Ladies Leading Double Lives: Sport vs Transport

Just as I have been experimenting with road cycling in parallel to using my bicycle for transportation, so have several other ladies with prominent bicycle blogs. 

[image via Simply Bike]

S. from Simply Bike normally looks like this when she cycles.  But above she is pictures riding across Iowa while taking part in RAGBRAI.  This was her first time on a roadbike! 

Adrienne Johnson of Velo Vogue dons bike shorts and a (surprisingly attractive) jersey as she cycles in the Marin Century.

[image via Meligrosa]

And here is Meligrosa, of Change Your Life Ride a Bike, who does not allow a mere 100 miles get between her and her Style (yes, with a  capital S!). 

[image via Suburban Bike Mama]

One of my favourite sporty cycling pictures is this one of Vee from Suburban Bike Mama, who normally rides a cargo trike, completing a triathlon last summer. 

[image via Chic Cyclist]

Of course the queen of the velo double life is Charlotte, of Chic Cyclists - who is as comfortable cycling to work on her upright city bicycle, as she is touring around France on her roadbike. Sigrid of My Hyggelig similarly alternates between her Pashley Princess and her Trek roadbike. And Justine,  of Midlife Cycling, cruises around New York City on her mixte and takes regular roadtrips to neighboring states. 

Over the past year I have noticed an increasing number of women who, after growing comfortable riding an upright bicycle for transportation, have begun to venture into sportier cycling, including club rides and touring. Being in this category myself, I have wondered whether this is a natural progression that will "stick," or whether it's the novelty of the bicycle that compels us to seek out different ways of using it in our lives. And if the latter, will we tire of it once the novelty wears off?  I also find it ironic that, after having cited "seeing roadies wearing special clothing" as a major reason why we were turned off from cycling in our pre-bike days,  many of us are now inching into that category ourselves. Not ironic as in "bad" or that I am critical of it, but ironic as in "something to think about". 

I am still not sure what I think about it myself. I have been spending a lot of time on my roadbikes (yes, plural now!) this summer, but I am conflicted in my attitude about this type of cycling. Since the start of summer, I have been flirting with the idea of joining some women's training rides that are offered to the public by a local cycling team. Given their criteria for minimum speed and skill level, I qualify. I have thought about it countless time, but have not joined - and the summer is nearly over. Maybe it's my general dislike of teams, authority, and group activities, or maybe I just don't want to admit that I am now that kind of cyclist. But am I? Maybe I should give it some time and see if it "sticks". 


  1. It is amusing that this seems to be a phenomenon of sorts. I was looking at this ride recently ( and then I thought, "Who am I?" I think I've come to terms with my interest in many forms of cycling. Part of me even wants to take up mountain biking with hubby at some point. My biggest fear there is living in (well, near) the Rockies (which is where we'd ride), I'm severely afraid of all the giant boulders. But, if I'm overcoming other obstacles (like drop bars), perhaps I can see myself doing that one day too? I still have a hard time with the spandex though. At best (or worst, depending on how you view it), I wear my normal gym work out clothes to ride 'road style', and then other times I'm just riding in shorts or pants I'd wear out normally for casual weekend activities. I think it's exciting to see so many women realizing that there are so many different ways to enjoy two wheels... and I love reading it on all the blogs, including yours. It's very inspiring and encouraging to others who also want to give these activities a go.

  2. I've gone the other way. I used to kit up every weekend for 30 mile rides, did a couple of centuries, used to do timed loops to try to improve performance. I even used to drive out to more rural areas when I lived in the city to do longer rides. But the way I live now, I don't need another "hobby" although tuning and restoring the bikes I have seems to border that category. It's good to be able to do both, but I don't agree that it's a natural progression- I think it speaks more to where someone is and what they're interested in doing at a particular point in their life.

