24 October 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Pedalling the Dream – How Cycling Really Can Change Your Life

May 22, 2015
First-climb-out-of-Ushuaia

It was at the top of the first climb out of Ushuaia that I knew I’d turned a corner.

Phil – the man I’d met just six months earlier – had lovingly assured me that ‘there shouldn’t be any big hills to climb for the first few days’ of our trip. Yet here I was at the top of the southernmost point of the Andes. Phew. How wrong he’d been.

First-climb-out-of-Ushuaia

My thighs burned. I’d been sorely tested on our very first day on the road. But I’d made it.

Before setting off to the bottom of South America with our bikes and panniers, our ‘training’ programme had consisted of one 30km ride along a towpath. There hadn’t been the time, as we tied up the loose ends of life in preparation for a full year on the road.

And yet, by making it up that first climb unprepared and uncertain, I’d proved to myself that I could do this. The buzzing satisfaction I felt looking down at an azure coloured Tierra del Fuego lake, and then gliding down the snaking descent to it, proved this could be a life changing adventure after all. In a good way.

It all came down to cycling.

As the months passed, as we rode the length of Argentina, then over the Andes through Bolivia, then up the craggy Pacific coast of Peru, staying in one random spot after another, we realised something: our journey was an adventure that happened to be by bike rather than simply a long bike ride. But without our beloved two-wheeled companions, it wouldn’t have happened.

Beach-paths-of-LA

By the time we were freewheeling along Southern California beach paths months later, I was fully sold. Despite a 15-year hiatus before this trip when I hadn’t even sat on a bike, cycling would now always be a huge part of me. And us.

Phil proposed on our penultimate night in a sultry Buenos Aires. Three months after we came home we were married. Thanks, cycling. 9 months later, Zoe was born. Thanks again, cycling. Earlier this year Emma was born. Thanks, once again cycling.

And in amongst all this, back in the Olympic summer of 2012, we launched VeloVixen together. In so many ways, cycling had moulded our way of life. Now it would be central to our working life too. In preparing for our trip, we’d spotted a glaring shortage of top quality cycling kit available for women and acted on it. Earlier this year, we were voted 2015 Female Specific Retailer of the Year in the Total Women’s Cycling Awards.

All of which may sound self-indulgent. But there’s a reason for that. Whilst the influence of cycling on us has been extreme, we are not alone. Time and again, during and since our adventure we have met women whose lives have been changed by cycling.

There are the high profile examples, of course – the elite athletes devoting their lives to competitive cycling and gradually growing the profile of professional women’s sport. We salute them.

There are the dozens of hardy and inspirational women we met on the road undertaking journeys at least the equal of ours, and unavoidably changing their lives forever. I think of the diminutive Spanish girl we met riding solo across the Andes, creating a unique chapter in her life.

But there are so many others behind the scenes whose lives have been changed by cycling – female designers and testers are integral to the majority of our brands.

Georgia-Scott---Georgia-in-Dublin

Take the Polaris family, for example, whose popular women’s cycling kit is entirely designed by Chantelle Matthews and her team. Or Georgia in Dublin (above), whose innovative and stylish urban cycling clothes are the brainchild of Georgia Scott and her mother, and who now sell their creations to cyclists across the world.

When Catherine Ellis (below) needed really classy luggage to attach to her bike she ditched her career in television, created Hill & Ellis and was soon gracing the pages of the glossiest magazines with her stunning leather bike satchels. Similarly, Sawako Furuno found urban bike helmets unimaginative – so she created a new concept in head protection and a range of ultrachic lids.

Catherine-Ellis---Hill-&-Ellis

For these inspiring designers and so many more, their lives have been taken over by cycling. What started out as a passion has morphed into their livelihood. There’s still a yawning gender gulf in the cycling sector – we need more women to be involved in all aspects. You won’t regret it.

But here’s the thing: even if cycling doesn’t become your life, it has a funny habit of growing within your life. Like ivy wrapping itself around a building, cycling often starts out as an inconspicuous green shoot before gradually engulfing you. After a while, if you remove the ivy the building crumbles.

Sawako-Furuno-helmet
Sawako Furuno

If we only had a pound for every woman we’ve met whose love affair with cycling started out with a gentle trundle with friends… that led to signing up for a short cycling event.

And then a longer event.

And then regular events and club rides and cycling holidays and commuting by bike and a lifelong love of cycling.

Cycling – perhaps more than any other women’s sport – is prone to a rapid acceleration, not just in enthusiasm but in ability and ambition too. How often have we had conversations like this:

‘I only hauled my rusty old bike out of the shed last year.’

‘Really – how have you found it?’

‘Well, I blame the girls at work who said I should give it a try – I wobbled through 10 miles and was knackered at the end. But it was fun and the cake made it worthwhile.’

‘Did you go back for more?’

‘Yup – I’m doing three sportives and a triathlon this year, and riding to Paris in September.’

‘Wow.’

So if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, this summer could be the moment.

But be warned: it could change your life.

To find out more and buy: www.velovixen.com

Liz Bingham, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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