapped up warm, and not on a hillside in Snowdonia being beaten by rain and crosswinds at 1am.

If you can just keep pedalling you’ll ride it out and be stronger for it!”

Thanks El, for sharing this. Sometimes we need the obvious pointing out to us, when we’re grinding along and every limb is screaming. The only way to get through it is to just keep going.

I’m away next week, on my next big cycling adventure, which I can’t wait to tell you about! It means there won’t be an instalment until the week after, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait!

If you’ve got some advice you’d like to pass on, please get in touch through the Contact page!

#WednesdayWisdom: Pass it on (Part 1)

I recently devoured the Spring issue of Casquette, and I strongly recommend you do the same, if you haven’t already. It’s so refreshing to have a cycling magazine devoted to women, which isn’t afraid to cover subjects that we wouldn’t normally be comfortable talking about. Think snot rockets, saddlesore and the best bib shorts for taking a quick pee in the bushes. There’s also a lot of discussion around the gender politics of professional cycling: a recommended read, for sure.

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I won’t go into as much detail as I did last time, but one thing I did want to highlight was that this issue’s theme is ‘Pass it On’. It includes a gorgeously illustrated feature, where cycling badasses such as Marijn de Vries, Helen Wyman and Juliet Elliott share some words of advice that have helped them in their careers.

In keeping with this theme, I thought it would be nice to continue along the same lines, providing the best piece of advice I’ve ever received, and some golden nuggets from other badass women riders I know.

So here’s part 1.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received

I’m actually breaking the rules already, because I want to share two pieces of advice. And funnily enough, they come from the next two women who will be featured as part of this series, so this gives you a taste of who’s to come.

#1

The first came from Katherine Moore. It was back in April, when I was getting ridiculously nervous about riding in the Yorkshire Dales. I was freaking out about not being able to keep up with the other riders, about struggling to climb hills, and how scared I was of the huge descents. I thought it was a huge mistake, and that I’d fail miserably.

In her cool and calm way, she said to me:

You need to let yourself be a beginner.

Her words resounded in me so deeply, because I knew she was right. I set myself impossibly high standards all the time, and I’m so awful to myself if I don’t reach them. But the fact is, I expect to be good at everything straightaway, without letting myself progress gradually.

She was absolutely right, and ever since she said that, I’ve tried to be more lenient on myself. When I’ve taken on a new endeavour, or when I’ve tackled something bigger than I’m accustomed to, I’ve taken a step back and acknowledged the fact that this is a big deal for me. I’m letting myself feel the fear, and reminding myself that it’s normal to fear something when it’s new. In order to not fear it, I need to just do it. And that’s exactly what I took from her advice.

#2

The second came from Eleanor Jaskowska.

Again, this was in one of my moments of freaking out. This time, it was in anticipation of riding 100 miles for the first time.

Of course, I was allowing myself to be a beginner. The main issue here was just the sheer length of the ride, and I wasn’t sure how I could manage it. I had visions of turning back and giving up.

But El came through for me, the day before the ride. She told me:

Break it down. Don’t think about it as one long ride, but lots of shorter ones.

Again, as soon as she said this, everything made sense. Find some stopping points along the route, and treat each section as its own ride.

That’s exactly what I did, and funnily enough when I talk to people about the ride, and they express their amazement that I could ride 125 miles, I talk about it as a series of shorter rides. I even wrote about it in that way.

So from these women, I’ve learned two very valuable lessons:

  1. If you choose to run before you can walk, expect a few struggles. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, and it doesn’t mean there’s any shame in struggling with it. Just accept that you’re new to it, and that you’ll get better with time.
  2. Break everything down into something that’s manageable. If the prospect of a long distance is boggling your brain, focus on your checkpoints, or your rest stops, and just get from one to the next.

Next Wednesday I’ll be sharing Katherine’s Wednesday Wisdom. In the meantime, I’d love to hear yours!

#MondayMotivation – Cycling as Meditation

My head is a rather chaotic place.

My brain is constantly switched on, analysing, fretting, questioning. When there’s a lot going on in there, I can’t finish speaking a sentence without starting a new one. I can be manic, jittery, and completely incoherent.

I used to manage this with meditation. Every night I dedicated 15 minutes to slowing down, silencing my thoughts and clearing my mind before going to bed. It used to really help, but these days I just can’t do it anymore. Meditation is a real skill that you need to master, and my mental state just isn’t compatible with it anymore.

But cycling helps to tame the chaos.

A friend recently commented that I’ve become obsessed with cycling – it’s all I talk about, all I do. It’s true. I spend every spare moment looking at bikes, riding them, fixing them, and talking about them…

Heck, not that long ago Adam and I were discussing bottom brackets in bed, and realised we really need to reassess our pillow talk.

