Guest Article: Where the Hell are all the Velominata Hiding?

Guest Article: Where the Hell are all the Velominata Hiding?

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It is October, the last VSP of the season is up, there is still some race in China no one cares about. The road racing season is over. It is time for a little Velominati reflection. We tried to put in as many women’s races into the VSP as we could. They get little press, finding a start list is tough, picking the top five even tougher. But the women are out there on the same courses as the men. They are riding shorter courses for a lot less money and publicity. Locally I see some serious women out riding and racing but not enough.  @mel sent this in a while ago but now is a good time to address it. She is a force of reason. Also this week we added an excellent link to our Keepers Sites, Winnipeg Cycle Chick and this chick is as messed up as the rest of us. Women with tan lines are the best.

VLVV, Gianni

I don’t see much in the way of Velominata-written content here on the site. And God knows it’s sometimes tough to tell a chick from a dude based on nicknames so maybe I’ve missed the chick-lit. In fact, I bet there’s a whole gaggle of broads out there that would fall off their pastel pink and blue girlie bikes if they knew what tomfoolery went on within the confines of this site (case in point, the June 3, 2012 article featuring the finer points of blowing snot rockets and horking lung butter). So here I am, wanting to say something earth shattering about broads and bikes but really, all I can come up with is: where the hell are all the Velominata?

It seems somewhat absurd that I’m writing an article ranting about the lack of Velominata to an audience that likely already includes a group of them. Sure, there’s loads of kick ass chicks out there that can lay down a strip of V on the pro race circuit but I’m not necessarily talking about those women (although secretly I wish I was one of them). I’m talking about the female equivalent to all the dudes out there that regularly read this site and who live and ride by The Rules. Yes, yes, I know that some of you do race. Whatever. But many of you don’t race and are still pretty damn bad ass in my book. Why can’t I find similarly bad-ass women to ride with?

I’m not saying I’m the fastest chick out there. And I’m definitely far from being the slowest. I love my beautiful, sexy bike. I love the history and culture of cycling. I love the nuances and etiquette of the peloton. I love that I understand and follow The Rules. So what the hell is up with the majority of women out there just not getting it? Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to prove to me that you’re an awesome hill climber or flat land specialist or that your 5 or 10-minute power output is similar to that of the Brothers Grimpeur. To be honest, I appreciate the quiet modesty of someone who is a damn fine cyclist looking for ways to get better and to share the love of the sport. I’m the first to admit that I’m no powerhouse. At 5 foot 6 and 145 pounds I weigh what a lot of the male pros weigh. Seems like a total rip off that my power to weight ratio sucks in comparison, but I got over that years ago. I still try to ride with the guys but I know that I’m always going to have to work relatively harder to keep up. Thus my desire to find a group of women that are willing to ride and carry on like all the fun-loving Velominati out there.

I’ve taken heat over the past few years for being a bit of a loud mouth and maybe even a bit of a bitch. In reality, all I’m trying to do is advocate that women get out there and freaking ride. I want women to love their bikes like I love mine. I want them to get excited over the fact that riding isn’t always fun and it isn’t always pretty but that it is always awesome. I want them to understand that not every ride is going to be a great ride but that even a bad ride is better than no ride. I want them to know that getting dropped isn’t the end of the world. I also want them to know that if you can’t ride like a bad ass, then do like me and at least look PRO.

Four years ago, in an attempt to find other like minded women, I formed a bike shop-affiliated women’s road group. Over the years, the membership grew to about 100 members. Pretty freaking impressive, right? But as with any club, there was a small group of members that rode regularly, a group of members that did nothing but complain and a group of members that made cameo appearances a la the Muppet Show on their once a month rides. After four years I couldn’t take it anymore and I walked away; which is a shame considering my goal all along was to get women to love cycling.

Seriously though, when did women become such…pussies?

I blame society to a large degree. No need for me to get into a sociological discussion on the environment in which we grow up in and how little girls are taught to be delicate and little boys are taught to be tough. I guess a lot of the anti-V female attitude starts pretty early on in life. Kind of easy to understand why a 50-year-old woman just getting into cycling opts for flat pedals and handlebar mirrors. Careful, you might fall off your freaking bike and break a freaking bone.

I also blame bike manufacturers and bike shops. There’s nothing remotely cool about pastel blue flowers on a triple-chain ringed road bike with crap components and a kickstand. Nor is there anything pro about a mint green sleeveless cycling jersey with no rear pockets and grinning kitty cats emblazoned on the chest, a flowery pink-visored helmet or the world’s biggest European Posterior (Wo)man Satchel. You won’t need to eat a fucking sandwich on the ride so no need to carry all the fixings along with you under the saddle. Is it possible that bike and cycling-specific clothing manufacturers are furthering the pussification of women?

