Last night I joined the panel at a London Bike Kitchen WaG event to discuss the ways in which women are portrayed in the cycling media. This isn’t actually us, but it is a great way to get your attention.
It was a privilege to sit alongside eloquent and informed speakers Jools Walker (cycling blogger and presenter), Laura Laker (cycling journalist) and Chris Garrison (cycling marketing expert) on the stage (which was actually a very wide window sill!) in front of a packed room of cyclists at Look Mum No Hands! What followed was a truly inspiring debate. Here’s a quick summary of some of the key points I put forward (not because I’m more fascinating than everyone else – clearly I’m not – but because I’d be here all night if I included everything that was said!), followed by a link to an excellent post about the whole event which highlights more of the topics we discussed.
First, I’m as passionate about the media as I am about cycling. I’ve been a magazine journalist for most of my career and it’s been fantastically rewarding work. Because my background is in women’s magazines – where women are the focus of everything that’s written – I’d like to see women represented more widely in the cycling media too. I’m not used to being an afterthought!!
“It’s not women’s cycling, it’s cycling”.
I’d like to believe we can reach a point where we no longer feel the need to discuss ‘women’s cycling’ in the media as if it is something separate from general cycling. Unfortunately our cycling media, on the whole, currently feels like it is an exclusive men’s club. This may not be deliberate editioral or marketing policy, but it is still the case.
“For me, mountain biking is about freedom, joy and mini adventures…”
Imagery or copywriting that objectifies women has no place in cycling either. I’ve written about this before for Singletrack World, when I wrote an open letter to Maxxis in response to some of their more sexist advertising. As a mountain biker and road cyclist, I’d prefer to see brands use their marketing material to reflect how it is out there on the trails/roads where, in my experience, cycling is largely a friendly, supportive and inclusive community of people having fun. It would be great to see that celebrated across the media instead.
“Focus on the good…”
If we see media coverage that we like then acknowledge it, share it, talk about it and reward the brands with our hard-earned cash! Which brings me on to the fabulous advert for Look Mum No Hands! podium pants (above). It is fun and it works – brands take note, the pants sold out off the back of this ad. And then there is this film, below, by Sealskinz about the power of mountain biking: a beautiful and moving acknowledgement of the fact that we all ride for different reasons. Both ads are a refreshing, exciting glimpse of what our cycling media could become.
“Ordinary women doing extraordinary things”
Women cyclists are not all the same: we don’t share the same levels of participation, experience or areas of interest within cycling. We don’t all want to read the same blog posts (one woman will want to know about getting started, another about training for ultra cycling) nor buy the same kit. What we do want is to celebrate our diversity by sharing our stories. We don’t have to be world champion to have a great story to tell.
“Onwards and upwards…”
I’m glad to report that the audience in the room last night were as informed and empowered as the panel!! There was a wonderful energy and a shared passion for cycling. I came home to read a huge number of supportive comments on social media. This is such an exciting time for women who cycle and it is a joy to be part of the discussions to move it forward in the media.
Thanks for inviting me, London Bike Kitchen!
You can see and read more about the event here.
Ride The Revolution, edited by Suze Clemitson, is a new anthology of writing that gives a brilliant insight into the world of women in cycling.
The contributors and interviewees list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of women’s cycling. It includes World Road Race champion Marianne Vos, campaigner Betsy Andreu, Wiggle Honda boss Rochelle Gilmore, Olympic Gold medallist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, and UCI Vice President Tracey Caudrey.
It’s also one of the only books I’ve ever read where I kept thinking ‘I’ve met her…I’ve met her too…we follow each other on Twitter…and I’ve met her…” – Penny Rowson, Helen Wyman, Jessie Walker, Harriet Owen, Sara Olsson, Mel Lowther from the Matrix Team, Helen Wyman, Caroline Stewart who I met via Twitter and then through the Matrix Team, Ottile Quince, Chris Garrison from Trek, cycling writer Sarah Connolly – which only makes the book more engaging!
The beautifully written content represents so many different – but highly informed – points of view, from women who are fans to women who are World Champions, as well as photographers, key personnel, journalists and presenters.
It opens with a tribute to Beryl Burton. This down to earth Yorkshire woman (who famously once commented ‘Come on lad, you’re not trying’ whilst overtaking one of her male competitors) was a competitive cyclist in the 1960s and 70s – and became the best rider in her sport for an astonishing 25 years in a row.
