10 confessions of a clumsy cyclist

I like to use this blog as a space to process the lessons I’ve learned, air my concerns and celebrate my achievements. Of course, this will continue to be the case.

But every now and then, when the world is in dire straits – and let’s be honest, it is – sometimes all we can do is see the funny side of things and have a little laugh at ourselves. It keeps us sane.

One of the things I love about writing this blog, is hearing from other people that they relate to my struggles. So here is a list of confessions – 10, to be exact – of how I’m not the world’s most perfect cyclist, and how I’ve still got a lot to learn.

  1. I wobble. My balance is actually pretty shoddy, and from time to time I wobble. It’s usually when I’m concentrating too hard on trying to avoid a hazard (inevitably staring at it and riding straight into it), or trying to multitask with my hands.
  2. I can’t dismount efficiently. I see other riders approach their destination, and glide to smooth stop as they gracefully swing their right leg back over the saddle. When I stop, I grind to a halt, splaying both feet out until one or them touches the ground, and then awkwardly swing a short stubby leg over, trying not to topple.
  3. I forget to plan ahead. Generally this isn’t too bad, but every so often I approach a hazard at high speed, fully aware of it, but choose not to shift down until the very last minute, usually because some part of me expects it to be gone by the time I get there. This usually results in me shuddering to a sudden halt to avoid bumping into the cyclist ahead of me.
  4. I can’t clip in on the right. When I kick off at the lights, I’ll usually spend a few minutes fiddling around with my right foot, trying to clip in and haphazardly missing the cleat every single time. That reminds me…
  5. I kick off on the wrong foot. Perhaps you could argue that there’s no right or wrong here, but generally in the UK cyclists kick off with their right foot on the pedal and their left foot on the kerb. I’m the opposite. I’ll be laughing when I go cycling abroad though, and the tables are turned.
  6. I ride the brakes. It’s no secret that I’m not a confident descender. Of all the parts of my bike that wear and tear, my rear brake pads suffer the most.
  7. I sometimes zone out. We’re all guilty of this. Unfortunately I tend to do it while I’m overtaking another cyclist, and take a while to notice that I’m about to have a head-on collision. Thankfully it hasn’t happened just yet, as I usually manage to snap out of it in time.
  8. I can’t signal while going downhill. I’m still a bit terrible at signalling left on a good day, but if I’m going downhill and picking up speed, my hands are firmly on the brakes.
  9. I can’t bunny hop a kerb. Generally not a problem, but there’s a certain part of my route home which requires mounting a pavement. All too often, a vehicle obstructs the drop-kerb, so I have to stop and manoeuvre. Combined with confession #2, this means I end up doing ‘the waddle’ while still mounted. The top tube can often prove to be painful if done incorrectly.
  10. I always, without fail, end up with a chain stain. Enough said, really.

How many of these can you relate to?

What confessions would you add?

Go on, don’t be shy. We’re all friends here.

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A little feedback request

Hello!

I’m off the bike this week, due to being brutally wounded (tattooed) at the weekend. I’m almost healed and ready to get back on the road, but in the meantime I’m letting myself recover and reflect.

I’m really conscious that when I first started this blog, it was about learning how to fix bikes, and my time volunteering with The Bristol Bike Project.

While I do still volunteer with the BBP, and I am still learning how to fix bikes, the actual cycling aspect seems to have taken over my posts as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Cycling as a sport or hobby is probably the first thing I’ve tried out, not been very good at, but stuck at and continued to progress. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and know that I can go further if I keep at it.

Anyway, I know that what I initially promised with this blog has organically evolved into something else. I’d like to know what you think – are you happy with the way it’s evolved, or do you wish I’d stuck to my original purpose? Do you like how it is now or do you want to see something different?

I really appreciate every single person who reads my blog, whether you comment or not, and I want to make sure that you’re getting what you want from it. Please could you take 30 seconds to give me some feedback? I was going to insert a poll but apparently the internet doesn’t want me to, so please leave answers in the comments:

What are your thoughts on my content?

  1. I’d like more about bike maintenance
  2. I’d like more about cycling
  3. It’s fine as it is
  4. I’d like something different (please leave more details in your comment)

Thank you so much 🙂

Lust List: Tattoo Inspiration

Slightly different theme today, but I’m going to be out of the saddle for a few days due to letting someone carve some things into my leg.

