Movers and Shakers: Remembering Nicola Davis, champion for local cyclists from rookies to racers

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Our Movers and Shakers series generally features high profile figures that occupy important positions in the world of cycling, but around the world many people that few have heard of play just as crucial a role in driving the sport of cycling forward. The names known globally influence the big picture whilst the names known locally have a big influence over their smaller corner of the globe. Nicola Davis was one of the latter.

Nicola did whatever she could to inject new energy into the cycling community, particularly the women’s cycling community, in the outer-north of Melbourne. She would undoubtedly still be doing this today if she hadn’t died just over a year ago at the age of 35 when an alarmingly fast battle with cancer took her away from her young family. Nicola is no longer here, but the impact she had is far from forgotten and certainly far from over.

Earlier this month a group of riders rolled out from the City of Whittlesea Council offices. They ranged from the very occasional cyclist, who struggled to ride 20 kilometres, to the seasoned racer. It was one bunch where big variations in speed and ability couldn’t have been more welcomed or more appropriate. It was a ride in memory of a women who didn’t seem to care whether you were cycling around the block or the country. No matter your objective, she would do what she could to help you get there.

“This ride is trying to champion what she started,” said Whittlesea councillor, Rex Griffin, after the ride. “It was never about winning; it was about participating. It didn’t matter where you were in the field, you were part of the field.”

Nicola swept into the riding community of Melbourne’s outer-north six years ago, when she and her husband Paul opened Bike n Bean. It wasn’t surprising that she would become embedded in the local cycling scene. It clearly makes sense for a bike-shop owner to invest in the cycling community, but anyone who knew her quickly realised that her efforts were about more than business. No one would put in that much effort and approach everything with such good humour and unrelenting drive if it were purely about marketing. Nicola was savvy but never calculating. She did what she thought was right, and she did it with absolute commitment.

I met Nicola when a new bicycle user group started in the City of Whittlesea. She quickly put her hand up to go on the committee and threw herself into whatever task she could best achieve. From then on we started to cross paths regularly. There seemed to be little happening in local cycling that she wasn’t involved in.

There was a complete absence of female riding groups in the area and very few women out on the road, so the shop she was co-owner of appointed a women’s ride ambassador. The shop chose carefully to make sure they found someone encouraging and welcoming. It was thanks to this decision that I was finally introduced to the pleasant camaraderie of riding with a group of women, rather than simply going out alone or feeling like the odd one out in a bunch of blokes. For other female riders, it was the environment they needed to build confidence on the bike and take their riding to the next level. Sometimes Nicola was on those rides, and it is then that I got to know her better and to gain some understanding of her interest in cycling.

To look at Nicola kitted out and following all the cycling rules of style, with the calculated exception of long socks as soon as the weather became even mildly chilly, you would think she was a hardened cyclist. A stiff wind, a not so steep hill, or a shower of rain quickly shattered that illusion. Nicola enjoyed riding her bike. She enjoyed and understood riding culture. She enjoyed talking about bikes. Yet she didn’t care at all about being the fittest, fastest or most hard core. Nicola didn’t seem to need to prove anything to anyone. She just wanted to do the riding that was fun for her and for others to do the riding that was fun for them. This was precisely why she was such an asset to the cycling community.

It was abundantly clear that Nicola didn’t judge one type of cycling as more worthy than another. She helped teach adult migrants and refugees how to ride a bike. She was involved in ride to school days. She and her shop ambassador became ride leaders for the Breeze women’s cycling programme. She got out on the roads with a bunch and threw herself into organising events that drew top-level cyclists.

Nicola was a key part of delivering a new cycling club to Whittlesea. The club’s SYCA-Cross series of cyclocross races in 2013 provided a much called for addition to what was at the time a sparse racing calendar for those launching into the accessible, family friendly racing style. She did much to pull together the organisation of the event, and then she also rolled up her sleeves on race day, seeming everywhere all at once. She would be take registrations, check helmets, sell food to raise some extra funds, tweet and present prizes. When the races had finished and the course had been cleaned, she would drag out a beer for the volunteers, an appropriate end to a long day well-spent.

These things, however, just scratch the surface of what Nicola did for the cycling community and the community beyond. In 2012 Nicola stood for election to the City of Whittlesea Council. When elected she advocated not only for cyclists, but also families and environmental conservation, in a way that more than one councillor said was refreshingly devoid of a politically-driven decision making process.

When she died in April 2014, after just a few months of illness, it was an incredibly diverse cross-section of the community sharing their tales online of how she had assisted them. They praised her attitude and of course offered their sympathies to her husband and daughters. She is a person many miss and many want to remember.

The council is naming a conservation reserve in her honour and the Cycling Victoria International Women’s day awards this year introduced the Nicola Davis spirit of Breeze award. Simone Evans, Bike n Bean’s female riding ambassador, is determined that the ride in memory of Nicola, which she led, will be an ongoing annual event.

“Nicola encouraged women of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life to get out there and ride bikes and have the wind in their hair and experience the freedom and that is what it is all about,” said Simone, who was a close friend of Nicola’s. “I’ll continue to do this every year because it allows me to leave this as a legacy for her girls.”

Movers and Shakers is an occasional Ella feature on the women that make the world of women’s cycling go round. The women we write about in this series include team owners, key industry players, race organisers, cycling advocates, journalists, inventors, designers, business owners and the professional athletes that often play a huge role in advancing their sport. Simone Giuliani oversees this series and happily accepts your nominations for Movers and Shakers in the comment sections of these articles.

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