There follows, in Beryl’s awesome wake, another 29 chapters, each sharing individual women’s experience in cycling.
It is a wonderful book with so many stand-out moments that it’s hard to pull out favourite chapters but I found Clara Hughes words on her life in professional cycling, her retirement and her battle with depression particularly moving:
“The goals I have now are small and most likely invisible to others…Goals of simply enjoying what I do, no matter how small the deed…Not simply moving forward like a freight train through all the beautiful moments, forgetting to stop and feel the wonder of it all’.
The contributions from women who work within cycling – Emma O Reilly who was Lance Armstrong’s personal soigneur for four years and Hannah Grant, team chef for Tinkoff-Saxo and author of the excellent Grand Tour Cookbook, for instance, make fascinating and insightful reading too (so, Alberto Contador ‘absolutely loves potato frittata’ – who knew?).
This is a book full of cycling adventures, struggles, successes and optimism : it is a joy for anyone who enjoys going ‘behind the scenes’ and finding out about the little details that make all the difference. It’s a perfect read to enjoy on dark evenings in front of the fire, and completely inspiring too. I couldn’t put it down (cliched, but true!) and I 100% recommend it to anyone who loves cycling (although a note to mountain bikers: the content is largely road and CX based).
You can read more about Ride the Revolution and purchase it here.
Friday 4th December 2015 is the best day ever to shop with the cycling apparel brand Vulpine. Why? Because today they’re donating a BIG % of all sales to World Bicycle Relief, a charity that uses bicycles to enable economic and cultural empowerment across Africa.
Want to know more? Here is Ethel’s story. And if you won’t sit astride a bicycle unless its carbon, top spec and aero, then prepare to feel a bit humbled.
A major part of World Bicycle Relief ‘s work is providing bikes to students who live in remote areas so that they can travel to school safely and arrive on time, rather than having to walk for hours each day and being too tired to study. Student grades increase by up to 59% as a result. 70% of student recipients are girls: an education allows them to pursue their dreams and prosper. And there is also this: girls who are educated are less likely to get pregnant at a young age, which is fundamental in alleviating poverty.
Each bicycle costs just £95.
I did a talk at my daughter’s school about World Bicycle Relief’s work earlier this year*, and got the opportunity to ride one of the bikes. They are massively heavy, sturdy and durable – just as well if you’re going to balance your whole family on top of one or ride across rough terrain every day. There are no brakes: you pedal backwards to stop. I’m guessing you have worked out that there are no gears either. Each bike is built to be compatible with locally available spare parts, and local mechanics are trained to service and repair them so they are sustainable and reliable.
This is such is simple, effective and powerful story: £95 for a bicycle that will change a life.
So, back to Vulpine, December 4th and some maths.
Vulpine are donating 20% of every sale on the 4th December to World Bicycle Relief. They will then match each donation via Pledgit, so it becomes a 40% donation. So, splash out on a Waterproof Utility Jacket and a pair of socks and not only do you get some fabulous quality gear, but that’s one bike bought, just like that! Grab a pair of Jinzu Raw Selevedge Jeans – and your matched donation will have paid for two thirds of a bike! Fancy some Cotton Rain Shorts? That’s half a bike! And if 10 people buy one Storm Cap each…that’s another bike bought, and a lot of comfy heads.
And what’s more, every time you step (or ride!) out in your new gear you feel happy in the knowledge that an African schoolgirl is shredding her way down a dusty trail, on the way to a better life, thanks to you. Clothes don’t feel much better than that!
*I’m pleased to report that the girls at my daughter’s school raised enough to buy 30 Buffalo bikes.
Find out more about World Bicycle Relief here.
Beaches, sunshine – and every type of trail you can think of (except mountains!).
The Cami de Cavalls is a 185km ancient path that follows the Menorcan coastline (so closely that at some points you’re almost in the sea). You can hike, run or horse ride around it (it was originally designed for defence and was patrolled by soldiers on Menorquin horses), or you can ride a mountain bike.
It is an extraordinary trail featuring gullies, rocks (so many rocks), valleys, wetlands, sandy coves, short, steep rocky climbs and – what goes up etc. – steep drops. It is also a constantly changing landscape: Menorca has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and you experience almost every Ecosystem in the Mediterranean world as you ride. So, you are riding boulder strewn headlands one minute, then rooty trails, sandy beaches and board walks the next.