Currently I have one finished tattoo (a Polynesian-inspired geometric pattern on the back of my neck) and one unfinished half-sleeve which I’m getting topped up in April. They say tattoos are addictive, and whoever they are, they’re right. So come tomorrow I’ll be back under the needle for my third piece of art, which will be animal-themed and on my left thigh.

In all honesty, as much as I’m going to sorely miss riding Regina for a little while, I’m also still very sore from the ride to Oxford, so I welcome a bit of a break from the saddle. I’ll be back riding next week, once it’s started healing.

In the meantime I’m already thinking about what else I’d like done, and I’ve seen some amazing cycling-related tattoos around, so I think I’d like to pay homage through the medium of my skin.

Here are a few awesome cyclist tattoos and ideas that I’ve seen on the web:

 

If you’ve got awesome ink, feel free to share it!

#WednesdayWisdom – Long-distance riding advice from Emily Chappell, Lee Craigie and Rickie Cotter

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Image courtesy of BBC

I was really fortunate to get a ticket to a talk at Roll For The Soul last night, with three incredible women. Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie are the co-founders of The Adventure Syndicate, and Rickie Cotter was one of their seven-woman team to race around the North Coast 500 in 36 hours as part of their launch.

These aren’t their only accomplishments by a long way, but you don’t need me to tell you who they are. If you’re reading my blog then you either already know of them, or you’re going to click on their names to find out. And if neither of those is true, no one will know and no one will judge.

The talk was aimed at women who want to start riding long-distance, whether it’s for racing, touring, off-roading or anything in between. They came armed with shed-loads of advice, and I’m going to share some of it here, because all women who want to ride should, and as Emily reiterated last night – you are capable of so much more than you think you are.

Preparing the mind

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Image via Instagram

The first subject we got into was mentally preparing yourself for the ride. It’s true that while there will be a great stress on your body, half of it is in your head. One of the things mentioned during Sunday’s panel discussion was that when you go into a long ride with a particular distance in mind, you know where your end point will be, and you’ll make it to that point if it kills you. And even if at mile 500 you feel like you’re literally going to fall off your bike and die, if you’d set out to do 510 miles instead, you’d still make that extra 10 miles, because it was all part of the plan. The key is to know how far you’re going and be prepared to make it to the end. Because you will make it.

Finding your time of day

Training your body will help with the mental preparation. If you’re planning a week-long race, you’ll be riding all day and all night with a few hours of sleep in between. Emily made an excellent point that most (if not all) people have certain times of the day that work better for them, and certain times that are worse. As part of her training, she did several rides from London to Manchester, starting at different times of day (and night). She found that no matter which point the night section fell, whether it was right at the beginning or end, she always flagged at around the same time.

Once you get to know which times of day are your strongest, and which are your weakest, you can prepare for them. If you’re a morning person, like Rickie, you can put measures in place to get you through the night – like snacking on your favourite treats every few miles – and get yourself up a hill to be rewarded with glorious views at dawn. If you’re like Emily and peak in the middle of the night, you’ll need more motivation to get you through the hardest parts of the day. Plan to stop at a café and have coffee and cake when you’re really struggling. 15 minutes of rest and some caffeine and sugar in your system, and you can plough through the next stage until you feel your strength returning. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable segments, knowing when you’ll struggle, and pre-empting it.

Fighting the fear

Lee made a fantastic point about the difference between fear and anxiety. A woman in the audience asked about how to prepare for the fear she might experience when cycling alone through a strange place at night – perhaps a country where there are packs of street dogs roaming, or if there are shady characters about. Lee pointed out that ‘fear’ is what you feel when something happens to you, and by that point you’re in fight-or-flight mode and you can’t pre-empt that. It’s anxiety that can stop you from setting out in the first place, and that’s what you need to address. If you know the sorts of things you’re afraid of, you can prepare yourself for them, and be ready. You can buy dog dazers which create a kind of forcefield around you and keep street dogs at a distance. And as Rickie pointed out, the likelihood of encountering a dangerous character is actually very low. If anything, by being in a field alone with a bike and a bivvy bag, you’re the strange character who probably shouldn’t be there, and you’re probably more intimidating just by being in an unexpected place at an unexpected hour.

Feeding the body

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Image via Twitter

It seems that Emily cannot stress it enough: EAT.

Eat, eat, eat, and eat.

Throw your recommended daily calories out the window and eat whenever you’re hungry, because your body will be burning ridiculous amounts of calories all the time, and you need to keep your energy up.

