For the most part, women's cycling is, alas, overshadowed by men’s cycling. It could be said that the Olympic games is the one occasion where women get a level of attention close to the male athletes (although this does seem to be limited to track cycling). At London 2012, the men’s road race attracted huge crowds and high hopes for a British win, what with the presence of riders who had gained so much coverage and adulation during the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish, it was assumed by some people, was sure to win gold. He didn’t come close due to the course and the tactics that played out on the day.
The next day the first British medal of the games was won by Lizzie Armitstead in the womens cycling road race. The hype was not nearly the same, and the inclement weather meant that not as many people were out to cheer her on to her silver medal. Still, at least womens cycling was being shown to a global audience, and it was just as (if not more) enthralling than the men's race.
Nicole Cooke (herself a former Olympic road race gold medallist in Beijing) retired last week. As one of the finest cyclists that the sport has known she deserves fanfares and real appreciation. Her exit was marked by a stinging and eloquent statement decrying the cheats who have made millions from riding whilst doping and writing about how they doped. It is clearly wrong that such a fine rider was never able to achieve the recognition from the general public that she so deserved.
Things are hopefully changing, with more people getting behind women’s road cycling and pledging support for the sport. As you will no doubt have heard, cycling in general in the UK is becoming more popular. A website launched recently that is taking advantage of the growth in popularity of cycling amongst women. Total Womens Cycling is fast becoming a go-to resource for and about women in the world of bicycles and bike racing. We caught up with the website’s editor Susan Greenwood to discuss Total Womens Cycling, cycling in general and find out some more about her life on a bike.
Made Good: Why was the Total Womens Cycling set up? What sparked it?
Susan Greenwood: The site has been bubbling under for a while – I think a lot of people in the media industry knew there was interest in it from a readers’ perspective and a lot of brands knew they had a female market but it just took a while for someone to be brave enough to take the leap and set a site up.
What is your background?
I’ve always been a cyclist of sorts – my parents were very fit and active and encouraged us in sport. In 2006 I cycled from the east coast of America to the west on my own, blogging for the Guardian’s travel site, and that really cemented my love for a life on two wheels. Since then I’ve raced and lived bikes pretty much every day.
I’ve been a journalist for over 10 years specialising in adventure sports and travel.
What kind of riding do you get up to? You’re based in France right? Are things different over there?
I live in the French Alps so I’m incredibly lucky to have amazing terrain right on my doorstep. The French are very into their road riding and for the most part the mountain roads are insanely good – and people are very polite and helpful when they see a cyclist. On the Aravis, there’s a chap who puts up a table in the summer at the top and just hands out cups of ice cold water for free all day. So I love road riding but I’m also really into downhill. Where I live is spectacular for that and I love mountain biking more and more over road – I find XC is such good exercise. Just that ability to get off concrete and into the mountains proper is lush.
What bikes do you have?
Oh gosh, too many. Three mountain, two road, one fixed gear.
Does women’s (racing and other) cycling differ to men’s? How does Total Womens Cycling cater for this?
Let’s take racing first. At the nuts and bolts of it, there’s no difference at all. Women are as competitive, as dedicated, as determined and as gnarly as their male counterparts. I think it’s pretty naïve to assume a female racer would be any different. I’ve been at cyclocross races where women have literally elbowed me in the face to get past!
I think there’s definitely an argument to say in general female commuters have a tendency to be a bit more nervy on the roads and also a bit more prepared to put up with shoddy equipment. But that’s a pretty sweeping generalisation. The difference comes from the fact that women are women and men are men. We have different bodies, different things we like to talk about, different things that unite us. When I ride with guys for a long time and then go riding with chicks it’s like a breath of fresh air. We hit the same trails, there’s just a subtle shift in attitude and support because, ultimately, we’re all the same and we know how it feels to be a woman.
Why would you say women's cycling is great, and what can people learn from it? Sell it to us!!!
