19 July 2013

Sister Cycle: Pedalling against the Patriarchy

Rapha womens 100
Sunday 7 July was the Rapha Women's 100, a global event where the cycle company Rapha encouraged women all over the world to ride 100km on the same day. Working as I do in an organisation with many fabulous feminists, we decided we could take this one step further and make this not only a women's ride, but a feminist ride.

We didn't have as much time to plan as we would have liked but we managed to plot a route taking in a few of sites of feminist significance, starting and finishing in Cambridge--where the first women's college in the UK was founded. It felt approrpiate to do a feminist ride given the historical connections between cycling and women's liberation.

On Sunday morning, I cycled to King's Cross Station with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. I've only very rarely cycled a long distance without Alberto there to sort out mechanicals (and just generally be nice company of course!), and I haven't spent much time on the road bike this year so I wasn't sure how fit I really was. But I'd also literally never ridden a route without a man along for the ride and the idea of spending the day with only women was exciting. The forecast was for hot weather, sunny skies, and calm winds -- so we really couldnt complain. It was going to be a great day.

Four wonderful women--me, Emma, Rachael, and Kate--set out to takle the route in the 27 C (80 F) heat. Our route took us south out of Cambridge, first on the traffic-free cycle route for the first few kms, and then onto quieter roads. We all had a lot of enthusiasm early in the day, and the temperatures weren't quite so high, so before we knew it we were riding through Great Chesterford, where apparently the feminist icon Germaine Greer lives (we didn't check her address!).

We carred on South and the terrain got a bit hillier as we headed into Saffron Walden. On the approach to Saffron Walden we rode on our only really busy stretch of road of the ride, a B road combined with an uphill is really never a good plan. But we made it through and soon we were out the other side and onto quiet country lanes. By the time we arrived in Great Easton we were all ready for a break.

Enjoying the shade in Great Easton
Great Easton was home to Hannah Woolley, a woman writer in the 1600s who is believed to be the first woman to have earned a living by writing books (even if they were about household management!). On the approach to the town we found a pub with an inviting, shady beer garden and promptly stopped to have a soft drink and a small snack, reapply sunscreen, refill our bottles and recharge our bodies. We were 50km into the ride, and would now turn north to head back up to Cambridge.

Attacking the hills
Leaving Great Easton we had some more lovely country lanes back to Saffron Walden (some of which were retracing our steps from the way out) and, after Saffron Walden we passed our final feminist landmark, Audley End, an English Heritage site where Henrietta Howard omce lived. She was a mistress of King George II but also a feminist ahwad of her time, leaving an abusive husband, writing about women's equality, and eventually becoming self-sufficient and not needing a man's support at all after the King and her called it quits.

A quick break at Audley End
After Audley End came the only categorised climb of the day (as they would say in the Tour de France commentating), but it really wasn't too bad. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. We finally decided to stop for lunch shortly afterwards, at a random pub we passed with about 15km to go from Cambridge. We sat in the beer garden, ate a pub lunch, and caught up with the Wimbledon final. Then it was time to get  back out on the road for a leisurely ride to the finish.

Taking in the view
Riding with women was really a different experience. I've never not enjoyed riding with men, but there's something different about being on the road with just women. We had a great time--I don't think I've ever laughed so much on a bike ride before! I'm so glad we got a chance to participate in the Womens 100, but I hope it's not another whole year before I ride with women again!

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