When you’re not hungry

I asked about forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry, because I struggle with this. On Saturday I cycled a very long way between eating, and despite telling myself I was going to eat the shit out of everything, when I arrived my stomach didn’t want to cooperate. Rickie explained that when you’re cycling for a long duration, you’re placing so much stress on your body, and it’s concentrating so much on keeping your legs spinning, that it has less energy to digest, and so when you try to eat a big meal at the end, it can’t cope. It’s better keep snacking little and often as you go, to keep your digestive system active.

Keep the food up front

Emily recommends having a handlebar bag, which makes snacking whilst riding a lot easier. She has several compartments where she stores a variety of things (I believe at one point she was living on peanuts, chorizo, emmentale and Haribo). The point is they’re accessible, and you can keep munching little and often.

Think about your food groups

Lee finds that eating high amounts of fat and protein works best for her, as they provide slow releasing energy and it can encourage your body to burn energy from your fat stores rather than from carbohydrates. But she still eats carbohydrates as well; she just increases her intake of the other two groups. This followed a question about ketosis. It works for some, and not for others.

Stay hydrated

You cannot drink enough water. Emily tries to down two litres at a time to keep herself hydrated for the next couple of hours. Lee does the same the day before a race – drink, drink and drink. Rickie recommends carrying no more than 2 litres of water on the bike to save weight (1l = 1kg), but you can store anywhere up to 9 litres if you wanted to.

Another important note from Rickie – use your urine to track your hydration levels. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but you can tell by the colour if you’re dehydrated. If it’s dark and pungent, you need to drink more. Aim for the colour of champagne.

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Image courtesy of The Adventure Syndicate

Other tidbits

  • If you’re drinking citrus juices like orange, add a pinch of salt to them. Citrus alone can cause cramping, and the salt counteracts this.
  • Order two of everything – whatever you think you want to eat, order or buy double the amount. Even if you can’t physically eat it all straightaway, 30 minutes down the road you’ll be hungry again.
  • Look for Lidl (or Aldi) – they’re all over Europe and they always have the same stock and layout. Especially if you’re racing, you can run in and very quickly find all the things you need without wasting much time.
  • Carry a polyester backpack that folds down to miniature size. If at the end of a long day you need to go and stock up on food, you can just pull it out, fill it, and ride to your camp with full supplies.

Packing the bike

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Image courtesy of bikepacking.com

If you’re racing

Pack light. That’s a given, but if you’ve got the budget you can invest in some really handy equipment that packs down ridiculously small.

The best thing to do is to prioritise and pack only what you need. Lee makes a point of only packing items that can serve a dual purpose (which led to a hilarious discussion of doubling up a chamois as a sponge).

Here’s a great list of what Josh Ibbett took on his transcontinental race.

If you’re touring

When you’re touring you can add panniers to your bike and afford to take a bit more with you. If you choose to, that is. After my experience of cycling with an overloaded rear rack at the weekend, I never want to look at another pannier again.

Bikepacking.com has some great advice on touring equipment.

Think about where you put things

One of the things all three of them stressed was to really plan how you’re going to pack, and always keep certain things in the same place so you always know where they are. Don’t pack your waterproofs in the bottom of your saddle pack, because everything will get wet as you trawl through it trying to find it in a downpour.

Keep anything you’ll want regular access to at the front or on the top tube. Food should be at your handlebars so you can eat while you go. You may choose to keep a water bottle here as well, instead of in a bottle cage on your frame. That’s a personal choice.

Consider taking a small stove, which can cook enough food for one. Lee always keeps an emergency pack of cous cous and a vegetable bouillon cube in her bag for a quick, easy and last minute meal.

Try to get a bag with an external drawstring at your rear, so that you can wash your padded shorts as you go and ride with them fluttering and drying in the wind behind you. Pro tip for this: don’t turn them inside out, otherwise the chamois can get coated in dust, which makes for an uncomfortable ride later down the line.

Also consider carrying some hand sanitizer with you. Rickie made a fantastically gross point of how important personal hygiene is when being out on the road for long periods of time. She once left her bike in a shed for a few days following a long-distance ride, and came back to find mould had grown on the handlebars from the sweat and germs that had accumulated there. Think about how much time you spend with your hands on your bars, and how often you use them to touch your face, your eyes, your mouth, your lady bits, your food, and everything else. Keep them clean and prevent illness and infection.

