Riding through Sydney one Friday morning, I started chatting with Kate Johnson. It was her bike-a-versary, she told me, a year since she had started riding.
I looked around the group that surrounded us, a group that had become synonymous with Friday mornings. Everyone had a unique story that brought them to these roads. But unlike other bunches this one was made up entirely of women. In fact, on this particular morning, the bunch was so big it split in two.
Thinking about Kate’s first year on the bike, I found myself wondering what it must be like getting into cycling right now, surrounded by this emerging community. The conversation paused for a minute. Then Kate said she couldn’t imagine it any other way.
And why should she? I thought. Why should anyone have to imagine this sport any other way?
Cycling is changing so quickly right now. If you ask me to trace it back, to find a turning point, or an example to follow, the London based, boutique apparel company, Rapha, quickly comes to mind.
Rapha are by no means the only force behind the changing social experience of cycling. But I find them a fascinating example – largely because of changes I’ve seen in my own community as a result of Rapha-driven initiatives.
In trying to mobilise an international market – through local cycle clubs, Strava challenges, organised rides, emotive imagery, ambassador riders and clever use of social media – the company have created change at a community level. Change that, however you try to understand it, is bigger than any sales plan or product.
A change has happened that means riders like Kate can’t imagine a Friday morning spin any other way.
On Sunday July 26 (2015), nearly 9000 ladies and girls registered for the Rapha Women’s 100, an event where these riders aimed to cycle 100kms in one day. There were organised rides in more than 50 countries. If you search the #womens100 hashtag on Instagram, you’ll find more than 14,000 images.
Ladies banded together to ride a century in Iceland, Bolivia, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Brazil, France, England, Indonesia, New Zealand, Estonia, Serbia, South Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Australia. This list is much bigger than I’ve transcribed here, but let it roll through your mind for a moment.
For me, the sheer reach of rides like these gives way to a great sense of adventure. Senses of invitation, overcoming, determination, friendship and joy soon follow. As I think about the changing experience of riding in my own community, my mind opens out as I consider the way moments like these are unfolding elsewhere.
“It’s a rewarding experience,” said Becky La Borg as she described the 100km journey from the Sydney’s urban heart, down the wide, dawn roads and into the green calm of the Royal National Park.
“For many a century ride is infrequent due to living busy lives, spending time with our families, etc.” said Becky. “Everyone sets out knowing it’s going to be a tough ride, which makes it even sweeter when everyone finishes together.” A healthy feast and chat-filled celebration soon followed.
In Cambridge, New Zealand, rides held the lead up to the 100 that were so popular men in the region wanted to join in too.
“There are plenty of group rides in this area,” said Emma Bryant. “It's possibly the biggest cycling region in the country, but they tend to be your typical hammer session. Our rides work differently. It's all about getting back to the basic concept of loving riding your bike, of going on a little adventure.”
While a new normal is pervading weekday rides, the 100 still has a special feel about it. For Becky, the emotion and satisfaction comes from “seeing not only the triumphs, but the struggles that make up long rides.”
“Having a good bunch to ride with can make all the difference,” added Emma. “It's not all sunshine and tail winds when you're cycling, and suffering together is better than suffering alone. It makes it easier to get up early, or get out when the weather is more suited to sitting on the couch, when you know your friends are waiting for you.”
Suffering. Togetherness. Triumph. Friendship. Knowing it’s tough. Relishing the sweetness. Time on bikes alongside time doing other things.
I find myself thinking again about my Friday morning bunch. I flick through the pages of this magazine and take in images from rides such as these. I’ve ridden bikes for more than half my life but, like Kate, I too am finding it hard to imagine the sport in any other way. I guess that’s the power that normal can have.
Written By Kath Bicknell
This article first appeared in our Spring 2015 Issue