The world is full of women who took to cycling after their childhoods ended, who found the pleasures and fulfillment of riding bikes long past the era of skinned knees. I started cycling in earnest after my own kids were in elementary school, and while Barden has been riding for years, she really got serious about it post-divorce.
I was curious to know if there were other women like us, who got more active as adults. I sent out a plea on Twitter and Facebook. Within hours, I was swamped with retweets and replies. In fact, I got more replies than I can include here. Clearly, we’re not alone.
We’re all motivated differently. Some started cycling as a way to be with family. “My high school age daughter wanted to start spinning and she and I joined a gym together,” wrote Kathleen E. Gannon. “It was mostly a way to spend time with her in the beginning but I found that I liked it.” Kathleen began to cycle outside, and as she gained experience and confidence, she eventually gave up her car in favor of her bicycle for trips around town.
Others began cycling as a way to get more fit. “In my thirties, I had some real issues with lower back and shoulder pain and realized that I needed to exercise more to offset the negative impact of sitting at a computer all day for work,” wrote Judith Ormston. “Everything works better when I exercise.”
“I didn't like how isolated and sedentary my life was,” wrote one woman who started getting active at age 39 and is now 62 . “I dreamed of completing a triathlon and it was interesting to meet athletes in all of the disciplines who taught me and encouraged me. I eventually completed a Half Iron.”
One of the significant benefits of cycling that came about for many of the respondents was an improvement in mental and emotional health. As a woman named Sarah said, “Cycling makes me much fitter mentally—it’s been the biggest factor in recovering from depression, countering anxiety, and improving well-being on a more basic level.”
Traci wrote, “It gives me an outlet to deal with and process life. It gives me time to think, and maybe my brain works better, too. It sets a good example for my teens. And I just feel more ‘capable,’ like I can take things on and succeed.”
Not surprisingly, since cycling is one of those activities that’s more fun in a group, the social aspect of cycling was important to a lot of the women. “I guess I’ve found reward in the number of great women, and older women in the London cycling scene,” wrote Sarah. “There are several of us in our forties and a couple of women in their fifties who go bmxing with me.”
Thea Smith of Velociposse wrote “Joining a cycle club motivated me to do things like interval training and long rides, which have greatly impacted my fitness. Mostly it’s because I have people to do it with.”
And some women found that participating in races and events gave them the motivation to stick with it. “Having both a regular workout schedule AND a specific, challenging event to train for, like a race or bike tour,” said Katie B., “turns out to be the motivation I need to get off the couch.”
Some women wrestle with insecurity or doubt, despite plenty of evidence of accomplishment. “I still don’t think of myself as ‘sporty’ even though most weeks I cycle to work daily, train a couple of times, and do a run and a ride at the weekend,” wrote Sarah. And Thea Smith noted, “I still haven’t participated in many races because I never think I’ll be able to keep up and not get dropped—no matter how many times anyone tells me to just give it a go (and in fact it doesn’t matter and no one else cares).”
And one respondent gave good advice on why to do it anyway. “Every time I enter an event, I doubt myself and often think I am not worthy to be on a start line with 'proper' athletes. However, when I have finished, I am always super proud,” wrote Sarah M. “Every achievement is there forever. No one can take that away from you.”
There’s something about reaching a certain age to make us realize that we are the ones holding ourselves back a lot of the times. “As I got older I gained more confidence in all aspects of my life, not just fitness-wise,” wrote a respondent. “But I think you reach 50 and think, ‘Fuck it—I can give that a go.’ So ‘Fuck it, I’m 50’ became my motto! I started pushing the boundaries and just going for it. I even set up a cycling illustration business, combining my passions of cycling and illustrating. I never had the confidence to do this before and 50 was the turning point!”