“I’m Not A ‘Real’ Cyclist, I Just Like to Ride My Bike”
I hear a lot of people tell me that they are “not a ‘real’ cyclist.”
Actually, I’ll refine that comment – I hear a lot of women tell me that they are not a ‘real’ cyclist. I hear this most often on Breeze rides from women who would class themselves (rightly or wrongly) as ‘novices’. But I also hear it when I am coaching; “I’m not a real cyclist because I don’t use clip pedals”, “I bought this bike as a treat to myself but I’m not a real cyclist and I feel a bit of a fraud riding it”, “I would like to enter a sportive/criterium/time trial/road race but I’m not a real cyclist.” These are all comments I have genuinely heard from clients.
The phrase ‘serious cyclist’ gets thrown around too. Last week I co-lead a Breeze ride where some of the participants know me through my coaching or my (other) blog, but they hadn’t met me before. One of them said to me, “Oh, you’re a ‘serious cyclist’, not like us.” But the thing is, they all ride at least once a week, several of them take part in sportives, and we all did a 20 mile ride together, with a tough climb in it. What makes me a more ‘serious cyclist’ then them?
Perhaps by ‘real’ or ‘serious’ people mean experienced? If so then maybe they are right. I have cycled all my life and I work developing cycling as a coach, a tutor for British Cycling, and a Breeze Area Coordinator. But I don’t think that is what they mean.
So what do you need to do to become a ‘real’ or ‘serious’ cyclist? Is there a set number of miles per week? A set speed to ride at? A set type of bike? A set outfit? A set body composition?
There is a reason why I have been thinking about this today. Someone had posted on a women’s Facebook page that she had ridden, and completed, her first event. She was rightly proud and posted some photos of her riding. Amongst the comments congratulating her, were quite a number pointing out that her saddle was too low. She posted again today that she felt like an idiot and had lost all will to cycle because of the comments on her original post.
My first thought when I read the second post was that it was awful that people would feel the need to criticise someone who was out there, riding her bike, trying something new and clearly loving it.
But then I read the comments on the original post.
I honestly could not hear any criticism in the comments about her saddle height. OK, so there were rather a lot of comments pointing it out, and that probably felt like a bit of an onslaught. But I really don’t think it was meant to be. I suspect that most of those who commented did exactly what I often do and wrote their opinion without reading all the other comments and so did not know that this had already been pointed out.
I don’t think that anyone on that forum did anything wrong, including the original poster. It really is a lovely, supportive forum full of women who love cycling.
I think the whole episode shows just how fragile many of us are about our cycling – and I include myself in that.
“I’m Not a ‘Real’ Racer
In 2018 I got really into racing my bike. I raced mostly criteriums and a few road races and found that I absolutely loved it. I felt completely out of place before my first race of the year, but I carried on, setting small goals throughout the season and making big improvements. I never once won a race, and I never thought I would, but I loved it.
Over the season I got to know quite a few of the other women racing. Without exception, they were lovely. Really supportive and passionate about getting more women to try racing.
Within myself, I came to feel more confident and less out of place on the start line. As long as I was on the bike I was focused and clear about why I was there. But a strange thing happened when I was off the bike, both before and after the race. I felt myself constantly sucking my belly in and trying to look thinner. I also found myself really wanting to tell people that I knew I was bit overweight for racing and that I was working on it.
The only person who ever made me feel like I was too heavy to race was me.
I remember coming away from a race really pleased because for the first time I had managed to stay with a bunch from start to (almost) finish. Alright so I got dropped on the sprint to the finish, but I knew that would happen and I knew that I needed to work on my ability to finish which was non-existent. Then I saw the photos of the event and suddenly I didn’t feel so good about what I had achieved – I felt fat.
This year has been a year out from racing for me as I get Active Cycle Coaching off the ground. I am already getting my training plans together and am looking forward to racing in 2020. Yet already my plans involve losing weight. This would be fine if my desire to lose weight was all about gaining a competitive edge. But I don’t think it is. I think it is about the need to feel that I ‘look the part’.
An Image Problem
So, where does this need to look the part come from?
It comes from the images we see around us. The images of ‘cyclists’ that we are presented with by the media and the internet. I do think that things are moving forward slowly but still, the images we are presented with of ‘cyclists’ are predominantly skinny, lycra-clad, on expensive bikes….and often male.
But I don’t think it’s fair to just blame the images we are presented with for our own insecurities as cyclists. I remember after one race saying to another woman who had raced that I could do with losing a stone. Her reply was ‘Couldn’t we all!’ yet she was one of the woman I felt ‘big’ in comparison to.
Yes, we need a change to the way ‘cyclists’ are presented, but we also need to work on our own resilience. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and remember why we get on our bikes.
How To Become A ‘Real’ Cyclist
It is easy to become a ‘real’ cyclist – you simply get on a bike and ride.
To me, it is also easy to become a ‘serious cyclist’ – you simply allow your love of cycling to become more central to your life. Being a serious cyclist just means you spend more of your life obsessing about cycling. It does not necessarily mean you are any better on a bike then anyone else.
Whatever stage you are at in your cycling, if you have ever considered doing something new, just take the plunge and do it. Do not look at the other people already doing whatever it is and compare yourself because, chances are you won’t think you look like then and this will put you off. Chances are you won’t think you look like them…even if you do.
You Are A ‘Real’ Cyclist
If you ride a bike then you are as real as anyone else who does!
It doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride or whether you ride five miles a week or five hundred miles a week, it doesn’t matter whether you love lycra or jeans, it doesn’t matter if you use clip pedals or trainers.
What matters is the joy you feel when you ride and the sense of achievement you get from whatever you choose to achieve.