Monday, 6 April 2009

Not many girls on bikes

I wasn't going to blog today. I'm supposed to be getting down to other urgent tasks.

(I wonder why “getting down to” something which implies a solid serious job but “getting up to” something is always mischievous, intruiging and spiced with naughtiness?)

Anyway, a Guardian writer (who has clearly never cycled in traffic and may never have even been on a bike) is asking why there aren't more women cyclists, so naturally there are points which must be made.

According to Sustrans (the charity in charge of the national cycleways network), 79% of British women don't cycle at all even though 43% of them have access to a bike.

I suspected the Grauniad was only highlighting the issue because A Celeb has been spotted wobbling about on a bike and sure enough, there was a pic of Duffy, the Welsh songstress pedalling an outsize version of a three-year-old's pink bike in Los Angeles.

She hasn't got a helmet on, which isn't much of an example, but she looks as though she's not going to ride at more than 4mph so we'll forgive her this time, especially as she is Welsh (positive racism, like) and because I'm kind of addicted to her track “Mercy.”

Why women don't ride bikes?

1 They are scared. They never got to grips with the dazzling-white two-wheeled thing with a bell in the shape of a pretty flower and daddy point-blank refused to put the stabilisers back on. So they wait a while until they meet a boy with a car... Apologies if that sounded a tad crabby but my parents never did buy me a new bike. I don't like it rankle.

2 You can't be dignified on a bicycle.

3 Cycling messes up your hair.

4 You can't carry much shopping. (Hmm. This should have been number 1)

5 Punctures.

Those reasons are good reasons but they are all reasons which, with a bit of practice and taking oneself a little less seriously, can be overcome.

More women should cycle.

It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

It energises you from head to toe and you rediscover the hidden child in you. The thrill of speeding downhill and zooming around corners. On a good day, with the wind behind you and the sun on your arms and your gears in tip-top condition, you feel like you're flying.

It gets you fit without too much effort and keeps you fit if you keep doing it.

It will lift your mood, flooding your brain with fabulous endorphins.

It might get you closer to nature. If you pedal quietly through silent forests you will see deer and birds and you can justifiably collapse into the long grass and lie in the sun for a while listening to bees.

It's rewarding, getting places without using any fuel other than that sticky jam doughnut you scoffed at your friend's house.

It's perfect for thinking and if you're distraught, you can cycle and sob and no-one will know because the wind takes away your tears.

I'll be the first to admit you can't cycle and be dignified. The very instant you attempt it, fate will bite you on the bum. Your gears will start jumping or the chain will come off or you'll get a puncture and need to remove a grubby wheel with delicate painted fingernails.

Attempting dignity is fraught with hazards in the same way as attempting to be cool. That cute little bunny hop up on to the kerb will have you splatting face first into the pavement. That stylish speeding cornering on damp grass will result in you sliding indelicately into the pub car park watching by curious al fresco diners. People generally feel cyclists are impervious to pain. Those guys in the Tour are always bleeding and getting back on their bikes, after all.

And the hair thing. Well, that's non-negotiable. Hair is very important for women. If it doesn't look right, one feels self-conscious all day – and that's no way to live life. It's one of the reasons I can't ride my bike to work when it's raining. There's no rest room where I can sort the hair out. I usually straighten it into total submission but when it's raining or the air is damp it gets its own back and goes all Kelly McGillis.

Punctures. Yes, well. They happen but we've all got mobile phones and if you really can't ruin your nails because it's two hours before the night out, call a bloke with a car. Any bloke will do. A chivalrous male cyclist might even come along and mend it for you. Or maybe I just got lucky.

The author of the Guardian article talked of the unattractiveness of wearing cycling kit that looks like you've been attacked with a highlighter gun. I'd wager she has never ridden in traffic. Until last summer I too swore I'd never be seen dead in dayglo. But in morning and evening rush-hour traffic, there is nothing better for being seen. So I embraced yellow day-glo and found that it is good. (It's also nicely fitting and nipped in at the waist)

It's probably possible to be girly and imaginative and wear violently psychedelic day-glo with flowers in your helmet. Vivienne Westwood would be up to the challenge just so long as she remembers it's impossible to pedal in a pencil skirt.

Topshop are bringing out a womens' cycling range, apparently. Not sure I like the sound of the Topshop range, although, naturally, one will cast an eye over it. There is talk of them selling retro-style cycling caps.

Hmm. Prefer a helmet myself. I doubt a cycling cap would save a fractured skull if you go over the handlebars - not that that happens very often, girls.

A few sensible precautions like taking care to avoid hidden tree stumps in tussocky grass on the flat and large tree roots on the gnarly downhills and you'll never know what it feels like to see stars just like they do in cartoons.


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