Over the summer Swift Industries, a bicycle-loving and beautiful bag-making company out of the Pacific Northwest, sponsored a writing project called Tough & Tender, “a literary and photographic project that celebrates women’s relationships with bicycles, touring, and the bike industry.”
The project received several contributions and I’ve found them all inspiring. Many thanks to Swift Industries for creating this forum for women to share our stories. Click here to see the Swift blog and check them out.
I submitted a reflection titled “Lost in the Landscape” that Swift recently posted and I’m also posting it here. I’ve edited it slightly since my original submission. While not a full-on celebration of bicycling and my relationship with the bike industry, it was my best effort to capture my feelings about them both from my lens as a female touring cyclist. As always, thanks for reading.
When I first began riding my bicycle again as an adult, I did as the mainstream cycling magazines directed. I emulated the well-marketed roadie image, bought a red and silver aluminum and carbon racing-style bike and sported garish printed jerseys and lycra. The guy in the bike shop convinced me it was just what I needed.
Over time, my fitness increased and I found myself pedaling further and further from home. After riding a few centuries, I discovered that touring cycling appealed to me, but doing it on a racing bike did not. Aero positioning and narrow tires were unsuited for longer rides. I also decided I wanted more versatile, understated cycling clothing for all-day rides.
Disregarding mainstream cycling publications and bike shop advice, I turned to friends and other forums to guide my purchase of a reliable touring bike. I began wearing simpler tops and regular shorts over my lycra in an effort to wear clothing that allowed me to look somewhat like a regular person rather than a “real cyclist.” I preferred to dress in a way that worked not just on the bike, but made me less conspicuous when walking around.
Thanks to touring, a whole new world of bicycling opened to me, a world that embraced the independence and thrill of bike travel. However, the more I rode, the more I realized that most people haven’t discovered the divine pleasures of bike touring. The vast majority of people still use cars or other forms of transport to see new places. Touring cyclists are an anomaly in the U.S. And a female touring cyclist? Even more so.
In a way, I feel special because I’m doing something that lots of other people don’t. I travel thousands of miles each year under my own steam, unfettered by the trappings of a car. At the same time, I do not ride because I’m trying to stand out or do something unusual. I ride because it’s the best transportation method I know and I revel in exploration by bicycle.
While female touring cyclists are uncommon, we do exist. We also buy things. However, most people seem unaware of our presence, even those in the bike industry. When I open a cycling magazine or enter a bike shop, the female images I see (if any) are those of the racer sporting splashy kit or a woman in a tailored skirt on a mixte with upright handlebars.
Where are the regular touring cyclists? We are invisible, lost somewhere in the landscape between the racers and cycle chic. Lost amid the people driving to see the world and the next mountain view. Annoyed yet undeterred, I ride on, confident in my chosen path.
My bike is my lifeline to recreation, travel, and discovery. Without it, I’d be lost and unhappy. Some day, I hope the bike industry realizes that women like me merit attention, too. Maybe then, we’ll truly be part of the cycling landscape.
Good stuff. You are right. I think we are tucked in the back pages amongst the corny ads for hi-vis gear and special saddles. Or not.
We are on the road, getting passed by hundreds of vehiclists who are stunned by our bravery and stupidity. We are stopping into restaurants, cafés and quick marts to get grub and make small talk. We are our own ad, our own face. Those other ladies pretty much only exist in central city, bucolic suburbs, or on closed courses. And in ads.
Let’s show ’em!
Such a great comment. You’re right, “We are our own ad, our own face.”
The first touring cyclist I can recall meeting was a woman. My friend Anne graduated from the University of Iowa and hit the road with a Bikecentennial TransAm tour. I don’t think she’s ever worn lycra.
Touring cyclists have long been forgotten. Female touring cyclists doubly so.
Loved reading this. And I can’t wait to go shopping for my next bike (and clothing to go with it, of course!). I really think Mixte is the one for me …
This post really resonates with me. I feel like I’m heading on the same trajectory– I’m definitely less about racing and more about distance and scenery. Thanks for sharing this.
Great post MG. In the mid to late 70s, bike touring was played up a lot more in bike magazines and shops. IMHO, Bicycling was a much better read then, with more human interest and less flash. I’m not sure what led to the change in “pop bike culture”, where it is now so racer focused.
Yeah, it seems like the 70s did emphasize bike touring much more. Now it seems like it’s more of an underground niche. Strange. I wonder if we’ll get back there again.
good post.thanks for sharing .