My response to this friend was simple: cycling is the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now.

My professional life is in flux. I’ve just resigned from a permanent position and am looking to go freelance while working part-time in a bike shop. I’m getting myself involved in lots of different projects, I’m going to have very little money to live on, and I’m taking a huge leap into the darkness.

On top of this, I’ve had some mental health issues to deal with, and have been struggling to overcome some emotional barriers that can sometimes be crippling.

I’m constantly telling myself I’m not good enough, setting myself impossibly high standards and then branding myself a failure for not meeting them. Dwelling on choices I’ve made in the past, forgetting the right ones and punishing myself for the wrong ones. Constantly telling myself that I’m worthless, that I’m going nowhere. Feeling completely and totally lost. It’s a never-ending stream of abuse, directed inward.

But when I ride my bike, everything goes quiet.

Suddenly, the only thing I need to think about is where I’m going. I just need to keep my wheels turning, keep my centre of gravity balanced, and keep my cadence consistent.

My attention turns to my body: my breathing, my hand positioning, and the speed at which I’m turning the pedals. Going up a hill, all I need to think about is the burning in my legs, the dull ache in my lower back, and the drops of sweat forming on my brow. When I’m descending, I’m concentrating on how I’m positioned on the bike. I feel the rush of the wind past my ears and through my hair, the tears forming as I reach eye-watering speed, and the pounding of my heart.

In traffic, the chaos is external. All I need to do is stay alert, predict others’ actions, and position myself in the safest place on the road.

In quiet country lanes, I can afford myself the time to take in the views, feel the sunshine on my face, breathe in the cleaner air, and notice the wildlife around me.

Cycling gives me the space I need to slow down, internally. Everything becomes a circular motion: my feet on the pedals, the spinning of the wheels, and the loop I carve onto the map as I leave the city and return again later.

So as my life takes a turn in the coming weeks – leaping out of the safety net of permanent full-time employment, into the unknown – cycling will be my therapy. I cannot wait to have more time to spend on my bike, and explore the beauty that our countryside has to offer.

I will have much less money, that’s for sure, but cycling is free, and it’s the kind of happiness you don’t need to buy.

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When it’s too hot to ride

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Picture: tampabay.com

It might seem blasphemous to some, but with the weather we’re having at the moment, I’m struggling to motivate myself to get out onto long rides.

I’m still commuting by bike, and I’m taking myself off for the odd pootle, but I think it’s important to know your limits and understand where you need to make some allowances, for the sake of your health and your sanity.

When it’s melting weather, I’ve found the best thing to do to keep myself pedalling is to plan an activity that I can handle in this heat, and then make the bike a means of getting there, rather than the centre of attention.

You may disagree with me, and that’s okay. I take my hat off to you if you can still throw yourself up hills while the sun is high in the sky.

However if like me, you want an excuse to pedal without melting, here are some ideas to get you doing just that.

Ride in the woods

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Picture: redwoods.co.nz

If you’re lucky enough to live near a wooded area, take yourself there with some thick tyres and a packed lunch. You’ll get a lot of shelter from the trees so the sun won’t be beating down on you, and you’ll get to ride around some beautiful bridleways.

Best bit: the sound of snapping twigs.

Take a dip in some water

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Picture: wildswim.com

Working up a sweat is fine when you’re going to reward yourself with a dip in some cold water very soon. Whether it’s a river, a lake, the sea, or your local swimming pool if that’s all that’s available… wear your swimsuit under your clothes, de-layer, and jump right in. You don’t even need to worry about getting changed afterwards, because you’ll dry off in no time.

Best bit: floating on your back with the sun on your face.

Find a beer garden

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Picture: thevictoriawestbury.co.uk

I’m not really a drinker, but I’m not averse to sitting in a beer garden with a pint of soda water. I like the atmosphere that comes with it, and there are plenty of country pubs that put a lot of effort into creating a serene outdoor space. And of course if beer or cider are your thing, go for it.

Best bit: there are usually dogs!

Ride to a museum or art gallery

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Picture: alifecurated.com

This one comes with two advantages: the acquiring of knowledge, and air conditioning. If you’re open to learning something new about the history of the local area, or see some works of art that move you, you can generally enjoy a free day out. Plus there’s always a café, and usually ample space for locking up your bike.

Best bit: if you’ve got company, you’ll have plenty to talk about on the way home.

Volunteer at your local community project

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Picture: facebook.com/thebristolbikeproject (spot me in the photo!)

I had to slip this in here. If you want to be surrounded by bikes, but not particularly riding them, why not pop down to your local community bike project and see if you can help out? They may have some workshops where you can tinker with old bikes, or work with members of the public and show them how to fix a puncture.

