Tough & Tender 11: Lost in the Landscape



When I first began riding my bicycle again as an adult, I did as the mainstream cycling magazines directed. I emulated the well-marketed roadie image, bought a red and silver aluminum and carbon racing-style bike and sported garish printed jerseys and lycra.  The guy in the bike shop convinced me it was just what I needed.Over time, my fitness increased and I found myself pedaling further and further from home. After riding a few centuries, I discovered that touring cycling appealed to me, but doing it on a racing bike did not.
Aero positioning and narrow tires were unsuited for longer rides. I also decided I wanted more versatile, understated cycling clothing for all-day rides.

Disregarding cycling publications and bike shop advice, I turned to friends and other forums to guide my purchase of a reliable touring bike. I began wearing simpler tops and regular shorts over my lycra in an effort to wear clothing that allowed me to look somewhat like a regular person rather than a “real cyclist.” I preferred to dress in a way that worked not just on the bike, but made me less conspicuous when walking around.

Thanks to touring, a whole new world of bicycling opened to me, a world that embraced the independence and thrill of bike travel. However, the more I rode, the more I realized that most people haven’t discovered the divine pleasures of bike touring. The vast majority of people still use cars or other forms of transport. Touring cyclists are an anomaly in the U.S. And a female touring cyclist? Even more so.

In a way, I feel special because I’m doing something that lots of other people don’t. I travel thousands of miles each year under my own steam, unfettered by the trappings of a car. At the same time, I do not ride because I’m trying to stand out or do something unusual. I ride because it’s the best transportation method I know and I revel in exploration by bicycle.

While female touring cyclists are uncommon, we do exist. We also buy things. However, most people seem unaware of our presence, even those in the bike industry. When I open a cycling magazine or enter a bike shop, the female images I see (if any) are those of the supple racer or the perfectly groomed woman on a mixte. Where are the regular touring cyclists? We are invisible, lost somewhere in the landscape between the racers and cycle chic. Annoyed yet undeterred, I ride on, confident in my chosen path.

My bike is my lifeline to recreation, travel, and discovery. Without it, I’d be lost and unhappy. Some day, I hope the the bike industry realizes that women like me merit attention, too. Maybe then, we’ll truly be part of the cycling landscape.

By Mary Gersema, Washington, D.C., Age 39
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Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual LITERARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF THE BICYCLE because Women’s experience of cycling is not celebrated enough in bicycle communities. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female-bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different!
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5 comments

  1. Sounds like you went to the wrong shop and the wrong salesman! I woulda pointed you straight at a touring or ‘cross bike.

    But then again, I’m not your average bike salesman. I’m a rare breed.

    • Yes to both! Ah well, I’m on a good path now. Good to know there are some people out there who do a better job of getting new cyclists out on the road.


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