On a similar note, if you’re riding through countries with questionable water sources and particularly if you’re off-road, carry some iodine tablets or miniature filters. Even when you’re out in the beautiful countryside and the river water runs clear, you don’t know what’s upstream – a cattle farm, a factory… don’t risk it. Illness can set you back for days.

Finding your way

Emily demonstrated brilliantly how she’s the last person to listen to on this subject, seeing as when she completed the Transcontinental in 2016 she was the only rider to visit Albania.

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Emily was rider #7

Gadgets

As far as technology is concerned, Garmin comes highly recommended. There was a discussion about the many complaints people make about them, and Rickie acknowledged that they’re by no means perfect just yet, but she stressed that right now in this market, they’re the best tech available for cyclists. One day that may change, but right now at this moment if you’re investing in something, invest in a Garmin. They use different satellites to other devices and are the most advanced gadget available right now.

In terms of powering them, there was a debate over dynamos and batteries. Batteries are a simpler method, but more wasteful. If you’re travelling for 5 days or less, then they’re not a terrible option, but anymore than that and you’re better off looking into a dynamo or a cache battery.

Maps

I agreed with Lee when she said there’s just nothing better than a paper map. Especially on a long ride, going through multiple countries, she said it’s so nice to finish one map and move onto the next. What a perfect excuse to stop off at a café, have a coffee and cake, spread the map out over the table and get the next part of your route planned.

Route planning

While we’re on this subject, a question came up about whether it was better to plan the whole route or make it up as you go.

When you’re racing – plan everything. Plan it twice. Double and triple check each part of it, and cross-reference it against other maps to make sure you know of every single hill you’ll encounter.

If you’re touring, you don’t need to plan everything. If you know of a particular road/route that you’d like to take then by all means, figure out how to reach it, but allow for some deviation. Let yourself get lost, and enjoy the experience of exploration and adventure. That’s what it’s all about, after all.

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Image courtesy of leecraigie.com

Fangirling and Feminism, or, #WAB2017 Part 2

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I don’t know. Blogging two days in a row?

So I already told you I cycled from Bristol to Oxford on Saturday. I partly did it for fun but mainly did it because I was attending the Women and Bicycles festival, hosted by The Broken Spoke Bike Co-op. Now I’ve regaled you with my cycling story, it’s time to tell you what the festival was about.

Obviously, as I was cycling on Saturday, I only actually attended on Sunday. I was gutted to miss Saturday’s activities (panel discussions about making space for women in cycling and going places by bike, a key note by Rickie Cotter, and workshops including yoga, the science of saddlesore, fixing a flat and preparing for a long-distance bike journey). However, I don’t regret my decision to ride up on Saturday, because it was the only day when the weather was glorious, and if I’d attempted to ride there on the shitstorm that was Friday, I would have been put off riding long distances for life.

But I’ll tell you all about Sunday – or at least my experience of it.

Café Over Share

Sadly the day didn’t get off to a great start before we arrived, so we were late and grumpy. We were signed up for a yoga class, which we missed, and were late to the first workshop, which was called a Café Over Share. The idea was great – the room was filled with chairs split off into circular groups, and each circle had a selection of signs on the floor with different topics of conversation. They ranged from diarrhoea, to menstruation, to wild animal chases, to wild camping. The idea was you could join a group and have a conversation about topics that not everyone would normally be comfortable talking about.

Unfortunately because we were late, all the groups were fully immersed in their conversations and we found it very difficult to join in. Most of them were full, and only two had space. The first was labelled as ‘cycle training questions’, which wasn’t very relevant for us. The second had a variety of signs in front of it, but it turned out that the three women sitting there were actually conducting an interview and just using the space, and we were completely ignored when we joined them.

So yeah, honestly, the day didn’t start well. We felt a bit excluded, and didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We wandered off to get a coffee and a slice of cake from a local café, and re-joined the festival after the session had wrapped up. It improved from there.

Panel Discussion: Cycling as a Family

This isn’t a relevant subject for us, but I was curious to hear what the panellists had to say, and Adam is really interested in all cycling developments, particularly when it comes to adjusting bikes to suit a specific need. It turned out to be a really thought-provoking and hilariously entertaining discussion. The panellists consisted of Josie Dew, Maryam Amatullah, Carolyn Roberts and Isla Rowntree.

Josie has cycled all over the world, covering a lot of ground with her children in tow, and has some very interesting approaches, including bungee cording them down, and riding a 4-bike tandem whilst towing a trailer. The school runs sound hugely entertaining. She also told some brilliant stories about how she tackles dangerous drivers, by telling her children to act irrationally and wave branches in order to prompt drivers to give them more space when passing.

