Hats Off To Wendy

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Wendy+WadeA couple weeks ago you might remember this post where Herald Sun columnist Wendy Hargreaves rubbed many thousands of cyclists the wrong way.  Well on Friday Wendy took me up on the challenge of stepping into our shoes for a morning and went for a ride with a few of us.

To my surprise Wendy was lovely.  She was nothing like the dragon reporter that many of us might have expected.  I give her full credit for the amount of courage it would have taken her to wake up with the sparrows and come into this with an open mind.  Especially meeting up with 4 unknown cyclists who she knew nothing about with her 30kg commuter bike completely out of her comfort zone.  And you know what?  I’m quite sure that she genuinely enjoyed it.  We certainly did.  For a total newbie with 2 kids and a full time job, she did remarkably well.  Good on her!  We’ve already talked about going out again next Friday…

You can read Wendy’s latest column in the Herald Sun below:

Killer hills grind out a few regrets

GRUNTING in pain as I struggle to ride my crappy bike up another killer hill, there’s no time for regrets. But now I have a few.

In recent weeks, I’ve had the odd crack at veranda-gutted middle-aged men squeezing into outrageously coloured spandex to ride bikes worth more than a small car.

For anyone who missed it, words such as arrogant road hogs, neon nuff nuffs, lycra losers and poncey prats were thrown around.

I’m not backing down. There are still blokes who deserve a whack for playing out their mid-life crises like sausages in skin-tight spandex. The more garish Italian advertising on their lycra, the better. It’s laughable.

But for the dozens and dozens of outraged cyclists who wrote hate mail baying for my blood, I’ve got some good news for you.

I have paid. I’m still paying. First I paid in sweat and screaming lungs. Now I’m having trouble walking without a slight waddle.

In the early hours of Friday morning, yours truly joined a hardcore riding group on a suburban road trip.

“Nothing too hard,” promised cycling blogger Wade Wallace when he set the challenge. “I just want to show you how much fun cycling can be.”

It couldn’t be that difficult. I ride my bike to work and do the odd spin class. Nothing to be scared of.

Or so I thought.

Within a few metres, I was puffing like a steam engine, my cheeks radiating heat. I looked like a heart-attack victim.

I was on one of Melbourne’s cycling havens — the oh-so-hilly Yarra Boulevard in Kew.

Cyclists flock to these hideous, winding turns. Masochists, all of them, for these aren’t just hills. They’re torture.

They don’t look that hard at first, but each time you think you’ve made it to the top, there’s more hell around the corner.

The downhill respite lasts only a few blissful seconds, then you’re grinding again.

“This is a good hill,” chirps Wade, resplendent in skin-tight lycra on a carbon-fibre treddly that weighs less than my sneakers.

This is a man who shaves his legs to ride. His chiselled calves ripple when he walks. His hips are not much wider than my thighs. No veranda gut.

And he’s asking me questions as we ride. Talking.

“So how did you come up with that column?” Wade asks, genuinely perplexed by my venomous diatribe against cyclists.

I knew it was coming. Wade had politely ripped my words to shreds on his blog cyclingtipsblog.com, so I knew where he stood.

But even if I wanted to respond with any sort of alacrity, I was puffing way too hard.

And my pre-dawn porridge was threatening to make a reappearance.

“It was just my opinion . . .”, I blurted between gasps, but the hills were killing me.

My legs were turning to jelly as the climbs went on and on. The others were chatting away without a single gasp for air.

Not that we were going fast, of course.

Wade and his three similarly fit cycling mates courteously insisted on me riding up front to set the pace — a snail’s pace by their standards.

It must have been slow because a steady parade of lycra-clad riders were whipping past us at breakneck speed .

And then there was the fact that Wade was using his brakes more than his gears.

So I mumbled a heaving apology for restricting my little peloton to such a slow pace.

“That’s OK,” they all chorused, clearly enjoying my pain. At least that’s what my oxygen-starved brain was hearing.

About an hour later, red-faced and mangled, I pulled into a Victoria St cafe with my new-found cycling mates.

David and Lisa Rafferton had ridden 50km before meeting for our hilly ride. The Northcote couple go on hardcore rides almost every day.

For David, cycling has become more than a hobby. It may have saved his life.

The 40-year-old graphic designer was a morbidly obese 142.6kg when he decided to give cycling a crack less than two years ago.

He had to buy 8XL bike nicks after his tracky dacks caused painful chafing on his first ride.

Within 13 months, he was 45kg lighter and competing in road races most weekends. His next challenge will be riding up the perilously steep road to Mt Baw Baw and to shed a few more kilos.

“But if I had read your article when I was starting out, I reckon I would have given up,” David said, visibly upset at the prospect. “I wanted to make sure you knew that.”

Of all of the abuse copped from cyclists in the past fortnight, this comment cuts through like no other. I’ll think twice before whacking a lycra-clad warrior again. Well, at least for a while.

Thank you for the positive column Wendy and for taking the time to step into our world for a morning.  I’m please that I got to meet the real person behind the words and I think you got a glimpse into the real people behind the lycra.  Who knows, perhaps you’ll get hooked and be one of us one day.  I’d be happy to give you some tips on “how to” and “how not to” dress in a cycling kit and look semi-stylish.  I agree that some of us could use a lesson on that aspect of cycling as well.

Speaking of bike challenges, I think Russell Crowe wants to prove he’s such a hero on the bike he’d go out for a ride with a “cyclist” rather than beat up on a gossip columnist who has clearly hardly ever ridden a bike before.  General Maximus, you reading???   You wouldn’t stand a chance against these “chiseled calves”  ;-)


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