  3. So glad to see this topic! After a year on my dutch bike, happily getting groceries and visiting friends, I just got my road bike last week and am using it in place of the running I used to do. I even have padded shorts and gloves. I'm really reminded of your post comparing the progression to walking versus running, which has stuck with me because it's so on target. It was such a revelation last year that I wasn't limited to a walking range - my city bike liberated me and allowed me to 'walk' farther in doing my every day errands, even carrying my bags. But if I can walk, why not run too? I can't literally run anymore due to knee problems, but my road bike lets me go for that morning 'jog' and I'm even registered for a long organized ride. And like jogging, you can participate in it without racing (nothing against racing, just no interest . . . yet). It has opened up a whole new world of day trips, centuries, charity rides, touring and bike camping to try out, none of which require me to ride at break-neck speeds or draft anyone.

    Where city riding adds a little recreation to my work and errands, road riding is pure recreation, sightseeing and exercise. But city riding first WAS key to sparking my interest . . . I hadn't realized there was anything to the sport outside of my triathlete friends' hardcore training that still hasn't really grabbed my interest. It also put in perspective why I'd given up my bike years ago - I was forever trying to do practical things on a sporty bike. I hated the sporty bike because it required me to wear a backpack, get a mud stripe up my back, and try to precariously lean the bike against a pole while I ran errands. There was nothing wrong with the bike, but it wasn't happy in the city bike role, and I wasn't happy on it. Not knowing any other kind of bike, I guess I concluded that bikes were just not practical. So my city bike has set the road bike free to be only what it is and made it fun to ride again, not expected to do what it wasn't designed to do in the first place.

    Despite the excitement over the new road bike, it was wonderful again this morning to get back on the dutch bike, cruising along drinking tea from the cup holder, and filling up the rear baskets with groceries. It was just as perfect a bike as my road bike was yesterday for doing loops around the park.

    And I like your attitude too about seeing if it 'sticks'. If it's anything like jogging was for me, I'll go through phases, prepare for events, and sometimes forget about it. But it'll always be there for me to pick back up again when the mood strikes, and for now, I'm happy to be someone who rides a bike without needing to copy everything my serious cyclist friends do. Like walking and running, I love that it can be just as casual or as serious as you want it to be!

  4. thanks for the mention. also part of change your life ride a bike is calitexican, who rocked the century like this:
    all 3 of us run that blog, as well as our separate bloggies.
    that said, we enjoy the long distance rides and none of us are competitive and dont think we will get into that. we have nothing against lycra, though speaking for mylsef, the bottoms are quite nice. a good material/fabric as a top or dress works just as well.
    I like to feel comfortable before 'fashionable' but often times they go hand-in hand, then again i dress as i would off the bike either way - not like i dress 'up' to go riding.
    And who wouldn't want to ride up to marin or our beautiful peninsula and the weather, california attracts all people from out of state for the same reasons, and what is there not to love of my awesome home state. you head 20mi north from SF, and you come across barns, deers and the most beautiful redwoods
    transport yourself to a distance and work your legs and bottom while at it. good times :D

  5. I like the fact that I'm now fast and fit enough to join moderately serious cyclists on a day ride (and *ahem* beat most of them up the hills), even wearing my normal clothes. But I'm not a joiner so wouldn't want to go any further than that. If they're just 'turn up and go' sessions, why not give it a whirl? If nothing else it might be a way of meeting other local cyclists, something I'm always keen to do. OTOH, if they're going to give you grief about not wearing the right kit or not speaking the right language (maybe less of a problem with women riders than men, she says stereotyping madly) then don't bother coming back

  6. I first starting long distance road riding in my late teens, and 20+ years later (after about a 7 year hiatus) the passion is still there. It's addictive for sure and there's nothing that says you have to be just one kind of bike rider. Group rides can be fun or they can be frustrating. The key is to find a group that you ride comfortably with and that you click with. I have my moods - some days I want to power through 50 miles and be completely alone while other days I want company for random conversation, a little competition and to share the post ride beers with. There's nothing dictating what you should or shouldn't do. Do what you enjoy!

