Just as the train was about to pull away, I saw them. Multi-colored bikes and bits of gear pieced together with whatever was most comfortable and warm. A bright red jacket, a shiny white bike, and the blue/green flash of Embrocation. Their heads turned inwards, I imagined their casual banter as they slid smoothly west. I watched them intensely for a good five seconds before they vanished from view, and for three of those seconds, I wished I was riding with them.
…But not really.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have the ability to make riding look as easy as those guys do. But a voice in my head has been resisting the more-constant-than-not desire to run with the boys [and sort of be one]. Not because I prefer the kind of gender isolation that gives birth to the literary cycling equivalent of the Vagina Monologues that I’m starting to get kind of good at, but because of something much more basic. I have a girl crush.
Unconsciously trained – like most women – to judge beauty in both men and women from an early age, the girl crush isn’t a phenomenon confined to yours truly. But it is – no matter the sexual orientation of the crusher – one of the highest accolades available in the convoluted dynamics of female to female relationships. So while I have been frugal in my obsessions, regardless of my dating status, the girl crush has persisted – the crushees in my lifetime thus far ranging from Brody Dalle to Twiggy to Koyuki.
You probably expect me to say that this time, it’s Victoria Pendleton or Liz Hatch or any of the other usual suspects of [cycling] sexy. In a way, I wish it was; that way I could spew out a few details about their lives, their racing history, link a few pictures and call it a day. It’s never that easy, though, right? And because I apparently like my life complicated, I have to disclose – in all honesty – that it was just a picture.
Team kit that perfectly matched her bike and a long, blonde ponytail, it was a fairly ordinary picture of a non-pro bent over in the drops, mid-pedalstroke. The ubiquitous profile shot combined with sunglasses meant you could hardly see her face, just a small, pointy nose. Yet somehow, there was something there that clicked neatly, like that feeling of “ahhhh” the first time you manage to clip in without looking down at your pedals. And an unfamiliar thought arose: maybe being a girl, or rather, riding as one, isn’t so bad after all.
This belated realization is, for me, simultaneously weird and comforting. Women’s cycling tends to get not so much glossed over as completely ignored, which makes it that much harder to really look up to. It seemed normal that I could stalk Lance, Alberto, Jens, Andy, and Frank for hours and never turn my eye onto members of my own gender who were making it on two wheels. Perhaps not on the guys’ terms, but they didn’t need to; they were making it on their own. And that wasn’t a concession to a weakness, but the definition of genuinely cool.
To be honest, I think that’s exactly what scared me. Being familiar with the high standards that girls hold each other to, I found shelter in voluntary ignorance of women’s cycling. But just as I was about to sigh in resignation at not being with that pack of male cyclists, that picture of the Unidentified Female Cyclist blinked through my mind. And I stopped. Because, while the guys are great, the women are just as cool.
Sure, earning the latter’s respect is a lot harder; you don’t have permission to be weaker. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it would but a lot more rewarding, too.