Despite not having children or being remotely interested in them, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to Isla Rowntree comparing balance bikes to stabilisers. To paraphrase, with stabilisers the child actually learns to ride a tricycle, and depends on turning the handlebars to steer. When the stabilisers are removed, they have to un-learn everything and learn to balance from scratch. Balance bikes, on the other hand, help young children get used to using their body weight to steer their bike, and when it comes to progressing to a ‘real’ bike, all they need to do is learn to pedal.

Having learned to ride a bike with stabilisers (as most people did), I reflected on this and realised that I had been riding my Ridgeback hybrid for three years, depending mostly on turning the handlebars to steer. Adapting to Regina and the forward-leaning position, I’m re-learning to ride, and learning to lean with my body to steer, in a way I never have before.

The Adventure Syndicate: North Coast 500

The pièce de résistance was the premiere of a film by The Adventure Syndicate, telling the story of their seven-woman team cycling the North Coast 500 in 36 hours. To say it was inspiring would be a huge understatement. I actually cried a few times. It was just so empowering to hear Lee Craigie and Emily Chappell talk about their ultimate goal: to get at least one rider around the full 518 miles in 36 hours, and how they worked together as a team to make that happen. They knew that individually they could all have made it, but that wasn’t the point of the ride. It embodied The Adventure Syndicate’s commitment to encourage and enable women ‘to identify their ambitions, overcome the obstacles that stand in their way, and make the most of their talent and potential.’

Watching the film made me want to ride the NC500 one day, though it’s a long way off. In the meantime I’ve signed up to their Yorkshire Dales Riding Weekend, which I’m super excited about.

Fangirling

The final part of the day I want to mention was also the highlight. I got to chat to Emily Chappell (who I was quietly fangirling over in the corner all afternoon) and got a lovely autograph in my copy of her book, What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier’s Story.

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I’m going to continue fangirling over her tonight in fact, as she and Lee Craigie are going to be at Roll For The Soul in Bristol from 7pm to talk about long-distance rides. You can grab your ticket here.

No doubt you’ll probably be hearing from me again tomorrow. This week has been a great bike-filled one so far!

Casquette Launch Issue Review (Autumn 2016)

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I realise I’m a bit late to this party, seeing as the magazine launched in Autumn last year, but I was only alerted to its existence recently when Lucy Greaves recommended it to me. I was excited by the prospect of a new magazine targeted specifically at women cyclists, because I’d recently tried to find some good reading material and was disheartened by the male dominion which lies everywhere you look.

I immediately went online to order a copy, and was first struck with a torturous decision: which cover to go for? Emily Chappell or Nicole Cooke?

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I’m going to confess that I based my choice purely on aesthetics. I just think the Emily Chappell cover looks better. So I ordered it. The magazine was actually free, I just had to pay £1.50 postage. WIN.

Luckily for me, it appeared through my letterbox while I was off sick from work and feeling sorry for myself; the perfect time to completely devour it in one afternoon, which is exactly what I did. Overall I’m happy that I ordered it, and I’ll definitely be reading the next issue when it’s ready. In the meantime I thought I’d share my thoughts on the launch issue, to give an idea of what to expect if you’re planning to order a copy.

First things first

It looks good. It’s a good looking magazine with elegant typeface, bold and bright colours, beautiful photography and really smart design. I’d have no problem sticking some of the photos on my wall if I were still a teenager and/or wasn’t sharing my bedroom with someone else.

Structure and theme

So the magazine is broken down into the following sections:

  • Sprint – a ‘rapid round-up’ of cycle inspiration
  • Style – fashion and beauty tips to stay stylish while riding
  • Regulars – ‘Lust List’* and a final thought to take with you
  • Know-how – tips on nutrition and training, bike reviews and technology developments
  • Features – the main events (in this issue: Emily Chappell, Nicole Cooke and the Drops Cycling Team)

*Side note: I also do ‘lust lists’ and feel the need to state that I started doing so before I knew this magazine existed – pure coincidence, and clearly great minds think alike.

The theme for this issue is #JFDI or, Just Fucking Do It (never actually spelled out, so I saved you the trouble). I love this theme. It’s all about getting on your bike and making things happen – setting goals and damn well achieving them. To quote the editor-in-chief, Danielle Welton:

“#JDFI isn’t just the domain of Olympians and endurance athletes. There’s a bit of it in all of us who get on our bikes when it’s peeing it down or wake up insanely early at the weekends for the love of cycling.”