  7. "...maybe I just don't want to admit that I am now that kind of cyclist."

    How is the implied disdain in the above statement any different from the elitist attitude of road cyclists on their latest carbon fiber wonder bike all kitted out in Rat Shack team livery? What exactly is "that kind of cyclist"?

    One might argue that, at least in the US, city bikes have become the latest trendy urban thing. Many are marketed in exactly the same way that VW marketed the return of the Beetle, down to the flower vase on the dash, where over 60% of the purchasers of that vehicle were women. So the question might as well be when will the novelty of that wear off?

  8. Nice post and thanks for the mention. You pose some good questions here that each of us can only answer for ourselves. I get psyched about ladies in lycra and I get pysched about ladies stylin' their rides. All I can say is I have always loved biking and I do what makes me happy. I often feel like a wolf in sheep's clothing, and sometimes the other way around. For me, the evolution has been in tandem and the attitude has never been about being too cool for school, it has been about what puts a smile on my face and balance in my life. I wish you luck in your journey and know wherever you roll it will be what is right for you.

  9. I have been doing road cycling after I found a very good road bike on craigslist. It has done wonders for my back pain, but I miss the cute baskets on my Raleigh. So, now I have a slow bike and a fast bike.

  10. Give it a go, its just a case of finding the right cycling club to go out with or starting a cycling club up your self, which quite easy to do in the UK (may be same in the States)as alot our national cycling clubs always looking for folk to start local groups up in areas where they have no local groups. I set up the South Lakes Group in 1993 which is local group of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship which is small national off-road cycle touring club and we have club ride each weekend. Like on today ride we had seven members on the ride and had two long cafe stops and did just under 40 miles in about 8 hours. Its case find a group of local cyclists who are interest in doing same sort of cycling you like to do and meeting up go on club ride each weekend.

  11. Try it and see. OTOH, this progression could lead to - CYCLOCROSS!

  12. I had been mountain biking and road biking for quite a few years (including one triathlon) before moving to midtown Sacramento and experiencing the bicycle as a transport.

    In 2008 I gave up my car and began my cycle chic blog. I haven't looked back.

    Since I no longer own a car and the bike is my only means of transport is sometimes hard to look at it as a sporting equipment. My rides in my road bike are soooo rare.

    Although is good to see that you lovely ladies are experiencing all that a bike can offer. Great Article!

  13. "... I have wondered whether this is a natural progression that will "stick," or whether it's the novelty of the bicycle that compels us to seek out different ways of using it in our lives. And if the latter, will we tire of it once the novelty wears off? " I've been riding for over 30 years, I'm 71 years old. I expect to be riding the bicycle as long as it is physically possible. I crossed the USA in 2007 at 68. My riding companion was 69.

  14. Hi!
    I'm one of those people who have been reading your blog for a while and now deciding to comment. I don't know how relevant this is to the questions in your post but... I own one bicycle. It is a white Mercier single speed road bike, and I've dolled it up quite a bit with a Brooks saddle and their leather bar tape, vintage (or vintage-looking?) Campagnolo brake levers and white hoods, as well as that black and brown Minnehaha saddle bag you've reviewed in the past. It's pretty much as classy as a road bike could get.

    I guess what I'd finally like to say is that I actually enjoy having just one bike that I can use for any purpose. I ride it to transport myself around town (Bar Harbor, ME) for any possible reason. I'm planning on moving back home to Brooklyn soon and am looking forward to using it as my transportation there. I also use it for longer, fun rides. I just don't feel the need (for myself) to have multiple bicycles when I can use one for everything.

    So I guess that's one take on the "double-life" idea about bicycles?

  15. Don't have the time for "recreational" cycling.

  16. Nina said...
    "After a year on my dutch bike, happily getting groceries and visiting friends, I just got my road bike last week and am using it in place of the running I used to do."