Women need to understand that if they love their bike, they’ll likely love the sport. I admit, I’m a bit of a spoiled ponce and have always ridden pretty decent bikes. I have a number of bikes in my stable but by far, my favourite is my 2012 Specialized S-Works Venge. Like any good Velominata, I’ve made sure that the stem is slammed and that my saddle and bars are level. I like to think I look some kind of bad ass mofo when trying for the casually deliberate look at a stoplight or in front of the local café. If I can’t be the fastest, I can at least look damn good. Juxtapose that with a woman who has a 25 pound bike that rides like a school bus, bars that rest under her boobs and a saddle the size of a sofa. Sure it was a smokin’ deal at $850 but seriously, does she love riding it? Does she even enjoy riding it?

Some of you Velominati are to blame too. I’ll likely get shit on for saying this, but isn’t it often the spouse or boyfriend that buys their wife or girlfriend their first bike? How come I see dudes out there on hot looking, hugely expensive Italian bikes with all the bells and whistles laying down the V on all the other dudes in their club and then up rides wifey on some cheap-ass piece of shit? Try riding her crap bike and then you’ll get an idea about why she doesn’t want to ride any further than 30kms or along any routes that requires she turn left, turn right, ascend or descend anything steeper than her driveway.

As women, we do have to take a large part of the blame ourselves. Over the past 4 years, I led an average of 3 to 4 club rides a week. I have some great friends that I ride regularly with that I met through the club but there are also a handful of women out there that just plain don’t like me. Okay, so I can be a judgmental cynic at times, but I also like to think I’m a pretty likeable sort. It was the fact that I always attempted to keep the group in check that some of the women didn’t like. The rides were always too fast, too slow, too long, too short, too hilly, too flat. There was the social aspect: for example, Broad A wouldn’t ride next to Broad B so instead of closing up a gap in the paceline she would sit one bike-length away and sulk about not wanting to ride anywhere near “that damn bitch” (my words, not hers). There was also the emotional aspect: if someone showed up that couldn’t keep up it was like god damn high school all over again. I made it clear that the club did not have a no-drop policy and that while it was great to come out and work to keep up, you may sometimes have to ride home alone or with a friend. Dear god it was like I was a tube-top wearing pole-dancer in the Middle East. I’m pretty sure I felt stones being thrown at me on any ride after I made that announcement. For a lot of women, fitness and skill level on the bike are tied up in emotions. Come out once and get dropped and they never come back again. Compare that to my husband who once rode for six solid weeks with a group of guys that didn’t talk to him and dropped him on every ride. When I’d ask how his ride went he’d say “no one talked to me and I got dropped but I’ll go out with them again tomorrow”. Eventually they talked to him and he can now lay the hurt on any of those hairy-legged bastards, but still, he didn’t have a freaking mental breakdown.

And so, where do we go from here?

First I think that women need to Harden The Fuck Up and just say no to all the marketing, the bullshit, the crap bikes and the pissy attitude. Get outside and freaking ride.

Bike shop owners and manufacturers aren’t going to change anytime soon but if women stop buying their crap maybe they’ll stop selling and manufacturing it.

All you Velominati reading this need to help your wife or girlfriend understand just how awesome cycling can be. And yes, that may mean buying them a better-ass bike.

Finally, to all the Velominata out there: next time your friend shows up wearing a pink-visored helmet, mountain bike shoes, a cycling skirt and a sleeveless jersey: roll your eyes and snicker a bit and then take her out for an epic ride. If she sees you looking and acting all pro then maybe, just maybe, she’ll lose the visor and the damn skirt and lay the V on someone else once in a while.

// Guest Article

  1. Sorry to be an asshole, but as with Velominatus/Velominati, since Velominata is singular, shouldn’t the plural be Velominatae?

    (…)

    *Goes to bike shed to beat himself with a track pump*

  2. @Steampunk Sorry to have missed it.  The day Ryder rode to victory I was riding with no less than Steve Bauer, Gord Singleton et al in the Niagara Grand Fondo Pre ride (official ride Sept. ’13. Stay tuned) Must make my way to Krys’s to check it out. Btw, check ‘The Lion King’ Video at http://pedalmag.com/?p=174808

  3. You’ve got to be about the most bad-assed, blessedly foul-mouthed, coolest chick who ever threw her leg over a bike! If it wouldn’t amount to bigamy, I’d marry you after reading that. One of the coolest things I’ve ever read on this site. GO GIRL!!

