Cycling’s a funny thing: it gives you lots of time to just sit and think. And for me, finding myself cycling almost exclusively with men for the past year and a half, I suppose I have invariably given a lot of think time to masculinity. That’s fine by me: I really like men. Some of my closest friends are men, my two colleagues are men, I’m about as straight as you can get on whatever scale you have for that sort of thing, I have four brothers, yeah . . . men are a big part of my life. And I like that.
And, cycling with men’s a funny thing: it’s a proven physiological fact that men are faster, stronger, and bigger than women. Nothing wrong with this. It’s pretty simple and straightforward. Men like to lead on the bicycle and if I were a wild feminist, I’d likely have a problem with that. It goes without saying that I’m a strong woman. I’m independent, educated, self-differentiated, a clear 3 on the Enneagram (if that means anything to you), and a woman who knows what her strengths and weaknesses are. Added to that, certain parts of my job, such as preaching, have been held solely by men for a really long time. But for all of that self-aggrandizing stuff, I have absolutely no qualms with men leading when we’re cycling together.
Now, if you’re not a cycler, it’s important to know that when you draft (that is, when the person following the leader stays within four inches of the leader’s tire), you can save 20-30% of your energy. This is pretty good chemistry for men and women being able to cycle together: the women can keep up with the men!
I saw all of this clearly as I trained for the Rocky Mountain Triangle this summer (a 900km, 7000m of elevation gain trek through the BC interior over seven days). I would usually train two days a week with men, one with a cycling club here in Duncan and the other with my good buddy, Derek. Here’s the thing about following Derek, if I had let my ego get in the way, I’m pretty sure Derek would have been gracious enough to let me lead, while making him go much slower than he needed to. Okay, maybe he’s not that gracious . . . but he might be! But, by letting Derek lead I not only kept a much faster tempo, I also watched this well-trained athlete like a hawk. When he got out of the saddle and charged the hill, I got out, too. When he dropped into arrow position, I dropped, too. When he engaged his calves on the flats, I got mine in gear. When he drank, I drank. When he shoulder checked, I did too. It’s safe to say that I’ve become a strong cyclist in a short amount of time thanks to all the coaching from Derek and the opportunity for me to mirror his moves by following him. With the training done, I felt confident and excited to take on the Rocky Mountain Triangle.
Now, Derek and his wife Nicky told me to look for a couple, Jim and Jeannette, who would also be cycling the triangle, singing their praises as safe, conscientious, and strong cyclists. So, by day 2 I had hooked firmly onto their wagon and rode the entire trip with them (save for one day when Derek joined us for a fast-paced race day of the trip; and on which he and I clocked a steady pace where we each took the lead for 3 minute intervals all day long). Here again, Jim liked to be the leader, and I was perfectly fine with that. After all, this was Jim and Jeannette’s eighth trek, so they knew the terrain well. Not only that, but Jim rides a T-bar bike and has very broad shoulders so when you follow him, you gain probably close to twice the drafting advantage. I nicknamed him Tombstone Jim because of how tall he sat in the saddle.
But, I’m pretty sure Jim also wanted to lead because he wanted to take the responsibility of safety for the group. When you’re out in front, you have to be the one telling the peloton everything that’s coming ahead, you have to take responsibility for oncoming traffic, you have to set the tempo, you have to decide if and when to swerve or brake, you have to make decisions on when to pass other cyclists, and you have to make sure everyone is okay. In my opinion, if you’re doing the lion’s share of the leading, you should also be the one to bring the peloton into home. This isn’t me stroking Jim as a guy, letting him have his victory because he’s a man and needs to win (I can’t imagine Jim would even conceive of such a diminutive goal). Rather, it’s me honouring the person who put in the work and saved me 30% of my energy. On the last day, I took great pleasure in handing off the lead to Jim for the last 16km; not because he needed to be in front, but because I wanted to honour his responsibility and care.
Now, here’s the thing that makes Jim such an honourable human: even though I know he loves to lead, as the week went on, he asked me to take the lead more and more. I don’t believe this had anything to do with me being a woman and he being a man. There was mutuality and trust.
Now, here’s the thing that makes Derek such an honourable human: He and I also happen to play music together at least twice a week. I’m the leader in this arena, and Derek gives me his full respect and support. Part of this respect looks like Derek pushing me or bringing strong ideas to the table or questioning an idea I have. I like this; for me, the pushback is respect. But, at the end of the day, Derek always follows my decision and respects my position as the leader.
Perhaps, in the end, masculinity and femininity have far more to do with mutuality and honour than putting down and fighting. Yes, there are areas where women still are put down, but my personal experience has been that even if there are a very few battles yet to be won (in North America anyway), the war has been handily won. It’s time for women to walk into their humanity with grace and dignity, whether that means recognizing and celebrating how our bodies are different from men, or enjoying leadership to the full with respect, beauty, and freedom.
Here’s to many more rides with great men!