Image courtesy of Flare

I fear I have committed a crime against women’s cycling. This weekend I had the choice of riding with a group of women or a group of men. And I chose the latter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love riding with other women. But every so often it’s nice to experience a different dynamic.  And I’ll make a confession here: for me, riding with men takes the pressure off.

Perhaps the ultimate example of this was last year’s ‘just casually riding up Box Hill with Team Sky’s Ben Swift’ moment (or ten minutes, to be more precise). I was interviewing Ben as part of a sportive launch, and the press officer thought it might be fun to do it on Box Hill.

Despite being beyond intimidated, it turned out that riding with an Olympian on his day off is surprisingly relaxing. There’s no way I could get near his usual pace of course – so no need to try – and we just sauntered up the hill, chatting (to be honest I could have gone faster, but I didn’t want it to end).

I’m only too aware of my weaknesses - which start with what goes on in my head

My mountain bike ride this weekend - and choice of companions - was a slightly more chaotic affair. This is my own fault because by the time I had seen to the needs of my three children I was already late when I set off to meet the new women-only ride I had intended to join. 

To be honest, I also wasn’t quite sure how I felt about mountain biking with a group of women I’d never met before. I’m an experienced rider, but I’m only too aware of my weaknesses - which start with what goes on in my head.

What if they were all better than me? How embarrassing if I had to walk down stuff that the other women were taking in style, or if I had to push my fantastically capable bike over a log that the others had hopped, and how humiliating if I ended up being The One At The Back!*. As a result the ‘crashingly low self-esteem’ part of me hoped I wouldn’t actually find them.

I rode the rest of the trail happily tucked in behind, and not for one minute feeling embarrassed to be The One At The Back

Anyway, I was having a lovely time swishing down one of the more popular trails on my own (no chance of being left behind!) when a group of riders caught me up. I moved over to let them pass (high five to my crashingly low self-esteem again!), but they stopped.

Turned out it was a group of local guys that I know, including one who is widely regarded as the Godfather of local mountain biking, revered not just for his prowess on the trails but also for introducing half the local population to the joys of riding. 

After a bit of jolly banter (too risqué for here!) he suggested I join them, and I rode the rest of the trail happily tucked in behind, and not for one minute feeling embarrassed to be The One At The Back. I soothed my ego by reassuring myself that as men, they’re both heavier and more powerful than me so just keeping up was good enough. You can’t argue with velocity!!

There was another group of riders at the bottom of the trail and - surprise, surprise - it was the women I was supposed to be riding with.

 ‘It’s the women’s ride: I was looking for you!’ I exclaimed, while exiting the trail in a full-on shred and behind five men.

The women looked justifiably confused.

Turns out they’d now finished their ride and were heading off for coffee. So, pressure off, I joined them for that bit. I’m really good at drinking coffee: I hope they were suitably impressed.

 

*Note to people who ride at the back and couldn’t care less….you’re made of stronger stuff than me, and I salute you for it!