  4. @freddy

    Awesome read. This article inspired me to finally register after lurking for a a bit. I have two daughters with V potential. They need a model like Mel. My wife is a lost cause: she will only ride her heavy Dutch town bike in perfect conditions sans perspiration.

    My mother used to ride to and from the grocery store with me on the top tube, my sister on the handlebars, my brother on the back, a bag of groceries hanging over the handlebars, and an umbrella in hand.

    The guy who makes the symbol packs has a young daughter – 10 years old, I think – who just did her first 130km ride. Awesome, though I have no photos to evaluate Rule Compliance and I did suggest to her dad that he might have the Rule #5 Talk with her given she stopped short of the 160km Imperial Century mark.

  5. Speaking of badass chicks and no being bothered by conventional boundaries, from today’s New York Times:

    For reference:

  6. @frank

    It’s been done… My friend Rachel pointed out an Italian woman who entered the Giro in 1924 and raced the guys…

    Alfonsina Strada.

  7. @brett

    How fucking cool is that? And what a surname to successfully live up to.

  8. My mom regularly served us double portions of The V for dinner, so I had tough standards to live up to. The V is best served with a side of evil grinning:

    Climbing up a 6% grade in the drops? Check.

    Flying solo for 180km in rain and hail? Check.

    We have one rule in the house: She always gets a bike equal, or better, than the males of the house. m+1, we call it.

    She mostly trains alone against the tough desert winds, but when she joins a peloton, it’s a men’s hammerfest. Last weekend, she rode 477km in one go, crossing the country in 20 hours.

    There aren’t many Velominata around here, but the ones you find are twice as bad-ass to make up for it.

    Cycling it behind the times when it comes to Pro Women’s. I know you guys look down at triathletes, but at least the women there race exactly the same courses, same distances, and get exactly the same prize-money. In draft-illegal racing, the women start with the men, and yes, “chick” them. Sponsorship-wise, women are well-off there too – they get as much coverage as the mens, the sponsors equip them with the best parts (Caroline Steffen raced Cervelo’s P5 when Garmin-Sharp still had riders on P4s!) and lets face it, a fit, sexy woman in lycra will make a better advertisement than a lanky Italian who cooks a pair of shoes.

    The fact that women race only ~60% of the men’s distance in pro cycling is a farce – should the Olympics including a “Women’s Marathon” that’s only 30km long? So why were the women’s TT, road-race and team pursuit shorter than the men’s events?

  9. @tessar Awesome post, would read again.

  10. @tessar

    A+1 to your mum.

  11. @Sauterelle

          I understand your point with the colors, so did you threaten Trek when they decided on some of their colors for their 2013 WSD’s? Yes, they have a pastel blue, but it is also countered with a chili-pepper red bike and a deep eggplant purple bike. Hopefully, they are learning along with making some awesome improvements on their frames.
     
    @Mel
     
          Thanks for such a great article. I have been road riding for less than a year, only since April 2012. I cannot “chick” a guy, I cannot yet do 100k, but I am getting stronger and I am out riding when I can to suffer and put my V into it every ride. I am not the perfect example of The Rules, though I am working on it. Your article did not scare me off, in fact it encouraged me to peep out from the tall grass to make myself seen(I have been lurking for quite some time and love both the articles and the posts here.). I ride with a team of over 200 and many are VMH’s who can keep up with the guys on any day. One day, maybe I will consider myself a VMH, but that might be a while in getting here. I don’t have a carbon fiber, I have a Fuji that I love and it makes me feel like I am flying. When I save enough money, I’ll start researching in earnest for a better steed, but until then, I am in love with just flying down the road and feeling completely free. 
     
            I try to keep Rule V in mind each time I ride. I don’t care about getting dropped, or about the fall (I’ve had 2 this year). However, I have been known to leave The V to another day in order to stay with another woman whose legs were cramping and there was no one else around to stay and ride with her for the 17 miles that we rode together. I could not have lived with myself if something had happened to her and I had ridden off to lay down The V for my own purposes. I have also been known to ride with a friend for a “happy little spin” and not worry about laying down The V as she has a hole in her heart (her blood runs backwards into her heart on hills, if you can imagine that!), yet she is out there riding whenever she can. She is an embodiment to Rule V to me.
     
