On advice on cycling for women

A couple of links from this week’s Cycling Embassy of Great Britain blog round-up got me thinking. The original article that got people talking was taken down, but katsdekker has it here. My initial reaction was to agree with Helen Blackman that is was pretty patronising. However I then read this response from The Girl’s Guide to Life on Two Wheels and began to wonder. Yes, all my long rides are done on a road bike, in whatever kit was cheap or on special offer at the time I got it; but on the other hand I do go around on my Brompton in whatever clothes are suitable at the time – and as I commute on the Brompton, a lot of the time “suitable clothes” really is a suit. So yes, for some of my cycling, appearance has some importance – not really while I’m on the bike, but when I get to the office.

I almost feel I’m contradicting myself here, because if you asked me, I would say that appearance is not important to me as a woman. And yet – I very, very rarely wear make-up, but earrings…. I like earrings. I have lots of earrings. Lots. Mostly the dangley kind. When I cycle to the office on my road bike, with my office clothes in a rucksack, I’ll bring jewellery in. A friend once said that she thinks of me as quite feminine because I wear skirts. So maybe my perception of myself as not very feminine, and not particularly bothered about appearance, isn’t quite accurate, at least for certain parts of my life. I’m certainly not someone who is going to do sport or climb hills wearing make-up or jewellery (I will usually have a little pair of keeper earrings in, but that’s just to keep the holes in my ears open – they’re my “I’m not wearing earrings” earrings).

So first of all, here are wisob’s top tips for cycling in a suit…

  1. Skirts are great for cycling in – so long as it is the right kind of skirt. Too long is a problem, as is too tight. But a nice loose knee-length one is perfect. You don’t have to clip it out of the way, unlike trousers, just hop on and off the bike. It really isn’t any colder to wear a skirt than trousers, particularly a heavier skirt. (I’ve had female friends describe me as mad for cycling in a skirt in winter – as if there’s huge amount of heat loss from my calves. I’ll wear socks over my tights if it is really cold, which does look a bit odd, but I just take them off when I get to the office.) And if it rains a bit, my coat will keep most of me dry, and tights dry pretty much instantly – unlike 5 cm of wet trouser leg.
  2. Waterproof trousers are comfortable enough over tights for short distances. So if it is really raining hard, I’ll wear waterproofs, shove my skirt in my bag and nip in to the ladies for a quick change when I get to the office.
  3. Earrings do get caught on scarves, coat collars, hats/helmets. I’ve lost a few, especially the kind that hook into your ears – and then I found that places like Claire’s Accessories sell little plastic things that slide onto the back and keep the earring from coming out, so that’s really useful.

Helen Blackman made a second, more measured response to the initial article here – I hope my tips pass her test (would your advice sound appropriate if given to a child (in which case it is likely to be patronising if given to an adult woman), would it sound odd if said to a man – well most of the above applies to things that are not culturally normal for men to wear, but I might still fell the need to explain to a men that cycling in a skirt is not the problem he thinks it is….) I do wonder if people like Sustrans feel that they can’t win – write about cycling without mentioning women and we’ll complain that we’re not mentioned; try and do something that acknowledges that women have different concerns to men and you get told you’re being patronising. (I guess it would be better to say that some women have different concerns – that being one of the problems, of course, we are not clones, we all have different opinions and different things that are important to us). One of the very good points that I think Helen Blackman is making is that it isn’t just what you say but the way you say it.

The other thing is that what you wear depends also on the journey you are making. If I wanted to go to the shops, I’d go in whatever I was wearing at the time – I could go in my pyjamas if I wanted to (I mean, I personally wouldn’t go to the shops in my pyjamas, but I understand that people do…) If I wanted to go and climb Ben Nevis in winter, I would wear several hundred pounds worth of winter hillwalking gear. So with cycling. To get to the pub, or the office, you can wear what you like. If I want to cycle 300km in a day, I will want cycling-specific gear, because it is much more comfortable and appropriate for what I’m doing.

I should say some more things about Pedal on Parliament, but that will have to wait for another time.

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On getting to PoP after all

Well, I went!

We got back to Edinburgh early on Sunday afternoon, and so I was able to go to Pedal On Parliament after all. I got to The Meadows about 3:10 pm, and there were cyclists queued up all the way down Middle Meadow Walk and all the way along Melville Drive to the playground – and quite a few people must have already left by that point. I was in the last group to leave and we got going about 3:45. We whizzed down the Royal Mile to the Parliament – and then I’m afraid I went away without hearing the speeches as I had promised my Wonderful Boyfriend that I would be back as soon as I could be…

Numbers of 3000 – 4000 have been quoted. Lets hope our politicians are listening…

On going to visit my parents

So my parents live about 100 miles away, and the other weekend I decided to go and see them. By bicycle, as you do. Now I will admit that a 200 mile round trip probably does not count as utility cycling, especially as I didn’t get to see all that much of my parents, as I turned up mid afternoon on the Saturday and left again first thing on the Sunday morning. I really enjoyed the outward trip, but the return leg took me much longer. This was partly because I was tired, of course, but also on the outward leg I went along the obvious route, pretty much exactly as I would drive (the exception being that I would use the Edinburgh bypass in a car and you’re not allowed to cycle on it). On the other hand, the return leg used a lot of quieter back roads, which had more hills and corners and needed me to stop and get the map out. In other words, unsurprisingly the fastest route in the car was the fastest route by bike, too.