But that’s like saying why is women’s rock climbing great! Or women’s skiing! It’s the same sport! Women’s road riding has often proved more exciting, I believe, than men’s because women have to be a bit more tactical, they can’t rely on strength so much. But other than that it’s more a case of people doing kick ass things on bikes – male or female it’s still kick ass! (amen - Dunc)
What’s the most common misconception you hear about women’s cycling?
With any female sport there’s going to be the judgement that it’s not as exciting because we don’t go as fast or as big. But I think that argument is beginning to disappear and women are pushing to be judged on their own terms –same as in skiing and snowboarding.
Who are your inspirations and heroes/heroines?
In cycling? I love the way Steve Peat and Sam Hill ride, the way they handle their bikes. I really respect both of them. Other than that I have very personal inspirations which wouldn’t make much sense to anyone if I shared them!
Why are more women embracing cycling? Is it down to role models like Pendleton and Armitstead or do you think men’s successes are driving it too? Is frustration at underrepresentation compared with men a motivation?
Certainly the media coverage of cycling in general and the implication of various cycle schemes has brought it to the attention of more women who think ‘why not?’ and give it a go. And I think it would be hard to argue that people like Victoria Pendleton haven’t had an impact on women and showing them what you can achieve. Women aren’t averse to seeing men be successful at stuff though! It’s just when you have a female doing something you suddenly realise that your physical shape isn’t stopping you – it’s your mind.
What are you hoping to achieve and deliver through the site?
We want the site to be a resource, a friend, an inspiration and a bit of a laugh. We want to show that women can have intelligent conversations about bikes and cycling, that there’s a place where you can read informative content without feeling totally overlooked. And we want to create something which maybe makes the industry realise that there’s a big market out there of people passionate about cycling who may just want a little bit more choice in the products on offer for them without being patronised to.
What does 2013 hold in store for you, the site and cycling in general? What would you like to see change?
The site is going to take over the world! We hope it goes from strength to strength, embracing cycling across the globe. As for cycling in general, who knows? It would be nice if city governments developed their integrated infrastructure better to accommodate cyclists but I’m not holding my breath for that to happen this year. It’s exciting with the new Wiggle Honda team to see what they do and how they can raise awareness of the grossly overlooked women’s race scene. But there’s a core of cyclists who will always be passionate about the sport.
Are you excited by the new Wiggle team featuring King, Trott etc? Which teams do you like?
Yeah for sure. It’ll be cool to see how they get on. I don’t really have any team favourites if I’m honest. I prefer to be something of a silent observer. I’m still not sure how the whole media personality thing is going to pan out and I’m keen to see who impresses with their riding.
What advice would you give to any women out there who are thinking of jumping on a bike for the first time or after a hiatus?
Find a bike, get on it, ride. Simple. Every journey starts with one turn of the pedals.
What brands/companies/sites/blogs would you recommend?
The thing is people get different things out of the same products and stuff that works for me might not work for others so I’m reluctant to say – this brand yes, that brand no. I know what I like for me personally but I’m open minded enough to be able to see how a product could create different responses. For me personally I’ve always loved Orange bikes and Santa Cruz and I love Hope components. But I’m open minded enough to give anything a go. That’s why I edit a site – I’m impartial! As for blogs – we do a blog of the week thing on Total Womens Cycling, so I’m not giving you that info for free! You’ll have to check the site out.
What’s your favourite thing about cycling, and what’s the best experience you’ve ever had on a bike?
I love the sense of freedom and strength that I get when I ride. My best experience on a bike...? I have no idea! All of my USA trip was spectacular but then I had a great day on A Line in Whistler and I love doing loops up the Joux Plan on my road bike. I don’t know. For me any ride, solo or with mates, is a good one because it meant I got out the house and said: ‘let’s see what happens.’
Head over to Total Women's Cycling to see what all the fuss is about
Duncan Palmer (@cyclodunc) for MadeGood.org