Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Just one of the girls
A preference for chainrings over diamond rings? It can be very feminine, says Laura Williamson.
I am not what many people might call a ‘normal’ girl. Normal girls are supposed to like fashion, know what to do with an eyelash curler, wear high heels and dream of living in one of those houses in Beautiful Homes magazine, the kind with white couches and indoor-outdoor flow. My house has flow – on the pump track in my front yard. None of my furniture is white, though. White shows the mud.
This is because I am a mountain biker, and at some point I had to give up life’s more girly pursuits in the name of my sport. Case in point: short skirts. Sure, I’m all for flashing a little leg, but in my case this involves also flashing an unnerving knee surgery scar and marks from ten years of encounters with trees, rocks and dirt. It’s just not pretty.
Then there’s jewellery. My reaction to women showing off their engagement rings is always the same. Not “Wow, sparkly!” or “Congratulations!” For me, it’s “How the heck does that fit under cycling gloves?” or “If she gets that thing caught on a branch, it’s goodbye ring finger!”
Fortunately, I usually manage to keep these thoughts to myself. Except once, when my old school friend Becky Wilson wore her engagement ring riding, went over her handlebars, and the pointy diamond bit scored a line from her chin to her hairline. I said something about diamonds not being a girl’s best friend after all. She didn’t find this funny, perhaps because her wedding was the next day. It’s amazing what can be covered up with makeup!
It can get awkward, but I’ve found ways to cope. I nod knowingly when other women discuss pedicures and laser hair removal even though I’ve never witnessed either procedure. Lasers just make me think of WTB Laser Disc Wheels, and I’d rather adjust my toe clips than paint my toenails.
There are some advantages. I don’t need to spend a lot on handbags. I just have one; my cycling pack. And I once earned $47 at a bar in downtown Sydney when a bunch of guys dared me to ride my bike down the front steps. I bought a round of Mojitos for my girlfriends, who had spent most of the evening unsuccessfully chatting up the very same fellows.
‘I’m all for flashing a little leg, but in my case this involves also flashing marks from ten years of encounters with trees, rocks and dirt.’
Yet, despite the fact that I prefer reading Dirt Rag to Women’s Day, there are a lot of things I do as a cyclist that remind me I am female. I keep my bike clean and my tools are organised. I wash my cycling tops frequently, unlike the pungent boys I ride with, and I pay attention to my hair. The key is a cut that still looks good after it has been under a bike helmet for three hours – a chin-length bob works best.
‘Feminine’ is defined as having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, such as sensitivity or gentleness. This is not just about eyeliner and shoe shopping. Manoeuvring a bike through a tricky root section is all about sensitivity – I am still being feminine, even if my elbow pads make me look like an ice hockey player from one of the former Soviet Bloc countries.
And just last week, I bought a new pair of cycling gloves. I chose the pink ones. After all, I am a girl.