Julie Farrell does not consider herself a cycling enthusiast, but she has learned to embrace her ‘uncool’ cycling tendencies. By comparing bikes to designer shoes and cycling clothes to Audrey Hepburn’s fashion, Julie offers ten reasons why women should ride bikes…and we can’t help but to agree with her wholeheartedly.
Words by Julie Farrell
I recently came across some disappointing statistics on women and bicycling. It seems that the number of women considered non-enthusiasts declined by 13% from 2000 to 2010. That said, female enthusiasts, those who ride 110 days/year or more, are on the rise, increasing 8% during the same timeframe…while the same statistic for men showed an increase of 15%.
I suppose I fall in the non-enthusiast category – I ride about twice a week, sometimes more, sometimes less – but approaching enthusiast status. Those stats made me wonder though; why don’t more women ride bikes? So like a good egocentric woman, I thought about myself; why do I ride bikes?
Like millions of other American girls, I started riding bikes in my neighborhood. It was the standard mode of transportation for all the kids on our block. I had a sweet purple-flowered-banana-seat Schwinn, and Rich and Darren down the street rode green Stingrays. We clipped playing cards in the spokes with wooden clothespins to make us sound like motorcycles (or at least annoy the other neighbors), and tried to pop wheelies – I never managed one. I would pump desperately to get my speedometer up to 20 mph, particularly past the Blogg’s house, whose nasty little dog Boots had taken a bite out of my leg on one of my expeditions down our street. I remember furiously riding to the Circle K to restock our corner lemonade stand with candy that we were selling at a hefty mark-up.
Growing out of the one-speed era, we graduated to ten-speeds. Sarah and Rich scored the coveted Schwinn Varsity bikes. For some reason, my dad decided that a green ‘Tiger Cycle’ was a superior ride to the bright yellow Schwinn Varsity that I wanted so badly…I’m pretty sure the superiority lay in its price. It was not unlike the polo shirts my sisters and I received one Christmas that sported a pony sans polo rider (ala JC Penney). Stifling my pride, I slung my tennis racket in my backpack, and road summer after summer to tennis clinics on that green machine.
We dragged the green machine from my home state of Oregon down to UC Santa Barbara for college. Here I learned that not only was my ‘Tiger Cycle’ uncool, the whole genus of ten-speeds was uncool. As my mom and sister and I explored the campus, we gawked at all the bronzed surfer guys and gals coasting along on their groovy beach cruisers. Here, the more retro the bike, the hipper it was. Although the green machine got me safely home from many a late night at the library or a fraternity party, I was relieved when it was mercifully stolen from the sorority bike rack during freshman summer. I really did lock it up. My friends and I hit the garage sales that next fall, and I managed to find a vintage purple Schwinn one-speed with a basket in front…the very essence of California cool…I had arrived.
My experience with bikes thus far was similar to most girls I knew growing up. We all had bikes. So what changed? Why aren’t we all still riding bikes? I suppose those early bursts of two-wheeled freedom were overtaken by cars and life in general. We became old enough and finally had the means to own cars. They got us where we needed to go. There was no time to get there on a bike. You can’t commute 30 miles in LA traffic on a bike, nor arrive at work wet with perspiration.
Some of us became moms, some of us embarked on careers, and some of us did both. In my early 20’s, my boyfriend (now husband) and I bought mountain bikes and occasionally rode them on weekends. But for the most part, bikes were not a big part of my life, nor any of my friends’ lives. I squeezed in tennis, found squash, tried my hand at step classes (I wasn’t quite coordinated enough for Jazzercise, and besides, I loathed leg-warmers), and spent time on boring treadmills.
And then it happened. Shortly before I turned 40, we moved from Santa Barbara to the glorious Santa Ynez Valley. My new BFFs were tennis players, but they quickly introduced me to their other passion: cycling. Going downhill fast initially frightened me, particularly clipped-in to my pedals. My first real road bike had sticky gears (or possibly a crummy pilot), and I fell once or twice whilst performing an untimely and unsuccessful gear shift. The good news is I was only going about 5 mph, the bad news is it scared me and it hurt.
Two years ago my husband and sons bought me my dream road bike for Christmas. It’s a Trek Project One Domane. And guess what? It’s bright yellow. It has Ultegra Di2 electronic shifters, which means that even if you’re a knuckle-dragging buffoon, you can’t screw-up your shifting – it’s smooth as silk. To my sons’ horror, I’ve decided to ride it with paddle pedals…as in, I don’t clip in. Once again, I have positioned myself squarely in the uncool category, but this decision has thoroughly liberated me from any anxiety around being able to clip-out in time for a stop or other unexpected condition. Heaven. Riding my new Domane is like walking into a party decked out in Chanel with an Hermes handbag on my shoulder…it feels really, really good.
So why don’t more women ride? Perhaps it’s fear from not riding for so many years, or perhaps they’ve stigmatized it as some kind of hard-core super jock sport for the über coordinated. Whatever the inhibitions, I’d like to offer the reasons that women should ride bikes:
1. It’s Low Impact: At 49 I’ve had the joy of four knee surgeries all due to other sports. Cycling is actually good for my knees.
2. You Get To Be Outside: Many of my friends are into the Bar/Barre method or Bikram yoga. Good for them. Personally, as a card-carrying germaphobe with a strong sense of smell, I can’t imagine anything more unappealing than exercising in a hot room with people dripping with sweat reeking of acrid onion body odor.
3. It’s Social: Cycling allows for a variety of skill sets. You can ride, chat, and laugh with both family and friends. Ever get the giggles in a yoga class? Tsk, tsk.
4. You Can Solve Problems: Take off for an hour or two on your bike and you’ll find it to be some of the best contemplative time in your day…and it smells good too.
5. It’s High Fashion: One day you can sport the Audrey Hepburn look on a city bike replete with basket, and the next day you can harness your inner Catwoman in a sleek, all black road suit.
6. Great Shopping: Bikes are like Jack Rogers sandals; you want one in every color. From colorful retro bikes to sexy racing bikes to sporty mountain bikes, you’ll soon find yourself filling your garage the same way you do your closet.
7. Awesome Trips: What could be more romantic than a cycling trip from ancient winery to renaissance castle via the picturesque French countryside? The big bonus? No guilt devouring the baguettes, frommage, and red wine because you’ve already worked-out. Companies like Trek Travel are developing more and more cycling trips that cater to all levels of riders and budgets: from beginners to experts, and from luxury seekers to adventure mongers.
8. You Can Be A Role Model: I want my boys to see me as a contender, a participant, someone who is actively engaged in life. I want them to see that they can marry a partner, someone with whom they can have fun throughout their lives.
9. You Get Fit: After all, it is exercise.
10. It Makes You Feel Young Again: The other day I threw my tennis rackets in my backpack and rode my bike the two miles to the court. Bam! I was 13 years old again, only with a cool bike and no ugly perimeter perm. It felt great. There is something uniquely liberating about riding a bike. Feeling the wind in your face, the sun on your back, and the pavement speeding by below. There’s nothing quite like it. I’m convinced that feeling youthful inside is half the battle in this process we call aging…
So go get your ride on, and happy cycling!