    There are days for The V and days to be a better person. I will never be sorry for encouraging someone to get out and ride, no matter their skill. I am proud to say that I love the bike and the ride with passion. Many thanks to my man for encouraging me in this new venture this year. His bikes are nicer than mine and btw, I bought both of my own bikes, he didn’t. ;o)
  12. It’s a shock to me that women don’t rally to your side.  Why don’t u just challenge them to a fist fight?

  13. Just to maintain that this question of women in road cycling goes deeper than the colors of frames and clothes:  I can understand that pink paint on a shitty bike is an insult, but let’s not fall off the drivetrain side of the bike and assume that only butch/Rapha/whatever colors are legit for a velominata. That would be a bit superficial, wouldn’t it?

  14. OMG @Mel where were you when i was living in Canada!

    I now live in Sydney and love the rules.  I also hate all the ‘women’s specific’ stuff.  especially one city bike shop that has a separate women’s shop next door.  every time i walk in to get something i’m re-directed to there the girls belong.  I hate it. (but sometimes is the only place open).

    I’m a track rider, but can hold my own on the road, just ask the guys on from the sydney cogal.  it was such a good day!

    if you ever come down under i’ll totally go for a ride, and bring along a few other totally rad chicks!

  15. @RuleVGears A local Quintana Roo dealer told me that his top-flight frame, the CD.01, comes in black with either pink (WSD) or green (Men’s) accents. Interestingly enough, he said, all three pink-framed bikes he got were sold to men, while the women refused to consider these and went for the greens. One man was so disappointed the pink-accented were out of stock that he bought a different model altogether.

    Going out for an easy spin with “lesser” riders or knowing when to put your own goals aside to help out a friend (or even a complete stranger) is something we should all do. It takes a lot of self-security to drop out of the group when you could’ve kept going, not minding that the others think they “dropped” you. We’re not professionals, we don’t earn our living doing group-rides nor will it change anything if we go a little slower once in a while to enjoy the company of others. What we lose in training efficiency we gain back in friendships and experiences.

  16. @PeakInTwoYears

         Totally agree with you. I have no problems with any colors as long as the frame and components are good quality. I fact, I like being feminine when I ride, I don’t have to go back to my young tomboy days. I have learned about myself, as I have wizened with years, that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone and can therefore revel in my femininity as well as throw down some of The V. 

    @tessar

       I have seen some gorgeous bikes lately with pink accents and honestly, my favorite color is a deep teal that has a pearlescent look to capture the sun as it flies down the road.  As for the slower rides to help others, those rides sometimes give me the greatest feeling of having done something the assist the greater good. 

  17. @ Mel…Nice!

    All I have to say to women who want to be taken seriously and who want to improve is…Rule #5 and Stop complaining! Just join the store/club rides. Ride with men! It’s ok!  Like any new member of a group – try to fit in. Ok, you don’t have to blow snot rockets …but don’t complain….just work hard, listen, observe, learn.

    It’s true, women are not taken very seriously at times. However, the drama some women create makes it more difficult for those of us who want to ride with the “big boys”/”the fast group” (whatever your serious group is jokingly referred to). The politics you described in your article would drive me crazy – I wouldn’t want to ride with that either! There is no time for that and it’s dangerous!  Clearly, they weren’t working hard enough!

    True, it is a problem finding  many other like-minded women cyclists.  We’re a bit of a rare ‘bird’. Often, misunderstood by our own gender – “you mean you have more than one bike?,  “you keep the bikes in the living room – what do you do when you have guests?”, ” why do you ride your bicycle so much?” .  Even amongst women who cycle, we often stand alone – “They just don’t get us”.

    I’ve given up going out of my way to find other women to ride with! It kinda works out anyway. I found that women who enjoy working hard, enjoy the group antics, who “get it” …eventually meet others (male/female) who do as well.  And isn’t that what makes those group rides even more enjoyable…the camaraderie?

    One more thing that really hit home with me in reading your article and through my experience in riding is  – “the quiet modesty of someone who is a damn fine cyclist” – So true!

    Thanks for the “rant” Mel.

    A

  18. @tessar

    So awesome. SO awesome. With one minor bit of pedantry:

    We have one rule in the house: She always gets a bike equal, or better, than the males of the house. m+1, we call it.

    Obviously this should be n ≥ m where m is the number and value of bikes owned by the highest ranked male in the house. 

    We use the same policy in our house; the VMH’s bikes are all nicer than mine. 

