Ladies in Lycra

This weekend I took a break from my normal co-ed road ride to head out with the girls. 

Beach Road, Melbourne, is cycle-city on the weekends – a 30km stretch of flat road between Port Melbourne and Mordialloc  with amazing sea views and no car parking before 10am. I love it because you’re surrounded by people who support and challenge you and rides generally start and finish at bike-friendly cafes where the lattes come extra strong and extra big.

I’m pretty slow for a roadie. When I first started riding Beach Road last summer I could barely average 25kmph over the 60km round trip. Now, I’ve bumped that up to 30kms (providing the wind behaves itself) and I’m sure by the end of next summer I’ll be faster again. It’s a pretty modest achievement, but I’m proud of it – until I’m in the saddle.

When I rock up to a ride the other riders don’t see a fit chick with all the tools and know how to fix anything that might go wrong with the well-speced bike she put together herself. They see a smallish girl in knee-high, non-cycling-specific socks and a stack hat with a bright pink bike. They see someone who’s undoubtedly going to slow them down, who’s probably going to get a puncture and not even notice.

To be honest, by the end of the ride, I often feel like that girl.

Last weekend was the worst. I had to stop and fix a mechanical failure just before Mordi and I told the rest of my speed group I’d catch up with them at the turn around point where we usually stop for a breather with the other speed groups on our ride. By the time I got there my group had gone and it was only the really fast guys left. I shrugged it off, happy to ride back alone, but when my boyfriend (who was leading the fast group) looked back and saw how much I was struggling with the murderous headwind, he dropped back to ride with me. It was a very sweet, romantic gesture. But I was completely humiliated and furious with myself at having to be rescued and hauled the entire length of Beach Road at a crawling pace.

I know from talking to other girls that many of them won’t ride Beach Road to avoid this kind of situation. When I ask friends to come out, the general response is: I’m not fast enough. I don’t know how to ride in a pace line. I don’t know what to do if i get a puncture (and I don’t want to have to ask a guy for help and look like a complete numpty). My bike isn’t fancy enough. I don’t have the hi-tech Lycra. I don’t want to be one of the few girls in what’s essentially a Lycra-clad cock forest.

Me neither. This weekend, I decided things would be different. I got in touch with Rowena from She Rides Cycling blog and this morning she took me out with the Liv/giant girls ride.

The ride was nothing like others I’ve been on. Jo, the ride leader, made sure all of us first timers knew how to ride in a rolling pace line before we set off. On the road we were like a well-oiled machine moving at a comfortable pace: our legs pumping but not breathing so hard we couldn’t chat. No one was left out or left behind, with the more experienced riders taking longer pulls at the front to shelter the newbies from the head wind on the way back. Rather than trying to keep up, I felt I was part of a team.

In general, women think differently, and hence speak differently, to men. We don’t always have the same concerns and we go about solving problems in a different way. It’s especially the case when it comes to bikes and riding. Cycling is a male-dominated sport and women on Beach Road are a clear minority. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as it brings the girls closer together. I hear a lot of guys shit-talking on rides, trying to outdo each other with their experience and technical know-how, and they inevitably sprint the last few kms to prove which one is the fastest. Whereas us girls feel we need to stick together. We want to encourage each other to keep coming back and to introduce more girls to riding. We want to get stronger and faster together.

So, girls, if you’ve thought about heading out on a road ride, but the thought of it scares you shitless, remember that every one of those oh-so-confident looking women you see spinning past has felt exactly the same and most of them are more than happy to slow down and help you out. Find an all-girl ride, explain any concerns you have and chances are they’ll be only to happy to help you learn to love the Lycra.

The Liv/giant ride leaves from Cafe Racer every Saturday at 7:30am.