    Nina - For me it has also replaced other "work out" type of activities I used to do. I never did running, but I did a lot of walking and at some point yoga. I gave up yoga, because I was not able to fit any of the classes offered into my schedule due to the nature of my work. Cycling allows me to do it at my own time. If I have 2 hours during the day, any 2 hours, off I go.

    Phil said...
    " '...maybe I just don't want to admit that I am now that kind of cyclist.'

    How is the implied disdain in the above statement any different from the elitist attitude of road cyclists on their latest carbon fiber wonder bike all kitted out in Rat Shack team livery?"

    Phil - That is a good point, and it is not any different. I don't claim to be flawless or free of biases; I am being honest about my perspective and I fully accept your criticism.

    My point of view is this: Previously, I had always found road cyclists to be intimidating, and had considered that kind of cycling ("that kind" = fast, on a bike with drop bars, in team kit, etc) to be dangerous and frightening. And I think that is a fairly standard reaction from a woman who was generally unathletic and knew nothing about the world of road cycling. Furthermore, I had built up resentment from the fact that, until recently, most bike stores seemed to cater predominantly to road cyclists, and did not take seriously any potential customer who wanted just a "regular bike" for transportation.

    I think that if you speak to women who cycle today but did not cycle 1-3 years ago and ask them why they did not start cycling earlier, at least 7 out of 10 will tell you that the culture of road cycling scared them away from it. That is why I am reluctant to admit that I am ready to join the very culture that intimidated me for so many years and probably continues to intimidate other women. It is a bias, yes, but I think an understandable bias.

  17. It depends on what type of cycling you want to do. There is Hard Core Sportif Stuff and the Normal Touring Cycling that most People do. It is good to join a Group of Cyclists on Rides that are not to Strenuous just enough to feel the Burn.

    You generally know your own Limits and this is the sort of Group you join instead of a high Performance Group that you will never be able to keep up with.

    Accordingly as your Fitness level goes up you will want to join a different group or be happy just to stay with a Group that you are comfortable with.

    I myself am Happy to be just Coasting along at a nice Speed and be able to enjoy the Scenery. If it gets to Sporty I will just leave the Group. I have just got a nice new Audax light Touring Bike and gone on a Day Tour with a Group ,nothing to Strenuous on mostly Flat Countryside at a fairly fast Speed but not Sportif. Just a Day out of Social Cycling.

    Anytime they go on Trips up the Mountains I decline as I am not into that,I could not keep up. If I am going off up the Mountains I go at my own pace and mostly walk up the Hillsides, Dublin Ireland.

  18. Hey, thanks for the shout out! What a pleasant surprise!

    It definitely took riding a comfortable and sturdy upright bike for me to start feeling very comfortable on a bike in general to then try what had always looked like a bike with intimidatingly skinny tires. And now I love it. But just as you've said, I would never feel like the two are mutually exclusive and I still love commuting on an upright bike in regular clothes. But I do love the rush of that road bike as well.

    I actually have just made a new commuter bike acquisition and have been perusing you blog for old entries on this: I got a 67 Raleigh roadster and I love it. I'm obsessed with it at the moment and am so happy to make it my daily ride. The only thing that takes away from its perfection is its lack of coaster brakes. I was going to comment on your last entry and just echo your thoughts on that, I love coaster brakes. I will miss those on my Raleigh but other than that, I'm thrilled to have that and my new road bike in my bike rotation.


  19. I think this is an interesting phenomenon, too. I think women who do not self-identify as athletic/sporty often have to find their own way into physical activities that are predominantly presented in that way.

    Building off what you say, M. Homme au VĂ©lo, we don't seem to have that "Normal Touring Cycling" as much here in the US. I mean, I'm sure it exists, but it is harder to find. Implicit in the French usage of "sportif" is a keen interest in the trappings of athleticism (lyrca etc). I personally find those trappings uninteresting and the idea that I must be less serious as a result I find off-putting and rejecting, even. I am just a committed non-sportive, I guess, though I am actually a naturally very coordinated person with lots of competition in my past (shhh!). I don't identify as athletic because that means a host of things in this culture and I don't relate to those things at all.