That fast route is a main road, and I was a bit concerned about what the traffic would be like, but actually it was fine. I mean, fine if you are used to busy main road traffic and can deal with the odd numpty who thinks that they can overtake on the crest of a blind hill (yes, I’m looking at you, oh driver of the white Audi, and yes there was something coming the other way) or the people who seem to think that because the car in front has got past they car too, but with half as much overtaking room – the usual things that mean that for many people the suggestion that one might cycle even a short distance on that road would bring the response “no, far too dangerous”.  The scariest moment was actually a pair of trucks who were travelling right behind one another – the first one pulled out just a little to go round me, so I moved into what they call the sacrificial tarmac by the side of the road to get to a bit more space and so the following lorry didn’t seem to move out at all. They had foreign number plates and I have seen it suggested that drivers of left hand drive vehicles sometimes leave less space because they can see the cyclist better – but I don’t think there’s any excuse for passing so close. And it is driving like that that keeps cyclists off the road. In spite of the odd moment, I rolled up to my parents’ front door saying “that was a lot of fun”.

The return leg was not so much fun. As I said, I used a lot more back roads and they were much quieter. And hillier and more twisty. And I was tired. And I had a headwind. Still, in the end I got back, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not sure if I’ll do it again in a hurry, though I do quite fancy cycling down and getting the train back.

On a conversation with my sister

So when I went to London to run the marathon, I stayed with my sister, who lives near London with her husband and children, who are 6 and 3 years old. I was asking if the three-year-old had a bike, and my sister said that he does, but he doesn’t use it much, and anyway it is a bit difficult for them to cycle as a family as there’s nowhere for them to go. The roads round their house are fairly quiet, but there are parked cars on them, of course. My sister then surprised me by saying that she would quite like to cycle to work, which is about 8 miles away, at least sometimes, but trying to get her children to school and nursery and then herself on to work by bike just isn’t going to happen. And although part of her ride to work would be on what is the old road between the two towns (and I think it is a really old road, I think the Romans built it…) which now has a bypass and so is quiet, when she gets to the town where she works she then gets into heavy traffic which she wouldn’t fancy cycling in – that bit would be much quicker by bike, of course, if she felt confident enough to use one. But if there were cycle lanes…

All this surprised me because although I’ve slowly been getting into all this stuff about cycling infrastructure and cycling as transportation, I didn’t expect my sister to think like that. But she does. Is the time coming when she’ll be able to let her children cycle to school, and combine keeping fit with travelling to work, or will they all be trapped in having to run two cars because “that’s the only way to get around”?

On running the London Marathon

Warning: this post is not about cycling (that’s coming in the next posts).

About a year ago, I ran a marathon, just because I wanted to. I did the Lochaber Marathon, out of Fort William, which was a good event, and clocked a time of 3 hours and 27 minutes. I’d worked really hard to get under my 3:30 target, and when I crossed the finish line my thoughts were “that’s that box ticked, I can’t see myself wanting to do that again.” And then someone on a web forum pointed out that I’d run a Good For Age qualifying time for London. There are basically 3 ways you can get in to the London Marathon: you can go into the ballot, which has no guarantees of a place; you can take a place to run for a charity, which obliges you to raise quite a bit of money in sponsorship; or you can run a “fast” time, otherwise known as a Good For Age time. (Actually there are another lot of spots, called Championship spots, for the really, really fast people). The requirement for a Good For Age (GFA) spot depends, unsurprisingly, on your age and your gender. For men under 40 it is 3hours 10minutes; for men over 40 it goes to 3h15, and so on. But for women under 50 it is 3 hours 50*. I was quite surprised by this; obviously the women’s time will be slower, but that is a lot softer than the men’s times. I assume that they want to give more spaces to women. Anyway the result was that about a fortnight after saying I’d never run a marathon again I had my application in for London.

Roll forward a year, and I was stood on the start line – well actually there are 3 start lines, because there are so many people, the start you see on TV is probably about half the total runners… We had our silence in memory of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and then we were off. Well, I am used to taking part in little local races where there might be a few partners/children hanging about at the finish line. This was rather different! There were crowds pretty much all the way round, so the experience varied from “noisy” to “very noisy” – the drummers under the flyover were especially noisy…  going through Greenwich there were several pubs with sound systems or bands. At one point in Greenwich the road runs straight for quite a way, and it was just full of runners as far as I could see – and I also knew that most of the runners were behind me! Wonderful Boyfriend was waiting at a point just after Tower Bridge where you pass in both directions – on the way out it is just after the half way point and on the way back about mile 22. So I spotted him on the way out – just after the elite male runners had come past on their way back, it was nice to see them. By the time I got back to W.B. I was feeling quite tired and thinking that I’d forgotten just how far a marathon is! I was very glad to see him again. I’d been going for 2.5 – 3 hours by this time and the outward area was still full of people going through halfway… I think seeing W.B. gave me a lift as I knew I was nearly round, because I was able to pick up the pace and pass lots of people all the way to the finish – the “run for 14 minute, walk for a minute, repeat” thing that I do really helps for this as well.

So I got to the finish, which almost felt like an anticlimax. I ran 3:35:58 in the end, which I am quite happy with. I was 5646th out of 34170 finishers, 880th out of 12201 female finishers and 171st out of 1934 women aged between 40 and 44; which is not bad. I got my finisher’s medal and teeshirt (the teeshirt is a one size fits none job – it is massive!) and then spent quite a while waiting for W.B to work his way through the busy tube system to come and join me. We got some food and then went back to my sister’s home where we were staying. Would I do it again? Probably not, though I can see why people go back it is a very good atmosphere. There are just lots of other things I would like to do!

*Note: these were the times for the 2013 race. I believe that they have changed at least some of the qualifying times for next year.