I’m just going to come out and admit it because my gushing is probably going to give me away anyway. I adore this group. They embody everything I love about women’s cycling and remind me why I fell so hard for this sport in the first place. When I called into their team practice last month to interview each and every one of the Women’s Bike PHL Devo Team members, I briefly contemplated a move to Philadelphia just so I could get in on their community-building, cycling-lovin’ action.
We first introduced you to Michelle Lee, Anjali Chainani and the rest of their team in a piece Anjali wrote for Ella. If you missed it, you may want to go back and give it a read here before delving in further. These lessons learned and tips shared will make sense without it, but the back story will enhance your takeaways.
When I spoke with the Women’s Bike PHL Devo Team, I asked them the same question I’ve been asking all the women I interview. What do you know now that you wish you knew then? What advice can you give to the beginner rider or racer? This question is especially poignant for this group who recently undertook a four-month challenge of training together for their first road race. What do they know now that they didn’t know four months ago?
They laughed and they cried and they talked over each other. They said: “Me too.” and “I know.” and “To add to her point….” They rambled and they waxed poetic as they did their best to put their experience into words.
And while they all have something different to offer, taken together the words of wisdom they want to share with you are united by the common theme of connection. This sport is amazing, but it’s at its most amazing when it’s shared.
Be honest with people about your interests and ambitions. I was a little scared to tell people that I wanted to race. Expressing a competitive inclination felt presumptuous in some way, like I was assuming that I was better than I really was. Instead of admitting that I aspired to race, I was wishy-washy about it. I would tell people that I was sure I wasn’t going to be fast enough. Don’t do that. Say you’re interested. Ask questions. More often than not people will tell you about the beginner race you can try or the training group you can ride with and that will lead to more new people and rides and events.
Elisabeth Reinkordt – Women Bike PHL Devo Team co-founder
#1: I wish I had known what a waste of emotional and mental energy it is to relentlessly compare yourself to other riders. Everyone is on their own growth trajectory in the sport, and it’s much healthier to focus on what you can improve and aspire to rather than beating yourself up because you’re not as fast/strong/skilled as she is. It’s amazing how much I improve when I really concentrate on what I’m doing instead of how it matches up against others.
#2: The onus is on women who have fallen in love with this crazy sport not to isolate themselves. There’s a culture among men who race that is cliquey and isolating and unwelcoming. We have to get away from that. There aren’t enough women yet who race and ride to do that, and even if there were, it’s a bad way to behave. The responsibility is on those who ride and race to reach out to the uninitiated and give them the kool-aid.
The women’s cycling community is incredibly welcoming and supportive. I was always intimidated and never felt good enough to be able to do anything like this. To have met these women and to have met the women my teammates have introduced me to has been amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to take on the challenge of my first race without them. It’s been an experience of a lifetime, and it’s really changed my life over the last year. What I know now that I wish I knew then is that this community is so inclusive. If I had known, I would have done something like this years ago.
There’s a real need for women’s specific rides or events or teams, and as someone who grew up as a bit of a tomboy and always found powerful women a bit intimidating, I’m surprised at how strongly I feel about this.
I think there’s a tendency for women to be the girlfriends or wives of guys that are riding competitively and just piggy-back off that but not make meaningful connections with each other. That’s a real wasted opportunity. If you’re a women that rides with the guys and know there are other women that are doing the same, reach out to them. Start your own ride. I can promise you it will be a much more satisfying experience in a lot of ways.
Michelle Lee – Women Bike PHL Devo Team co-founder
I wish I had known that part of creating a community is knowing how to ask for help and make space for everyone to contribute. I was blown away by the way everyone contributed from the start – like we were all in this together. It was amazing to see people stepping up to share whatever they could offer. We had people bring snacks for the whole group or arrange to have a photographer take team photos or write stories about their experience for us to farm out to Ella. When people crashed and needed help, everyone raised their hands. No one hesitated to share something a teammate had forgotten.
Early on, I think Elisabeth and I were a little worried. It was freezing winter. People were new. There were a lot of questions. As the months have gone by and people have been able to take what we’ve created and run with it, this has become more like a community and less like a class. It’s made me feel really grateful and excited to take on something like this again knowing that we’re not alone.
And that’s what I would want someone in my shoes to know. If you’re thinking about launching a similar program, you’re not in this alone.
I wish I had known the power of a team. When Michelle and Elisabeth sent out the email about the experiment, I thought about it, and I was very nervous about the commitment. I was nervous about getting up early and being in a competitive environment. I hadn’t done that in a long time, but it was a challenge I felt like I needed.
It didn’t take long for me to develop trust in all my teammates, and that’s a really incredible feeling. I trust every single one of them. When we ride together, I feel confident. I feel great. I feel excited. When we’re pace-lining, when we’re in a peloton, we trust each other. And we trust each other off the bike, too. We support each other, and we encourage each other. And all that has gotten me over all my fears – of commitment, of getting up early, of competition. Because it’s about more than just me, it’s about the team.
#1: Learn how to pop a squat on the side of the road. It might take longer for women to take a so-called nature break than guys, but it’s a clutch skill.
#2: Talk to other women who ride whenever and wherever you can. If I’m spectating at a race or on a group ride and there are other women there, I talk to them. I introduce myself and ask them about the sort of riding they do and tell them about the kind of riding that I do. That’s how I got invited to a weekly Sunday ride where I met Michelle, and Michelle invited me on the spot to join this group. Doors open when you knock. It’s all about talking to folks.
When I first started riding, I wish I had known that you need more sleep when you start to train harder. We all have busy lives, and I think sleep is usually one of the first things that we sacrifice. I can’t tell you how many times I got sick because I was out for really hard training rides and still sleeping the same amount. I totally tanked because I didn’t give my body what it needed. Now I know I need to get a good night’s rest after I hard ride.
I also wish I had known that there are women out there that ride hard. I needed to look more carefully for them – and in this case, they found me. There are women out there who are bad ass, who are both fast and supportive, and if that’s what you want, make it your mission to find them.
I know now that transformation happens in groups. I’m a new rider. I started riding last year. I set my own goals, and I would go out there on my own to achieve them. I can’t believe the level of new action that I’ve taken in just four months by my association with this group. The change in my skill level and confidence and attitude has been huge. My love for cycling has grown so much just by watching and listening and sharing with these women.
I also know that you can come to the group as you are. I didn’t have the knowledge about bikes before all this. I didn’t have the skill level or the fitness level of a lot of my teammates. I’ve never been an athlete. I used to be overweight. I used to think you had to get yourself together before you could bring yourself to the group. That’s not true. Come with the knowledge you have and the skills that you have. What you know and who you are today is enough.