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A ride of one’s own

21 May, 2013

Men are great at getting their girlfriends and wives into the saddle, but it often takes a women’s know-how to keep them there, finds Margot McGovern.


I have a lot of girlfriends that are going to get into riding. They’ve got the bike-nut boyfriend pushing them into it, they’ve bought the bike and they’ve even been for that first ride. But almost inevitably the bike soon finds its way to the back of the shed, the boyfriend is baffled and the girl returns to her gym.

On our third date, my partner presented me with a frankenbike of his own making and proceeded to lure me on ‘romantic’ 100km+ trundles with false promises of Berliner buns. Noble as his intentions were, I was more than a little overwhelmed and not sure whether this bike thing was really my gig. Joining his lycra-clad peloton was more intimidating still, seeming to me a competition of who was strongest, fastest and knew the most about bikes. I’d push myself and beat both the group’s intended average speed and my personal best, but still end up getting dropped and feeling humiliated.

Determined to feel I held some small scrap of competence, I asked my boyfriend to teach me the basics of bike maintenance. However, this largely involved me watching him fiddle with my bike while delivering an incomprehensible technical monologue, and to this day he’ll still occasionally take the Allen key out of my hand when he thinks I’m being too slow.

I was ready to retire Frankie to the shed, when, as a final attempt to Make an Effort, I joined the Radeladies Girls Bike Gang. I quickly learned that when it comes to bikes, rather than being ditsy slowpokes that can’t tell a tyre lever from a chain breaker, women think differently, learn differently and, more often than not, want different things out of our riding than men. That’s not to say that all of us would rather be cruising off-road paths on step-throughs. Many women want to tackle long, tough rides, but arrive at the necessary skills and confidence to do so via different means than men, and often feel more comfortable learning from other women.

When it comes to bikes, rather than being ditsy slowpokes that can’t tell a tyre lever from a chain breaker, women think differently, learn differently and, more often than not, want different things out of our riding than men.

Chelsea Austen started the Radeladies in October 2010 with the idea to “have fun, feel safe and experience the awesome freedom that access to a bike can give you, while gaining skills and confidence and breaking down whatever barriers are stopping women from riding”. The Adelaide group meets after work once a fortnight to explore new routes to the city’s best bars and cafes and to chat about their week of riding. According to Chelsea, “We’ve had girls turn up on cruisers, fixies, single-speeds, high-end road bikes and other custom pieces”. She also organises one-off themed and longer rides for women who want to try something different. But merely getting bums on saddles isn’t enough. Chelsea says she “wants the women not just to ride, but to be independent, capable riders,” and puts the tools back in women’s hands by running regular maintenance sessions.

Upon relocating from Adelaide to Melbourne and keen to experience life in lycra, I went for a test ride with the Liv/ Giant girls, who meet at Café Racer, St Kilda, every Saturday at 7:30am. Most of the group had been riding for a while, but many were new to road riding. The more experienced roadies taught the rest of us how to increase the group’s average speed by riding in a rolling pace line, and rather than zooming off at the first traffic light and doing the well-meaning but oh-so-patronising double back to get the stragglers, they took longer pulls at the front when the wind picked up and made sure no one fell off the back. I was initially a little intimidated by riding with such a strong group, but didn’t feel as though I was holding anyone back. In fact, by working together we overtook many of the male-dominated groups, and by the time we rolled back into St Kilda for a post-ride coffee, I felt ready to teach my partner a thing or two.

While I’m grateful to my boyfriend for introducing me to life on two wheels, I’m even more thankful to my girlfriends who taught me to love every ride.

Find out more about the Radeladies and  Liv/Giant rides, or to find another local girls-only group to suit your riding style and skill level, view our online article, ‘Join the Club’.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network Victoria. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

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