A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.
The picture above, taken at our chic and sophisticated Christmas 'party' midway through December, is a prime example.
Yes, the sun is shining. Yes, we're smiling. But good golly how things have changed from our cosy gathering at the King's Arms a year earlier.
We're all a safe 2m apart. We're standing outside in 7c, manning up so that we can at least have some kind of gathering. Face masks have been tentatively removed for the camera (and mulled wine). Nobody is on holiday. Andrew has made his first physical appearance since the summer. And Fran has resorted to the monkey hat and Liz to the 2013-vintage fox ears. It's come to that.
But despite all the well-documented global suffering in physical and mental health, crushed careers and personal finances, bankrupt companies and desolate industries, and heroically broken key workers, we have seen - and we say this delicately - some positives.
Whilst it's felt awkward to mention to a non-cyclist... whisper it... cycling has thrived.
People have taken to their bikes in unprecedented numbers. No industry has been unaffected one way or anther, but we happen to have been lucky enough to end up on the right side of the equation so far. The biggest problem has been getting hold of enough stock.
So, as we look back on a shocker of a year across the world, here are 7 crumbs of comfort we've seen through a VeloVixen lens:
1. Women are getting on their bikes
Figures from Strava that emerged late in the year confirmed that women have led the boom in fitness that prompted by the pandemic.
Whether through practical necessity, a sense of doing something constructive, or through a basic human need to be outside and feel a sense of freedom, the ladies have left the gents for dust in terms of uptake in cycling. We salute you all!
Our recent video says it all:
2. Our community has boomed
When we launched our Women's Cycling Chat Group on Facebook a couple of years ago on a bit of a whim, we never imagined just how it would take off.
This year has seen it double in size to almost 10,000 members, with Jeni now administering it deftly, ably assisted by our brilliant group ambassadors.
The levels of commitment from you amazing members are eye-watering - at the risk of boring you with data, the membership has created more than a million - yes, that's one million - posts, comments and reactions this year alone.
The group has helped people to support one another through some of life's biggest challenges - unassailable uphill climbs, both literal and metaphorical. It's helped inspire a true passion for cycling in thousands of newcomers.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of such a warm, welcoming, engaging, knowledgeable and fun community. It's been an extraordinary year.
3. VeloVixen the Brand is born
2020 marked the launch of our first full collections of VeloVixen kit.
Would the textbooks suggest that the first few weeks of a global pandemic are the ideal time to launch a début range? Ahem... perhaps not. We were just a tad concerned back in April!
To judge by the speed with which they were snapped up by our customers, however, it seems we may have got something right.
Bright without being garish, flattering without being overly 'girly', and technically accomplished, they've been a huge hit. It's been such a joy to see people revel in being VeloVixens. Watch this space for the 2021 ranges to come...!
4. Things have accelerated
Early in 2020 - whilst words like 'lockdown' and 'unprecedented' were still pretty fresh - like any small business, we wrote a business plan.
It suggested that over the next 5-10 years we would see huge, inevitable trends in how we live:
- Cycling would increasingly become normalised as a way to get around and exercise;
- Environmental consciousness would grow exponentially;
- The argument for cheap, sustainable, individual ways to get around would be unavoidable;
- Urban infrastructure would change to allow for more walking and cycling;
- Mental health and headspace would be ever more intertwined with physical exercise;
- Government would become unavoidably more committed to 'active transport';
- E-bikes would proliferate;
- Women would be at the heart of it.
Not that we could ever have known about the effects of Covid. And not that everything has come to pass. But wow... basically 10 years has happened within 12 months.
And if you love cycling, much of that is very good news.
5. We've grown
Eleanor, Iona, Fran, Liz and Mandy
During the course of 2020, we've been expanding the VeloVixen family.
For the longest time, Fran and Liz did the lion's share of the day-to-day work around here. Today, if you came to visit, you might find 5 or even 6 of us beavering away - fewer, perhaps, than many people imagine, but as many as we can safely fit in our building and a significant step forward for us.
Thanks to the hard work of new VeloVixens Eleanor, Madi, Iona and Mandy, things are more efficient and professional than ever. We're proud to have been able to keep everyone's jobs safe and create a few more.
6. We've developed
It's often been a little bit stressful during the course of our busiest ever year, but as we reach the end of a frenetic year we now have in place:
- A much-improved website that we launched in January;
- A completely new order processing system that went live in the summer
- And a totally overhauled email structure that we moved to more recently.
You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, they say, and we're very conscious that our service occasionally dipped below what we'd like at times whilst we bedded in all this new technology. We sincerely apologise if you suffered as a result at any stage this year.
At the end of it all, we believe the VV machine is far more robust and an altogether better experience for customers who want to get more out of their cycling.
7. Indoor cycling has come of age
A year ago, if you weren't one of them you could have been forgiven for thinking that indoor cyclists were a particular sort. Terms like 'pain cave', 'FTP' and 'Sufferfest' were often the preserve of gluttons for punishment.
No longer. With the inexorable rise of the likes of Peloton, Zwift and other huge hubs, indoor cycling has come to the rescue of millions around the world. Even in the absence of mass spin classes, it's been possible to retain your cycling fitness and mental stability in whatever style you choose.
There's now kit devoted to it, and huge forums online to compare notes and performances. Heck, it's become such a life-saver for so many of our community that the indoor cycling splinter faction within our chat group - Virtual Vixens - is thriving, with regular group rides providing a balm for dozens of VeloVixens out there.
* * *
So it's been a year and then some. We are still standing uncertainly out in the car park for our Christmas parties, both literally and metaphorically.
Normality - whatever that ends up being - feels like it's still a long way off. But if you're a cyclist, there are positives. Somehow we all have to hang onto them for the next few months - or however long it takes.
Let me take this chance to thank all our wonderful customers, our chat group members, team, suppliers, friends and VeloVixen family for your support throughout this year - both for us and for one another. You are everything to us.
We have a long way still to go to ensure that we are offering something to enhance the life of all women, no matter what age, size, creed, colour, background or cycling style. We have big plans for 2021.
Never has riding a bike felt so vital.
A happy, healthy and positive New Year to everyone.
Phil - VeloVixen Founder/CEO