First impressions

As I said earlier, what excites me about this is having a magazine targeted specifically at women cyclists, and I wasn’t disappointed to open it up and see an array of gorgeous photos where women are ACTUALLY RIDING THEIR BIKES. Let’s face it, we’ve all flicked through issues of mainstream cycling magazines and noted that a) only about 5% of depicted riders are women, and b) most, if not all, of those women are standing next to, or sitting stationary on their bikes. It actually does my head in how male dominated the majority of cycling publications are, and how differently men and women are depicted. Men ride, women look pretty next to their high-end road bikes.

So yes, seeing page after page of women riding bikes made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not all on their bikes, and there are plenty of pretty women standing next to bikes as well, but I’ll address that later. It’s a start.

Highlights

I’m not going to go into too much detail about all the features because you should go ahead and read them, but these are the features that really got me excited, and why:

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Emily Chappell – I found this interview really inspiring. In line with the theme of #JFDI, Chappell focuses on how she faced her fears and revisited the transcontinental race which she’d previously failed to finish – and won. If that’s not enough, it also includes a round-up of other historical women who Just Fucking Did It: Beryl Burton, Marie Marvingt and Annie Kopchovsky. Really inspiring stuff.

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Nicole Cooke – Again, really inspiring and empowering. I’m not a racer, but I loved reading about how Cooke has challenged the sexism and doping hypocrisy surrounding the UCI. Plus the final line is just perfect:

“Have a dream, never give up, stand up for what you believe in and never stop riding.”

Why I Ride – This quick fire interview appears early on in the issue and doesn’t stay with you for long, but there were a couple of things that resonated with me on a personal level and motivated me to #JFDI. Jools Walker mentions cycling around Berlin and visiting all the museums in Mitte – something I’m also dying to do. She also dreams of cycling around the island of Trinidad due to her heritage – something we have in common.

Mission Kimpossible – This feature explores the development of Rwanda’s first women’s cycling team, and the stigma and barriers Rwandan women face when it comes to riding. It’s an inspiring story of working to achieve equality through the sport, and highlights that while gender equality in cycling is a long way off for many of us, these women have a huge journey ahead of them.

The Art of the Quick Pee – A short article that’s unafraid of talking about a less ‘lady-like’ subject, and contains the only acknowledgement of potential male readers.

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Know-How – I loved this whole section. From the recipes included (all of which happen to be vegan), to the training tips which are really helpful, and the ‘Batmobile’ of bikes. It was really interesting to read about technological advances in the cycling world.

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Absolute favourite though: Passport to Ride which details the gorgeous Colle della Lombarda, along the French and Italian border. OMG. Please make this a regular feature and show me all the amazing spots to ride across the globe. #JFDI.

Lowlights

I hate to say it but the magazine isn’t 100% perfect and there are lots of areas where it could improve. This isn’t about bitching, but hopefully making some useful suggestions which may or may not make it into the right hands.

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Style – this section in general really disappointed me. On the surface it’s beautiful – the photographs are gorgeous, as are the models and the cycling kit they’re wearing. But it would be nice to see more diverse body types being represented. We’re not all athletes. Fat women commute. Fat Lass at the Back have some awesome attire, and the market is there. What’s more, all this cycle-chic is nice to look at, but it’s very superficial in my opinion. Basketed town bikes, flowy skirts and denim jackets just don’t speak to me, I want trendy takes on practical kit. Finally, this is where women aren’t riding their bikes in the photos. It gives in to that mundane aesthetic that plagues the pages of almost every other cycling publication.

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Dream Team – I wanted to like this feature. Technically it’s about a women’s cycling team from Milton Keynes who were formed from a Wallpaper company and have been working their way up the amateur league. Why didn’t I like it? Because the women aren’t actually talked about. The interviewee is Bob Varney, the Team Director. He talks about his vision and the kit they wear (which was designed by his son), but where are the personalities of the women he’s talking about? We get their names and faces, but I would have liked to hear about them. The struggles and challenges they’ve faced, their triumphs, their dreams, their motivation. Bob speaks on behalf of them while his son dresses them… what we’re presented with are a team of women constructed by two men. And that’s it.

