Cycling was never really part of my childhood - my sister and I had bikes and enjoyed riding around, but the thought that this was a sport to pursue never crossed my mind.
In fact, I remember thinking what a daft sport it was and wondering who in their right mind would want to be a cyclist!
Fast forward a few years, with a career in athletics over and a twice-snapped Achilles, cycling suddenly didn’t seem so silly...
I took it up in the summer of 2014, but it wasn’t really until a year later that I’d say I felt confident enough to call myself a cyclist.
Starting to cycle later in life is hard.
For me, personally, there was a lot of fear around doing the wrong thing and looking stupid. Something a number of women I’ve met on the road have cited as being a barrier for them too.
Cycling has a lot of ‘rules’ to learn, jargon to understand, mechanics to master and Lycra to love. It can feel like everyone has a different opinion on what is and isn’t acceptable, and that you’re never going to make head nor tail of any of it.
In short, getting into cycling is intimidating. Even more so if you’re a woman because there are a lot less of us to lend a helping hand!
I wanted to join a club and learn the ropes properly, but was instantly put off by the wording used on cycling club websites.
Phrases like ‘experience of group riding’ or ‘a competent rider with the right equipment’ frequently appear when describing newbie rides.
How do I get experience of group riding without getting on these rides though? And, how do I know if I’m competent? Sure, I can ride without falling off. I can clip in and out and I know the rules of the road, but does that make me competent?
The language used, combined with the uncertainty about my own ability, meant I just went out on my own; praying I didn’t get a puncture and generally riding for no more than 50km.
This was my experience for about 6 months until I met some people in another walk of life who just happened to ride bikes. They took me under their wing, helping me navigate the world of cycling a bit better.
This quickly gave me the confidence to throw myself in at the deep end and within a year I’d met more amazingly supportive people who continue to support me to this day.
I gained the courage to tackle things like the Rapha Manchester to London, as well as climbing Mont Ventoux, racing in South Africa, cycling the length of Italy, becoming part of RCC and helping others by leading rides for all abilities.
I’ve been riding bikes for nearly 4 years now, so it feels about time I throw myself in at the deep end again – this time on the crit racing scene!
Something I learned as I was trying to get into cycling, was that I was the only one holding me back. It was my nervousness about how stupid I might look that stopped me approaching others or asking for help. When I did, however, it became clear that the overwhelming majority of cyclists are never happier than when helping someone else learn to love the sport as much as they do.
This is even more true when it comes to women in cycling. Maybe because so many of us have shared a similar start to our love affair with riding bikes, or maybe because we all see the opportunity for the sport to progress. Whatever the reasons, there has never been a better time to be a woman in cycling, at any level.
So, for anyone thinking about getting a bike or getting more serious about the cycling they’re doing, pluck up the courage and take that first step! Come and talk to those of us already in the thick of it; drop us a message, reach out on social media, email the women’s side of your local club! I can assure you it will be the start of something special.
And, to the experienced riders - speak out more! Share your trials and tribulations and help more women navigate the complexities of this sport. The more we can bring others in, the more women’s cycling will get taken seriously and the more opportunities there will be.
Very few sports have the opportunity to change people’s lives as much as this one, who wouldn’t want to be part of that?!
Photography by James Cannon, Dan Glasser and Catriona Forrest