Best bit: giving something back to your community, while perfecting your tinkering skills.

Go for a spin class

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Picture: dashofwellness.com

I know. I hate myself for even saying it. But the fact is, if you really want to burn some calories while you pedal, but are averse to the heat outside, sign up for a spin class and do it in a room with air conditioning.

Best bit: you’ll have earned your ice cream.

Finally, some important tips on staying safe in the heat:

  • Drink plenty of water. Carry as many bottles as your bike can hold, and if you’re out for the day, fill them up at every opportunity. Generally staff in cafes and pubs are more than happy to help.
  • Add a pinch of salt to your water. You won’t taste it, and it will help replenish your body when you’re sweating a lot. I like to add a slice of lemon as well.
  • Pick your time of day wisely. If you’re only out for a short time, leave extra early in the morning, or go riding in the late evening, when the temperature’s at its coolest. Avoid riding in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.
  • Wear sunscreen. Baz Luhrmann got it right. Keep topping it up.
  • Wear a cap. I won’t take part in the helmet war, but cover your head if you’re going to be out for a long time under the sun.
  • Eat ice-lollies. Yep. I don’t care how healthy you want to be. If you’re sweating buckets and you pass an ice cream van, just do it. You deserve it.

 

#FollowFriday: Insta-Inspiration

I’ve been a bit quiet lately for various reasons, but namely because I’ve allowed the run-up to the General Election to completely take over my thoughts.

I’ve spent so many hours scouring information online, campaigning on behalf of my chosen political party, and occasionally wallowing in a pit of despair when things seemed hopeless.

This morning we woke up to a hung parliament, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who breathed a sigh of relief. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get political on you (that’s why I’ve stayed quiet), but this moment of limbo has allowed me some headspace to think about other things.

Get inspired

Social media has proven to be both damaging and enlightening, these past few weeks. I’ve become increasingly aware that the more time I spend on Facebook, the more angry and disillusioned with the world I become. The same can go for Twitter, though there are still a lot of things that keep me going back there.

Instagram is proving to be my favourite channel these days. It fills my time with photographs of beautiful bikes, cycling kit, and incredible views that make me want to burst out of my front door, clip in, and go.

So in these uncertain times, let me leave you with some suggestions of accounts to follow, so you can feel as inspired as I do.

@mostlyamelie

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Amelie is working her way around the world, sometimes on the bike, and sometimes off. She picks up work as a freelance yoga teacher, photographer and graphic designer, as well as taking part in various work exchanges (where you work a certain amount of hours a day in exchange for accommodation and/or food). Her Instagram account is full of gorgeous photos from her travels, and provides me with so much inspiration for my own round-the-world tour one day.

@adventuresynd

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I simply had to include The Adventure Syndicate. I’ve talked about them many times before, and you should know who they are. If not, go check out their Instagram account. It gives a fascinating insight into their many adventures, following all the Syndicaters in their own individual journeys as well as the group as a whole.

@mountainyogabreaks

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Remember that mountain biking weekend I don’t stop banging on about? This is who I went with. Despite coming away a little bit broken, I regret nothing, and I’m itching to go back and try again. Polly posts lots of photos from her rural Wales adventures, sometimes with her family, sometimes solo, and sometimes with the groups she leads. The scenery is always stunning, and it’s really lovely to see her children getting started on their MTB adventures already.

@fijapaw

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I’m so glad Adam told me about this account. Jasmine Reese is travelling around the world on a bike, with her violin and her dog in tow. Expect inspirational quotes, violin recitals, stories of the kindness of strangers who have offered their hospitality, and of course, photos of her adorable doggo.

@marijndevries

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Marijn de Vries, now retired from professional racing, is cycling around the world and sharing the most stunning photographs through her Instagram account. The scenery, the selfies… the cycling kit! Just gorgeous photos that will make you want to follow in her footsteps and experience the breathtaking views for yourself.

 

@sd_shewolves

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The SheWolves are a San Diego women’s cycling crew, and they look like they have a lot of fun. As someone who is currently part of an effort to create a badass girl gang within Bristol’s cycling community, I love seeing photos of their antics and feeling inspired to create a similar vibe in my own city. If ever there were a girl gang I’d go to great lengths to be part of, this would be it.

Speaking of girl gangs…

We held another Women and Bikes social at Roll for the Soul last night. It was a much smaller group this time, which afforded us the opportunity to get a conversation going about what we should do next.

I will be organising the first outing in the near future, and posting a poll in the Women Cyclists of Bristol Facebook group, to gauge what people want in terms of distance, pace, scenery and type of adventure. I’m totally up for camping. Just saying.

Keep your eyes peeled in the group, join it if you’re not in there already, and come ride with us soon.