    I get where you're coming from, Velouria, when you say you're not sure you want to be a member of a group you found intimidating at one time. I think the only way to change this stuff is to just do it and widen the scope of this kind of group, or you could also start your own with a different vibe.

    I like Grant Petersen's attitude toward road cycling. And his bikes. Though I am not supportive of Teva sandals. :)

  20. neighbourtease - funny that you mention the term "sportif"; my initial title for this post was "Les Nouvelles Sportives?" , but I changed it at the end.

  21. I don't think it's a natural progression, so much as a natural exploration. I gave up the clips and straps a decade ago. The only cycling I 'train' for is fully-loaded camping (and then, believe me, I have to bribe myself with cake). The road-bike of 20 years ago has been replaced with the relaxed frame of a touring bike and I'm eagerly looking forward to an old-age with a Dutch-style 'Sit-up and Beg'. (I am not inferring these bikes are for old age, but, I can only justify one bike at a time . . . I'm sooo working on that).

    So, I guess my cycling has 'evolved' the other way. I think the more confident we become, the more we are able to adjust our personal 'type/s' of cycling to our lifestyle at a given time. I have never ridden any trails on a mountain bike, but, at a stout 45 years old, I'm rather salivating about a long off-road track (Munda Biddi Trail) for a holiday in the next few years. I will then be pootling down to my wonderful LBS, with the friendliest staff in the world, and asking some very silly questions! To me, if a bike shop is intimidating it's not giving good service - go elsewhere.

    There's certainly nothing wrong with wearing clothing that makes the task at hand more comfortable or productive. When I think of 'lycra luvvies', I'm thinking of the overweight, middle-aged fellow who has donned professional garb, and sits atop the CF road bike to cycle a very slow couple of miles with a grim expression on his face. You can't help but feel a little sheepish when you have to overtake whilst munching on an apple with your trouser leg stuffed in your sock (it's happened). It's not about the clothing, it's about people taking themselves just a tad too seriously for their level of activity . . . especially when it should be fun.

  22. I approached cycling from the opposite direction. First training for a triathlon on a road bike and then becoming interested in commuting. I have attached a kickstand, rack, and pannier to the formerly lightweight road bike but yearn for "city" bike. Now I have to decide whether to invest in renovating a comfortable vintage Raleigh I acquired on Ebay or save up for a modern upright. Of course the road bike is a beautiful ride but I hate see it all weighed down and dressed up like a mule.

  23. Velouria,
    First off, thank you so much for the shout-out! Its quite the group of ladies you've assembled, and I know we're all honored to be in such company, thank you.

    As to your question of sporty clothing, I consider it a personal challenge to find things I'd be willing to wear off the bike, which also work for long rides. The shrug thing you see in my photo is also a wrap that goes with a long black dress in my bag, for dinners out while on that tour of France. I LOVE the challenge of working these problems out, and I am planning to share my packing list, as per our other conversation semi-offline.

    I think the longer rides are different things to different people. I can only share my experience, which was that I discovered that it was an excellent way to spend quality time 'adventuring' with my husband. I see it as sustainable because riding is not the end unto itself.

    In getting there I've become strong enough to ride with groups, but it's not something I particularly enjoy and I don't really seek out group rides. But that's just me.

    It is interesting to wonder, how far can YOU go on a bike?

  24. Charlotte - Thanks for your comment, and you make a good point about the clothing. For now I wear just leggings, shorts over them, and long-sleeve T's, but for long distances and high speeds that does not work out too well (the leggings chafe at the seams after some miles, and the T's flutter unpleasantly at over 16mph). I am all for cycling clothing at this point, and as you say it can be dressed up with skirts and wraps. But my few attempts to wear proper cycling clothes have not worked out too well and I am still looking. I wish I enjoyed the challenge, but truthfully I am now just tired of spending money on stuff that doesn't work out and I cannot even return. Were cycling clothes designed with the intent to torment women in mind? I am beginning to think so!

