SheCycles – SuziQ

SheCycles is a series of posts in which I ask women some questions, and I post their responses. All women are asked the same questions, and are obviously free to answer as much, or as little, as they please.

The very first SheCycles was about Annie Kopchovsky, who was the first woman to travel around the world with her bicycle. Obviously, given that she did that over 100 years ago, I couldn’t ask her any questions, that SheCycles post followed a different format, but I suggest you read it, too, as it explains more about the SheCycles posts, and the need for them.

To read all SheCycles posts, simply click this link.

Today, on International Women’s Day 2021, allow me to introduce you to a very strong woman, SuziQ, in her own words.

What does it mean to you, as a woman, to also be a cyclist, and how (if at all) do you feel it’s different from what men experience?
Freedom, adventure & speed! Not sure if I feel that these are specific to women though? I loved cycling as a kid and my best friend and I once headed off to cycle about 70 miles (no prep whatsoever) from East Cork to the bowels of West Cork on a whim.
Took us a whole day on our pieced-together bikes, but I remember the freedom and the adventure and arriving at my aunts house unannounced for a bed and some amazing food. Cycling feels equal when I’m on the road and zooming down a hill, I get reminded that it’s not when I get a cat-call but doing 50+kph down a hill makes it all worthwhile!

Do you feel women are treated as equals in the world of cycling, and if not, what can be done about it?
I don’t know much about the world of cycling at all, I’m a total newbie and not sure that I would be interested in watching major events etc. I learned through my Twitter cycling friends that women are not allowed to enter the TDF, I was shocked, then not shocked. It’s the same for everything.
We are never equal, we have to ‘prove’ ourselves in ways that men will never understand, and overcome fears: Am I good enough? Will they laugh if they see me? Is the route well lit? Will anyone be around? Am I dressed ok? Will they know I’m a woman on a bike if I wear this, maybe I should change before going out?

What can be done about it?
All I can think of is keep cycling, keep advocating for cycling, build your community support and call out those who make us feel less-than when we can

What got you into cycling?
During first lockdown I was working from home, had 2 injured ankles so I couldn’t hike (a big love of mine) and really needed some way of getting out and exercising, for my mental health more than anything else. I was new to Twitter and happened to come across some cyclists, you know who you are! Their energy caught my attention and we had fun online, the banter was real!
I started to think about how I used to love cycling as a kid but I was nervous as I’d had a bike 20+yrs before and it had rusted away in our shed.

Reading tweets & engaging made me realise that it was probably the worst bike I could have bought. We live in the hills, it was a heavy mountain bike hybrid type thing, gears clunked, really uncomfortable and so after a few tries I gave up. The memory of the pain of cycling where I live was still very real!

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Then I heard about e-bikes from my twitter peeps and started to think how amazing it would be to be able to cycle and build fitness even on hills, steep hills, from Day 1. There was a lot of discussion on the issue of people thinking e-biking is ‘cheating’ but the folks I was linked with were on board with e-bikes and I quickly decided that wasn’t an issue for me.

I started to research suitable e-bikes for serious hills and once I’d found what I was looking for and run it by anyone I could find to see what they thought, I used the bike-to-work scheme and ordered an e-bike on line. Normally not the best idea to buy without trying but since Gertie (my new bike) arrived I haven’t looked back!

In 4 months of 2020 I went from zero cycling to completing over 1100km and some serious elevation gain!

To you, what’s the best thing about cycling? And the worst?
Best thing is speed. I just LOVE hills and with my e-bike they are always manageable. The reason I love hills is the downhill ride, the faster the better! There’s one hill locally that I try to do as often as possible. I’ve named it ‘devil hill’. It’s short, only about 500M but it’s damn steep. When I tackle it on full ‘Turbo’ e-mode and in 1st gear, my pedals are still barely moving, but I do it and feel great when it’s done.

I also love cycling alone, there’s something about it being just me and the elements that really clears my head.
Worst? Can’t think of any. I’ve cycled Gertie in high winds, rain, thunder & lightening and of course when the sun shines. I’ve gotten soaked and cold and tired but that doesn’t bother me as I feel great after every single ride.

Tell us some of your cycling dreams and aspirations?
I’d love to do regular trips with my husband, carrying 2 bikes and cycling around Ireland and in different countries. Other than that I just want to keep cycling.

As a woman, what can you do to make cycling more normal, and more inclusive? And what are the biggest obstacles in your way?
Keep cycling seems to be the best way ? I’m in my 50s and a lot of women my age don’t have the confidence to cycle, most haven’t heard about e-bikes and how they make cycling accessible to all.

When I speak to women my age about e-bikes they are amazed that such things exist! I took my daughter (20s) out for a cycle last week, we only did 5km of hilly road, one e-bike and one regular bike, we swapped half-way through. She loved the e-bike and said to me that she realised now why I got one,
I’d never go out as much without it.

