How to get back on your bike, whatever life throws at you – a chat with Jools Walker
If you’ve been following our #WheelWomen campaign in Tees Valley this summer you will have seen some of the inspiring local women who are embracing getting from A to B on two-wheels and are loving it.
Young, old, fast, slow, pounding pedals for miles or meandering local paths bound for their local library or office job. Yes these women are cyclists. And you are one too.
Not convinced? Read on.
In the beginning there was freedom
We’ve been talking to women in Tees Valley and further afield about what riding a bike means to them. Each one has their own reason to ride. And of all of them we asked: why don’t more girls ride bikes?
On this journey we came across Jools Walker, blogger, presenter, author, girl on a bike. And so it was that on a rainy Friday afternoon we caught up with Jools to find out more about her new book: ‘Back in the Frame’ how to get back on your bike, whatever life throws at you.
“At the beginning it came from my sister.” Jools explains, “She was eight years older than me. It was in the 80s and the BMX craze was just hitting the UK. On her eighth birthday she chose a bike from a catalogue: a yellow and red BMX with chrome detail. That’s how it started.
“And so I grew up, watching my sister and her friends. That carefree, cool ‘girl gang’, two on bikes and one on roller skates. Having so much fun and not caring what anyone else thought.
“I want to be like that, I thought.” says Jools, who eventually inherited that bike from her sister, after she just gave up riding a bike, as so many of us do.
Why don’t girls keep riding bikes? When do they stop?
There are so many reasons why girls stop cycling. Somehow that carefree freedom gives way to something less positive:
It’s suddenly ‘not cool’ anymore
We set our sights on learning to drive and that is that
We lose our confidence
We lose our ‘girl gang’, our bike buddies
“I stopped when I was 18.” says Jools, “There was this odd peer pressure, that you somehow shouldn’t be doing it anymore. Riding a bike becomes quite lonely, where before it was fun.
“In my case I went to a different secondary school to my friends and at college I felt more comfortable taking the bus and then at university, the DLR.
“I missed cycling, but I didn’t do it. I wished I was but I looked around me and other girls weren’t doing it. It became like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
How can we change this? Rediscovering that freedom, that joy
“We need to change the way we think about ‘cycling’ and the way we talk about it.” says Jools
“I am not ashamed to say that I’m a fair weather cyclist. There is no shame in that. If I am not well, or the weather is bad I simply say: I’m not going on my bike today. And that’s okay.
“There is no such thing as a ‘proper cyclist’. I enjoy being on two wheels. That’s what I want other women and girls to see. When I was first getting back into riding a bike I heard people telling me that I wasn’t doing it the way ‘you should’.
“That’s the message that is given in a lot of places, you need to tune that out. Cycling doesn’t need to be serious. It doesn’t need to be about miles, about pain. It’s about enjoyment and freedom. That’s what it was at the beginning for all of us, everyday cycling is about that.”
Jools describes finding what she calls ‘the bike of my dreams’, her Dutch style Pashley Princess which she bought in 2010. The bike that brought back that joy of cycling – just like that yellow and red BMX all those years ago.
What can we make riding a bike more accessible for more women?
“The way cycling is portrayed in the media is one thing that needs to change. It is just a great way of getting me to where I need to go. I talk about it a lot in my book.”
Jools, who now works in a bike shop two days a week and does pre-delivery inspections (making sure that the brakes, wheels and gearing is all there and working as they should), also says that we need to move beyond technical terms when it comes to bikes. They make us feel we are not ‘mechanically minded enough’.
Having spent a number of years riding a bike but having no idea about even basic bike mechanics her first step to overcoming what she calls ‘the shame of not knowing’ was enrolling on a bike maintenance course specifically aimed at women and gender variant people.
“I enrolled on a course with the London Bike Kitchen. I now work in a bike shop part-time. Sometimes customers are surprised to see a woman doing that. Well, it surprises me some days. So I am like: it’s blowing my mind, so I am not surprised that it’s blowing yours!”
So, tell me about your book – what will readers find within its pages?
“You’ll find happy stories and sad stories.” says Jools who has found immense joy in cycling and has also had her off days when depression has reared its head, impacting her relationship with cycling.
“It’s also full of inspirational women. There are so many facets to cycling and I wanted to shine a light on the women I admire in cycling and the challenges they have to overcome. Everyone from Ayesha McGowan, who is on a journey to become the first African-American professional road cyclist, Jenni Gwiasdowski, founder of the London Bike Kitchen who, despite delivering emancipation in cycling on a daily basis still faces sexism around cycling, to Adele Mitchell who started mountain biking in her 40s and the ageism she’s encountered along the way.
“It delivers a most pleasant slap around the face to your previous thoughts about cycling.” she laughs.
What are three things I can do today to change my relationship with bikes and cycling?
“Don’t be terrified of being terrified – it’s okay to be scared.” says Jools, whose top tips for getting back on your bike include:
Have a think about what you’d get out of it: do YOU
Google is your friend – find inspiring people online
A very big ask
“Have a think about what you will get out of it. For me it was reclaiming the freedom I had as a child and getting to know my city. It’s whatever works for you. Go at your own pace and surround yourself with people who already see the positives in what you want to do.
“Do a Google search. Find other people, Facebook groups, bloggers and see what they are doing. Search out the terms you’re looking for online. You’ll find positive encouragement and communities.”
“The third thing is a big ask. It takes a while for it to happen. I did what I did with my blog and my book because I couldn’t see anyone else like me in the space I wanted to inhabit. The power of visibility can never be underestimated. B THAT PERSON for someone else. Consider being the change you want to see. The more I put myself out there the better I feel. You can too.”
Let’s Go Ladies! Join us
Back in the Frame by Jools Walker, published by Sphere, priced £14.99 available now.
By Administrator at 15 Aug 2019, 12:19 PM