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 the 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.
This SheCycles post introduces you to Helen Langridge, who decided that cycling LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats – the length of the UK, in case you didn’t know) was not enough, so she cycled around the world.
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?
It’s a difficult question to answer, but one I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year. Do I consider myself to have ‘cyclist’ as part of my identity? Well, most of my big achievements have been through riding a bike and my job now revolves around bikes, and my future plans revolve around travelling by bike. So probably! But I don’t really know what that really means beyond using a bike as a medium to experience the world. So if that’s what it is to be a cyclist then it’s a low lying, constant undercurrent to my adult life.
I didn’t always ride, in fact there was a large chunk of my life where I wasn’t a very active person at all. I spent all of my time at University working in the dark depths of technical theatre whenever I wasn’t in the library (or indeed when I should’ve been in the library). But once I’d discovered how a few pieces of metal on two wheels could change your life for the better and take me places around the world which I had only ever dreamed of seeing, then it slotted into my life quite naturally. It was like that is what had always been missing to move my life in the right direction.
How this compares to a man’s experience, I’ll never know. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been lucky and never encountered any major sexism whilst riding, though I have been witness to it in cycling clubs, called them out on it and never returned. But perhaps I’ve just been oblivious to any difference in experiences!
Do you feel women are treated as equals in the world of cycling, and if not, what can be done about it?
Certainly not, and that’s seen across the spectrum of the bike industry. The availability of opportunities
and coverage of women’s racing, the number of women’s clothing stocked at major retailers, the terminology used in advertising, the ratio of women to men in cycling clubs.
It is slowly changing and it requires people to start sticking their head above the parapet and be vocal. The role models that now exist are ever increasing in number and there’s truth in the phrase ‘if you can see it then you can be it’.
Showing the next generation of young female riders that they achieve great things is one step in the right direction. The next step is having those opportunities available to more than a select few but that will require a change in “cycling” as a white man’s institution. I don’t want to be negative as there is movement. For instance, at the weekend I watched the women’s Strade Bianche before watching the men’s Strade Bianche. The airtime wasn’t the same length, but the women’s race was televised. I added to the watch statistics of the women’s race and that’s progression.
What got you into cycling?
I needed a cheaper way of getting to university than taking public transport. My boyfriend at the time offered to buy me a bike which then sadly got stolen. I got another one, then moved even further away from work so bought a road bike… and then it snow balled.
To you, what’s the best thing about cycling? And the worst?
The best: getting from A to B using your legs and being that little bit healthier afterwards. The worst: A headwind.
Tell us some of your cycling dreams and aspirations?
With regards to the UK, I’d love to see bike lanes absolutely everywhere. I wish it was mandatory for bike lanes to be installed every time roadworks happened and over time, they’d all join up. That may be blue sky thinking and stretching reality a bit (OK quite a long way), but it would really normalise cycling. Imagine if it was abnormal to be on a road without a bike lane? Personally, I want to ride through and experience as many countries this wonderful world has to offer. I also want to see how far I can really push myself mentally and physically.
Tell us about you – what motivates you, what scares you, and what makes you happy?
My motivation is life experience and seeing this wonderful planet we live on. I’m scared of failure and losing people I love. I’m happiest when I know I’ve done something to benefit my head, my soul and my heart each day.
What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve had to face?
Cycling through south west China – so much climbing. So, so much climbing. Or, actually, riding across Australia in summer into a hot headwind for 3 months straight. But for both of these challenges the only thing I could do was keep going. You can have a tantrum on the side of the road but it hasn’t got you any further towards the end, and I learnt to enjoy the process.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Even though I didn’t actually get to the start line in 2020, I’m proud of myself for training for the world record attempt. I made the decision to give it the best shot I could, and to throw my hat into the ring. Not getting to the start line was out of my control, and I’ve learnt to come to terms with that. But the process I went through was a really unique experience and I’ll be forever thankful to those who believed in me.
How did cycling change you?
I now try to see my body through the lens of what it can achieve more than what it looks like. I don’t always succeed in this, but I know what a healthier attitude towards health and weight is and I do strive to be better. Beyond that, cycling has facilitated travel which has shaped me in ways perhaps I’m not even aware of. It’s also made me a great cheerleader for others. I really love encouraging people to keep going, push their limits or start bike touring.
How has your cycling impacted on your family life, and your life overall?
Well I met Mike, my husband, because he had on his Tinder profile that he wanted to cycle around the world. So I guess it’s completely curated my family life. The rest of my family doesn’t quite understand it all. Neither Mike nor I want kids (at least for the foreseeable) so it looks like it’s bikes and travel all the way down!
Where would you most like to go cycling? Why there?
Ahh the question I’m always dreaming about. I’ve plotted routes across Iceland and through some exciting parts of Norway as I find route planning just as fun as cycling. But broadly I haven’t been to South America, Central America, the wilds of Canada, Africa, Central Asia and the Sub-Indian Continent, New Zealand or any of the Pacific Islands. There’s so much more of the world to see and I’m determined to tick off as much as I can.
If you could change ONE thing about cycling, what would that be?
What bike do you ride? What made you choose that one? If you have multiple bikes, which is your favourite, and why?
The bike that’s set up permanently on my turbo is a 2019 Whyte Devon. It was my first bike with disc brakes and I’ll never go back to rim brakes. I still have my round the world tourer which Mike and I built from the frame up. It’s hung on my home-office wall and that’s a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
The bike-love-of-my-life is my custom titanium beauty Enigma built for my world record attempt (that’s not happened thanks to COVID). It’s got a SON dynamo hub, Shimano GRX groupset, stunning DCR wheels and is a dream machine. They very kindly let me buy it off them when it was clear that COVID was here for a while because I just couldn’t bear to let it go.
So I’m ready for future road bikepacking adventures, record breaking or otherwise! I’m keen to add a full-sus mountain bike to my garage, but with the supply of bikes currently affected by COVID and Brexit, and my bank balance looking pretty slim, it might be a while.
What advice would you offer to women who are thinking of starting to cycle, or are new cyclists?
Buy a bike you can afford and go. You don’t have to wear the most expensive clothing or ride the most expensive bike to be getting healthier and happier, and moving through the world in a really positive way. If you feel like you need company, there are groups on FB such as Adventure Queens or Love Her Wild or Tough Girl Challenges where you can see if there’s anyone else near you to ride with. The best time to start is right now.