Obstacles – I don’t tend to think about obstacles really when it comes to cycling, I just get on my bike and go. Like most cyclists, I felt the need to buy a camera in case of injury but other than that I just try to focus on the enjoyment of the ride.

Tell us about you – what motivates you, what scares you, and what makes you happy?
Motivation – a desire to be physically as fit as I can be. I’ve given up on the focus of losing weight, just focussing on getting out on my bike or hiking the hills as much as I can and enjoying it.

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Another motivation is enjoying life in general, it’s been tough as it is for many people and we need to enjoy the good stuff as much as possible.

Scares – well after the year we’ve had the scariest thing for me is navigating family illness and disability. We’re in a much better place now and hoping that we don’t have a year like that again, ever.

Happy – my kids succeeding in what they love to do, healthy family, a challenging and interesting job, Gertie, baking, gardening, crafting.

What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve had to face?
Oh there’s been a few. My mom died when I was 11 years old, it shaped me, for good & bad. After that having to emigrate for work at 20, navigating the care of a disabled child, raising 4 very independent and opinionated kids (where did that come from ?), dealing with sudden onset of serious illness in the family last year and being the sole earner for a large family while my husband took on the carer role.

Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Getting to where we are now, kids are happy and as healthy as they can be, having a job that is interesting and supports us and navigating life as it passes.

We’re moving into the next stage of our lives, more free time and more time for us to get out and do more of what we love.

How did cycling change you?
I was thinking about this one yesterday on my ride. Cycling gives me confidence, it builds tenacity & patience. I tend to be a ‘fixer’, working fast, not tolerant of delays etc. but when I cycle, I have to go with what I find.

Some days I feel stronger and cycle faster, other days I make slower progress and am learning that it’s ok to navigate as best I can. Cycling keeps me in the ‘now’ and that is great for my mental health.

How has your cycling impacted on your family life, and your life overall?
My family encourage me a lot and are impressed with the mileage! We have always been active walkers/hikers, the cycling has brought something new.

Right now I’m the only regular cyclist in the family but the others are moving closer to it. One daughter lives about 7 km from the hospital where she works and has mentioned an e-bike a few times so you’d never know!

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you?
Again, there are many…e.g. I was a late entrant into college. I received a letter in Oct (the class had started in Sept) to attend for an interview. It was the 80s, I was 17, I dressed in my best corduroy skirt, tights & heels and headed in only to be told by him to join the class there and then.

I walked into a room full of engineering students who knew each other and were in the essential baggy woollen jumpers, jeans and doc martens. At break everyone went to the canteen, I followed and then proceeded to slip and go t*ts up in the middle of the canteen, arms full of folders & books, in me heels and corduroy skirt (I cannot emphasise that skirt enough) in front of my class and the whole canteen… My classmates went silent and stared, but then I started laughing and so did they, so I started my course disavowed of all ‘notions’ (as we say in Ireland). I do use humour to soften things like awkward meetings or difficult situations.

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Where would you most like to go cycling? Why there?
Scotland – for the hills, valleys, coastline and general beauty and magic of the place.
Greece – because it’s my spirit home. We’ve travelled there several times, staying on the mainland in small villages, living amongst the locals. It is such a beautiful place, peaceful and welcoming and of course the food!
I’ve friends in Athens and would love to live there for an extended time someday.

If you could change ONE thing about cycling, what would that be?
Normalising e-bikes! They are essential to accessibility for all to cycling.

What bike do you ride? What made you choose that one? If you have multiple bikes, which is your favourite, and why?
Scott sub-active 30 called Gertie after Gertrude Ederle. I chose this bike because it’s robust, has a high-spec motor and battery and 2” tyres. Gertie is comfy to ride and came with everything I needed to get started; bell, rack, comfy saddle lights. Gertie is definitely my favourite, and ideally we’d like to buy a 2nd one so my husband could venture out with me, he still hasn’t tried Gertie tho’, I think she scares him a little!

Gertie had a bit of a dramatic breakdown after I cycled through a very heavy thunder storm (yes e-biking is a joy in any weather) with a cracked computer screen so had to returned to the shop to be sorted out. I was pining for a bike (after only 1 month of ebiking!) so I bought my N+1, again online, this one called Hilde after Hildegarde of Bingham.

The make is Serious, model Sonoran and came with dynamo lights, I added a rack. This bike is light, extremely pretty and it’s possible to ride some of my routes but the fit is not as good as Gertie, handlebars are too low for me. I now know I need a ‘sit up & beg’ setup but apart from that she’ll do in a fix!

What advice would you offer to women who are thinking of starting to cycle, or are new cyclists?
Talk to other cyclists. Buy from a reputable supplier, local isn’t always best. Know where you want to ride your bike; hills, flat, rough etc. and make sure to research the essentials for these conditions
Start with an e-bike , build your fitness and then get your n+1 if you wish. Get a good saddle!

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I wear a cape and sandals whilst cycling, along with a hand-crocheted balaclava on cold days!

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