We took four days to do our trip and everyday was an adventure mostly centred around a) staying on the bikes and b) staying on the trails, most of which are pretty remote. However get yourself to civilisation and Menorcans are super friendly and always happy to point you in the right direction or help out. A special mention for the restaurant owner (and mountain biker) who put in a call to the bike hire shop for us when a tubeless tyre, several inner tubes, mobile reception and our ability to master mountain bike terminology in Spanish all failed. Restored by good will, coffee and new inner tubes, we were soon back on our bikes again.
We wish we had taken longer to ride the trail as there are so many sights to see – we all wanted to shop in beautiful Ciutadella, for instance (I am so going back there, and next time in a more glamourous outfit) – and beautiful beaches to enjoy and often we just didn’t have time to stop. We did prioritise skinny dipping in the sea though – it is beyond inviting when you’re two hours into a ride in full sunshine (note – we visited in October and the riding temperature was perfect).
There are no mountains – but there is one great big climb. Part of the coast is unsuitable for bikes and so the trail took us inland. We were warned that it was an uphill slog though compared to some of the rockier sections of coast we found it quite easy: certainly there are longer and harder climbs at home in Surrey (yes, really). Just goes to show how your skills are built according to what you’re used to riding. Note though – this is mountain bike territory only: I love this sign!!!
No holiday is complete without a souvenir, and we all came home with lovely thigh bruises having lost arguments with tricky rocky sections. Having had post-fall elbow surgery six months ago I count myself pretty lucky that it was only my thigh got a battering. I also got a lovely set of pedal bruises up the back of one leg thanks to the sections where I had to carry/push/climb the bike over rocky ledges and steps that my inner Rachel Atherton couldn’t quite rise to the challenge of.
Our trip was booked via specialists Cami de cavils 360 . They arranged our accommodation, bike hire – full sus Trek 29ers (so glad I didn’t take my own as its bike-batteringly rough terrain), provided a thorough briefing, map and Garmin, booked accommodation, moved our bags each day and were very nice to us.
We’d ticked the accommodation box marked ‘comfort’ – a good move, as we stayed in some quite lovely hotels. I particularly appreciated the one that had a spa within ten metres of my bedroom door. I tested it out (purely in the name of research, of course) and can happily report that is just what you need after a dusty, hot day on a mountain bike.
Exercise makes you very hungry indeed so we made good use of each hotel’s self service breakfast and dinner buffets, and ate at beachside bars at lunchtime. There are fewer of these than you might expect – Menorca is largely ‘unspoilt’ – but they were all good.
This is one beautiful island with some amazing riding. Visit soon.
Vote for your favourite sportswoman of the year with Glamour, and help support the fight against sexism in sport.
With the annual back slapping fest that is BBC Sports Personality of the Year looming, it is worth reminding ourselves that for the last eight years the winner has been male – and only 13 winners in its 61 year history have been women.
With this in mind, Glamour magazine – one of the UK’s most high profile women’s titles – has drawn up its own visionary shortlist featuring female athletes who have, to quote ‘smashed it this year’. All we have to do is vote for our favourite (or favourites!).
Not surprisingly, I’ve voted for Sarah Storey and Lizzie Armistead – but I hope the list also opens up discussion: personally I wish Rachel Atherton – World Champion Downhill Mountainbiker – had also been included because she is right at the top of her game, wins everything she looks at, and is a superb ambassador for the sport.
Unfortunately, and as far as I am aware, there will be no swanky awards ceremony to announce the winners – a pity, as Glamour throws a very good party if the Glamour Women of the Year awards http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/fashion/celebrity-fashion/2015/06/glamour-awards-dresses-red-carpet-2015-photos-glamour-uk are anything to go by. But who knows for next year (and if it happens, can I have a ticket please?)?
Finally can I just add that it is great to see such a high profile title as Glamour supporting women’s sport in this way, as part of their ‘Say No To Sexism in Sport’ campaign.
It is no secret that, in order to attract the big budget sponsors necessary to support our athletes and help encourage more women to take up sport, we need mainstream media to highlight the inspiring stories and incredible achievments that make women’s sport so special. Kudos to Glamour for leading the way. Follow the campaign at @GlamourMagSport.