  19. I am a velominata but I’ve never done a race.  I’m 53 (5″4″, 140 lbs)  and have been cycling since I was 12.  That’s ummm..41 years.  Distance when I was young was 8 miles to school and back.  Distance after my 1st marriage breakup, A 500 mile solo tour.    Distance during 2nd marriage, 25 mile commutes to work and 25 miles home,  3-4 x a week. after 2nd marriage breakup… another solo tour…1000 miles.  8 days, 2 passes, one full day of rain.  If anything happens to my 3rd marriage I’m heading to Europe to cycle from Sweden to Italy.  A dream… the cycling, not the marriage ending!    But for now…  I simply cycle to and from work, uphill both ways, 12% grade on one side, 8% on the other with a little flat relief at the bottom.

    I have never known, over those 41 years, any other female cyclist that I could ride with.  Cycling groups were all men.  I don’t know about now.  I haven’t gone looking because  I don’t need a group to motivate me to ride anyway.

    While I do have a cannondale tucked away, I commute with a mountain bike, pulling a trailer with my medium sized dog in it (40 lb dog) who I take to work.  She runs the last 5 km on the last hill.  She comes to work with me because I run at noon and she is my scout, my spotter, for bears that roam in the area.  I do break the V-rules.  But despite the saddlebags, the trailer, the dog,… I continue to strive for a personal best every time I ride.

    Love the article!

  20. @Velominata

    I am a Velominata but I’ve never done a race. I’m 53 (5″4″, 140 lbs) and have been cycling since I was 12. That’s ummm..41 years. Distance when I was young was 8 miles to school and back. Distance after my 1st marriage breakup, A 500 mile solo tour. Distance during 2nd marriage, 25 mile commutes to work and 25 miles home, 3-4 x a week. after 2nd marriage breakup… another solo tour…1000 miles. 8 days, 2 passes, one full day of rain. If anything happens to my 3rd marriage I’m heading to Europe to cycle from Sweden to Italy. A dream… the cycling, not the marriage ending! But for now… I simply cycle to and from work, uphill both ways, 12% grade on one side, 8% on the other with a little flat relief at the bottom.

    I have never known, over those 41 years, any other female cyclist that I could ride with. Cycling groups were all men. I don’t know about now. I haven’t gone looking because I don’t need a group to motivate me to ride anyway.

    While I do have a cannondale tucked away, I commute with a mountain bike, pulling a trailer with my medium sized dog in it (40 lb dog) who I take to work. She runs the last 5 km on the last hill. She comes to work with me because I run at noon and she is my scout, my spotter, for bears that roam in the area. I do break The V-rules. But despite the saddlebags, the trailer, the dog,… I continue to strive for a personal best every time I ride.

    Love the article!

    You did write “my spotter, for bears that roam in the area” just there didn’t you?

  21. @Velominata

    @the Engine

    And when the pooch spots a bear, I am guessing you then give chase to it?

  22. One of my favourite (yes, Canadian spelling) articles. I see quite a few hard-ass female riders in my club here in Vancouver, but lacking in the top-end and middle ranges. Meaning, there are the racers, the A group so to speak. They are tough as nails. Then in the B group, last year we had exactly one woman with us the whole season. She had only been riding a year, had a heavy steel bike, but could kick ass. (She was a former high-level runner)

    In the fall, again, just one woman riding with us, a former rugby player, stuck very nicely with our group on 100K+ rides.

    We see some women joining the C group, but few stay on for the long term.

    I think that the best bet is to attract women who are already active in other sports such as rugby, soccer, rowing or other outdoor sports. They are not afraid to sweat, get dirty and hurt.

    The question is, who caters to the women who do get involved? In the Whistler GranFondo, there were about 900 women out of 3,500 participants. (There were more men in the 50-59 AG then women total. ) I helped coach a clinic for the Fondo that had a range of women and abilities, all of them completed the Fondo. Yet, I don’t see an uptick in any of the clubs absorbing these women?

  23. wow, a still active post. excellent (when searching still only find about 2-3 pieces on the site featuring “velominita”) have just been getting back into riding solo on roads for longer rides. V.much thanks to a cycle buddy, Steve (story here).
    Feeling pretty chuffed as well to be skilling up, like  changing the tyres sans levers, including fixing stems and patching tubes. Learning how to clean the bike well and quickly after UK muck roads, bring it in to the home. Training wise, prepping for a sportive, maybe a race anon.  Delighted by the gear tech discussions like bibs or not – for gals winter riding for example. just a joy to cycle rather than commute. when i ride in the winter rain, i imagine i am building my  belgian hard man points – but a woman. you know? finding joy in exploring body position for hill technique. this is quite the something something, isn’t it? thanks for the post and discussion -mc

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