  25. Oh, spending money? Haven't done too much of that.
    In the photo above I'm wearing a yoga wrap that was a gift, the Pearl Izumi cycling top was from a garage sale in Boulder, CO, and I bought the cycling skort on clearance for $45. Add socks and my cycling shoes and I think I'm outfitted relatively inexpensively.
    One of my husband's favorite outfits is a short jersey dress from my college days, now worn over cycling shorts (or not!!!) as a cycling dress.
    My advice is to shop your closet for stretch and layers - only the padded shorts need to be bought specifically (and they help so much!)

  26. I should clarify - one of my husband's favorite outfits ON ME!!! :)

  27. Very interesting post and comments which has caused much self-reflection. I have mainly ridden a road bike for sport for around 25 years.

    I get the intimidation thing. I suppose I felt that way at first. I never wanted to wear lycra, but once I did I could tell a big difference in comfort.

    I took a few years off the bike to rock climb which always scared me and intimidated me. But, my son really wanted to do it so I pushed over my fears and enjoyed the experience.

    Now, I'm back on the bike. It's kind of like my first love. I love my bike. I love bikes in general. This blog has helped me to overcome my bias of bikes other than high performance road bikes and for that I'm thankful.

    So, Velouria, give the group a try. It will be a new experience and I'm sure you will become a better cyclist for it. Maybe I shouldn't say 'better', but more rounded.

  28. Velouria, anyone who spends a significant amount of time on his or her bike will evolve, or at least transform, as a cyclist. That is because our needs and interests lead us to try things we may not have considered previously.

    I never thought I would become a road racer, a mountain biker or a messenger in Manhattan. There was also a time when, if anyone had suggested that I would ride a fixed gear or pedal across borders and brooks, I would have asked that person what he or she had been smoking.

    I certainly never expected (hoped) to be the woman you describe who "cruises around New York City on her mixte"--in middle age, yet! But here I am.

    Although I have commuted by bike for much of my life, I feel that in getting that mixte and starting to ride to work in my work clothes (skirts, usually) rather than lycra, I am relearning what bicycling has meant to me. Best of all, I am learning that it is, or seems to be, infinitely adaptable to whatever changes I make in my life. You and your blog helped me to learn that, Velouria.

    So don't worry so much about what kind of cyclist you're becoming, or might become. Just do it for as long as you enjoy it. And, I think Prentiss is right. I'm not crazy about groups, but having belonged to and ridden with bike clubs and teams has been an invaluable experience for me. Especially for someone who is where you are in your development as a cyclist, spending some time with a group can accelerate the learning curve.

    And remember: If you resist something enough, you will become it. Believe me, I know about that!

  29. Charlotte: I made no assumptions! ;-)

  30. Hey hey! Thanks for the pic and link! I am truly honored!

    I haven't read all the comments so this might overlap etc...

    But I think it's really a double life. I enjoy rather the transport part of it all. But when on a road bike it's such a feeling of fast zoom zoom that it is a bit addictive. although as I ride around I find myself leaning toward more zippy bikes like a betty foy type b/c I enjoy the effortless-ness of riding it. I love watching you transform and if I had more solo riding time I could see myself going in a similar direction as you are going. I look forward to having that time as the kids grow and pushing the limits.

    Basically I've come to love being on a bike- I want to be on it slow and fast, in a skirt or in form for swim-bike-run. pushing one's limits is what keeps us vibrant and going. My new limit is currently off bike- I am determined to learn to surf. I'm freaked as I keep watching people on huge waves but I will do it and feel really happy for it.

  31. by the way- as Steve A mentioned- I am very very curious about this cyclecross. Eek!!

  32. I think you have reason to be pleased with this transformation. It means your appreciation of cycling is deepening and broadening.

    I'm amazed at how fast it happened! It wasn't long ago that you insisted on upright bars (for which you had rational reasons) and slow riding.


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