“Cycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world,” agrees Velo City Girl’s Jools Walker.
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
In her new book Back in the Frame, blogger and writer Jools Walker reminds us of social reformer and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony’s incredible feminist quote on cycling. And, suffice to say, it has inspired us.
Walker loved cycling while growing up in East London, but lost the passion for it in her late teens. Ten years later, when she turned 28, Walker rediscovered cycling and returned to the saddle. This was despite the odds being against a woman of colour (a 2017 TfL report showed that women account for only 27% of London’s frequent cyclists, while BAME groups make up just 15%). She also refused to give up on her bike after suffering a stroke three years ago. In fact, she went on the write a book about it.
But cycling is for white, male “proper” cyclists who whiz around the capital sucked into Lycra and armed with Garmin gadgets, right?
No, says Walker. Here, she addresses all the lies we are often told about cycling and the reasons we avoid getting our bikes back out.
Cycling is for white men in Lycra
“I didn’t see people like me, a woman-of-colour, out there. Nine years ago, before I got back into cycling, not seeing anyone I identified with was one of the biggest things putting me off it. That feeling of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see is terrifying. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because of the fear of rejection or finding out it was not a space for me. No one should feel like that in anything in their lives at all. There are other women like you doing it, it’s just about finding them and making those connections that do exist.”
Speaking of Lycra, cyclists have to wear it
“You do not have to wear Lycra to get on a bike. I have my fingers in each of those cycling pies (road, city) and have a wardrobe full of clothing for when I’m going out doing road riding. But a lot of the time, the non-cycling clothes that you see me in on my blog VELO or on my social media, will very much be what I ride my bike in. It depends what kind of riding you’re doing – Lycra has its benefits, and padding in shorts helps. But, ultimately, you do not have to wear Lycra! There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t just throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt or a nice dress to cycle in.”
Cycling just isn’t safe enough for women
“Catcalling was one of the things that originally put me off cycling in my late teens. Things like being in your school uniform suddenly seemed to give people freedom to shout obscene things at you. It’s horrifying. One of my ways to deal with it is calling people out - but then there’s the issue of your personal safety. So, I mostly just carry on cycling. You can’t let somebody who thinks that they have the license to say those things put you off what it is you want to be doing. It’s easy to say that and I still have moments on my bike now when I have that unpleasant experience, but I’d say focus on your journey and destination both physically and mentally.”
It’s really, really expensive
“I faced this barrier myself when I first got back into riding as a young adult. I couldn’t afford to buy my first bike – the Pasha Princess – but I was fortunate enough that I was working somewhere that had the Cycle To Work scheme (also known as the Cycle Scheme) which is set up so that an agreed amount of money comes out of your wage every month, and it’s tax-free as well. By the end of it you pay a nominal amount, for example I paid £50, to own the bike. Check with your HR department to see if they do it. And if you’re not in a situation where you are able to do it, there are independent bikes shops that sell them at reasonable prices, or you can get refurbished models. I want to scream about these resources from the rooftops – you don’t have to spend £10,000 on a road bike to get into cycling. There are even guides out there for building your own bike…”
You lose confidence in cycling after an injury or health scare
“Allow your body a chance to recover from any injury. I had a stroke three years ago and when I was off work going through the recovery period, the one thing I desperately wanted to do was ride my bike even though it went against the doctors’ advice - but I had to listen to my body. The last thing you want to do is put any strain or pressure on an injury. Talking from personal experience, listen to your body and get back on your bike at the right time for you.”
Only “proper” cyclists should be on the roads
“I have always believed there is no such thing as a proper cyclist. As long as you’re swinging your leg over the bar and literally stepping back into the frame and getting on the saddle – you’re doing it. That is all that matters. So, it’s the joy of being on a bike, riding and getting yourself from A – B by power of the wheels. You don’t have to have the term “proper” hanging around your head at all. No matter how you ride a bike, the most important thing is that you’re doing it an enjoying riding.”
70% of cyclists in London are male (OK, this one is true)
“I think the narrative that comes with cycling a lot is that it can feel like it’s dominated primarily by white men, which means it’s not always open to minority groups out there that want to try it. As a black woman who got back into cycling, really enjoyed it and ended up getting a job in the industry – I’m still seeing a lack of reflection of who I am and the other women who I know want to get into riding bikes. It feels like massive changes still need to be made. If this is the same narrative that keeps getting spat out again and again, why would a woman think this was a space for them? The representation of female cyclists is so important because that statistic is depressing to look at.”
With women like Walker helping to change the narrative in cycling, we’re confident that more pleasing statistics are on their way.
Back in the Frame: How to get back on your bike, whatever life throws at you by Jools Walker is available to buy now.
Images: Little Brown and Unsplash