Two more things I was disappointed in: the magazine is produced in London and therefore focuses on London. I get that, but I hope it branches out. Maybe each feature can focus on a different UK city (and maybe venture abroad), or at least include a mixture. I don’t want to read about someone’s favourite coffee spots in London each issue because it’s not relevant to me.

Last but not least, where’s the DIY? There is nothing in this feature that empowers women to learn to fix their own bikes. There’s one recommendation of a London bike shop to go to for fixes, but that’s it. In the spirit of #JFDI – why not empower flowy-skirted basket-laden women to be self-sufficient, and learn how to fix a puncture? It was just a glaring omission and a missed opportunity. I hope they do something about this for next time – you can’t ride a bike that doesn’t work, and if you’re going to be the badass they’re encouraging you to be, you need to get your hands dirty.

Have you read this issue? I would love to know what you thought, and if you disagree with any of my comments.

To get your copy of the launch issue of Casquette, click here.

Transition, and taking one’s time

These past couple of days have felt a bit like being in limbo. I finished at my job on Thursday – a job that I’d loved doing, for a company I’d loved working for, but was pretty much driven out of by an appalling manager. Tomorrow I begin a new job, for a new company, which I’m excited about and have high hopes for.

But the transition from one to the other has been a strange one, emotionally. While I was applying for jobs and attending interviews, I was absolutely adamant that I needed to get out of my situation, but as my notice period came to its end I felt a deep sadness at leaving behind something that I wasn’t quite ready to give up.

Friday was my one and only day of official unemployment, so I spent a good part of it riding my bike. It was the best thing I could have done for my state of mind. My boyfriend and I rode into town in the morning, indulged in soya lattes and banana bread from Small Street Espresso, and then off he went to work. I popped into Roll for the Soul briefly and bumped into a couple of familiar faces, then slowly made my way up to Clifton with an hour to kill before I needed to be anywhere.

Always in a hurry

One of the things I struggle with when riding, is riding slowly. While I consider myself to be a ‘cyclist’ I’m for the most part a ‘commuter cyclist’. I’m also terrible at time-keeping, which means that generally when I’m commuting, I’m also rushing around like a maniac. I very rarely take the time to slow down and actually experience the ride.

Another reason for my maniacal riding is the fact that when I first took up cycling to work, it was purely driven by a need to somehow squeeze exercise into my daily routine. Therefore when I was cycling I had to be sweating, and any pootling or freewheeling downhill was a no-no.

Now I go to the gym, I take spinning classes, Body Pump, I’m training for a half marathon and just generally am very active. I have no problem burning an average of >2,000 calories a day, and yet when I mount my bicycle I automatically go into manic exercise mode.

Riding it out

Friday was different. For once, I had time on my hands. Plus I’ve been battling with the ill, so I’m allowing myself some time off from obsessive calorie counting and burning. For what felt like the first time (in a very long time), I simply pootled around Clifton’s side streets and took in the views.

I learned some road names and got my bearings, found myself cycling past a house where my friend used to live, noticed a lot of old church buildings now converted into flats, and also some of the strangest modern architecture I’ve seen in Bristol. I took nearly every turning that I came upon, shifted down to my granny gear so I could slowly climb the hills, and then allowed myself to freewheel back down them. For once I was actually just joy-riding my bike, with nowhere in particular to go.

That continued into yesterday, when I found myself with errands to run but again no real rush to get them done. I took a slow ride into Kingswood to pick up a parcel (my wondrous Vaude panniers which I’ll be writing about soon), and then wandered over to Easton to buy some food for the week. With my panniers loaded with more vegetables than I could physically carry, I had the perfect excuse to take an even slower ride back.

Throughout this pootling experiment I realised just how liberating cycling can be. Yes of course, it’s a way of getting around that takes you further than your feet can alone, but it’s also such a great opportunity to completely free your mind. I realised I was mindfully riding my bike, deliberately taking in the view, breathing the air, feeling the bitter cold on my cheeks and blinking the snowflakes from my eyelashes. I felt each turn of the pedals, thought carefully about my posture, and was completely aware of my surroundings. It was blissful.

New beginnings

So tomorrow I start my new job. I’m excited and nervous, and hopeful about the path that lies ahead. Most importantly, I’ve had time to shut down the old, and prepare myself for the new. By learning to slow down and take my time, I also allowed myself a period of much-needed mindfulness and meditation.

Now I feel ready to mount my bike and make the journey down a new path, and I’m going to take my time. Let’s see where it goes.