Yes, another SheCycles post!
If you still don’t what SheCycles posts are about, simply click the SheCycles link on the menu above. They’re a growing series of posts highlighting women who cycle. All the women are different, and all of them are awesome in their own way, so do make sure you go read them all.
Julie says “I became interested in long-distance cycle touring later in life, preferring more dynamic activities such as rock climbing, kayaking and various other outdoor pursuits when younger. At the moment, I also enjoy running slowly on the fells, swimming outside in the lovely Lakes of Cumbria. I’ve cycled (usually solo) and wild camped in countries such as Morocco, Orkneys, Ireland, Scotland, Hebrides, Finland, Norway, plus many other journeys in New Zealand. Currently making plans for 2023! At the moment I’m writing the first chapter of a book about last years 3 month cycling trip around Scotland. Fingers crossed, that someone will think it’s worth publishing especially for women to enjoy reading.”
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?
Cycling gives me lots of freedom, independence and closeness to nature none of which I’ve completely experienced in any other activity. Running comes close but doesn’t provide long journeys that are stimulating, interesting and last for weeks or months.
The men I’ve spoken with seem to experience cycle touring in a similar vein to women albeit perhaps a little more competitive in their outlook and less concerned about personal security.
Because I mostly cycle tour in other countries or potter around the back lanes of Ambleside my outdoor time is split between other sports and hobbies as well as cycling.
Do you feel women are treated as equals in the world of cycling, and if not, what can be done about it?
No, I’m afraid not. Though other passing cycle tourers are always ready to give me a wave or a few words. Sadly, the racing bikers and mountain bikers mostly don’t even acknowledge my existence. Probably, some disrespect, ageism and sexism are at play in their 1-second summings up of this lowly woman cyclist.
Nicely, lots of men ask about my bike and gear when I’m outside a supermarket or shop. Weirdly I find this normally happens in other countries rather than the UK. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any abuse, sexual or otherwise for simply being on a bicycle. But, that outcome could thankfully could be linked to my ever-increasing age.
Perhaps larger numbers of women starting to cycle might effect some positive change in attitudes… it will take time.
What got you into cycling?
I was living in New Zealand and found myself with two teenage children free weeks. An impromptu adventure like a cycle tour seemed like a good solo plan. I literally borrowed a bike, panniers etc and caught the Wellington Ferry to the South Island. It was exhilarating, enlightening, tiring, empowering, rewarding and joyful. From then onwards I was 100% hooked.
To you, what’s the best thing about cycling? And the worst?
The best thing is being out in nature, having lots of freedom to travel with of course the added plus of exercise. The moment I jump on my bike a huge smile takes over… it’s impossible not to. The privileges of chatting with strangers, stopping to take photos, having a snack or drink whenever I choose, and camping pretty much where I can be is liberating.
Also, the years of solo cycling and wild/stealth camping have improved my trust levels, self-confidence, skills base and ability to manage alone. No problem has yet become insurmountable when touring. Solitary life on my bike is perhaps the best experience of all. Immersed into and becoming part of nature, no longer an observer…ie the Zen of lone cycling.
The worst thing would be running out of water or food.
Or being knocked off the bike by a vehicle.
As a woman, what can you do to make cycling more normal, and more inclusive?
Writing Blog posts, and the past public talks I’ve held are my little contribution to the world of women in cycling. Hopefully, at least one or two women have become inspired to have a go at cycling either with friends, in a club or alone.
Tell us about you – what motivates you, what scares you, and what makes you happy?
I’m motivated by a lifelong habit of keeping as physically fit and healthy as possible. To help feel good and happy, all matched up with the overwhelming need to be outside in the wild of strange places as much as possible.
Any drunk men encountered scare me when I’m travelling alone.
My family and friends contribute to my happiness, by supporting and never doubting my abilities or plans, or nagging me to keep in regular contact while I’m away touring.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of a 2018 solo cycling/camping from Kirkenes in Norway down the length of Finland to Helsinki. And last year (2021) a rather challenging three-month solitary Scottish tour spent wild/stealth camping in often crazy weather, where I discovered my emotional/physical and mental endurance limits!
How did cycling change you?
Cycling has given me something that I never thought I would fully experience. The opportunity to explore, be more outgoing, have adventures, be safe, and travel alone mostly fearlessly. It’s changed my general outlook on living life as a woman.
How has your cycling impacted on your family life, and your life overall?
It’s had little impact on family life apart from setting a good example to two very grown-up sons. My life overall improves in quality and joy whenever I jump on the bike.
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you?
The funniest thing that ever happened to me is a difficult question to answer as lots of funny or embarrassing things seem to come about when cycling. I was cycling through a rather dimly lit long tunnel in Senja, Norway. It had a narrow elevated ‘pavement’ running along the length of one side. It seemed like a good idea to cycle along it for protection from oncoming vehicles. I heaved the bike onto it, and began to pedal very slowly in order to keep within the pavement width, unfortunately, it was so narrow the back pannier scraped the tunnel wall. Causing the front wheel to wobble off the pavement. The bike and I toppled heavily sideways down onto the tarmac. Luckily, there was no oncoming traffic and the panniers cushioned my fall. It took a few moments to pick up the bike, clip on the panniers and remount! The only damage was to my pride… I felt extremely silly. Also, glad no one else had witnessed it and laughed at me!
Where would you most like to go cycling? Why there?
I would like to cycle in so many more places. My heart often longs for New Zealand, so returning to cycle the Tour Aoterea Trail. 3,000km along the length of both the North and South Islands would be awesome, perhaps in December 2023.
If you could change ONE thing about cycling, what would that be?
The U.K road infrastructure… ie. cycling lanes in, out and around cities, villages and towns. As in, for example, Finland and some other European countries.
What bike do you ride? What made you choose that one? If you have multiple bikes, which is your favourite, and why?
I have one bike only! A little Orbit steel-framed expedition bike. It’s solid, dependable, comfortable and the love of my life. After Orbit supplied an extra small frame, Ghyllside Bicycles in Ambleside put it all together. I chose it because it’s strong, the frame can be rewelded if damaged and the parts are basic. Wherever I am in the world, however, isolated from modern amenities, if anything goes wrong it can be fixed by a local.
What advice would you offer to women who are thinking of starting to cycle, or are new cyclists?
I would advise any woman to start cycling with a friend or a little group of friends. It helps build confidence and motivation. Use traffic-free tracks/lanes as much as possible and be certain to wear high-visibility clothing.