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Looking me up and down, they take in the four inch heels, short skirt, and snowflakes lightening my black gloved fingers. Voices coated with incredulity, they ask:

“Your rode in that?”

“In this weather?”

“From where?”

I don’t know what they expect. Black seal shiny tights and click clack shoes of plastic perhaps? Not this girl. For 15 years, I’ve pedaled the streets of this city wearing clothes designed for an indoor lifestyle. On the surface these inquisitors are shocked that I ride everywhere, in any weather, at all hours, wearing anything from formal wear to cut offs and flip flops. Just under the surface though, they are confused. They can’t decide if putting myself in what they consider to be such a vulnerable position makes me strong or crazy. Sometimes I can’t decide either, but I do know that, similar to being a woman, biking requires and creates equal amounts of strength and vulnerability.

It’s by riding my bike that I’ve come to a new understanding of these two elusive concepts. I used to equate vulnerability with weakness. These days though I get how it takes incredible strength to be vulnerable and that being vulnerable gives rise to more strength. It’s a strange conundrum, one that I’ve had many miles of pedaling to consider. Biking brings a profound and raw awareness of my inherent vulnerability. Out there I’m beholden to the whims of erratic drivers, surprise attack pedestrians, and rumble strips of ground glass. Biking also births a subtle but solid sense of strength. It takes determination, discipline, and creative packing to use a bike as my primary form of getting from point A to B to C and back to A again. So, if it makes me vulnerable and takes great strength, why do it?

I do it because I love it. I love the chance to be out of doors (and windows and floors), getting myself from home to work to out to home all by the power of my body. I love the dry skied, late night rides when I can’t stop looking up or reveling in the hard to find quiet of a sleeping city. I even love the times I arrive at my destination with rainwater dripping from my skirt hem and my face gone jaguar with spots of road grime.

It is this love that got me back on the bike after three crashes. In the wake of each, I had to reach deeply into the realms of strength and vulnerability. In order to bike again, I needed to touch into the strength of my commitment to riding and the willingness to truly engage the vulnerability that comes with doing so. So, when people ask, “You rode in that? In this weather? From where?” I smile and say “Yes, thankfully.”

by Jana DeCristofaro, 38. Portland, Oregon

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Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual  LITERARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF THE BICYCLE because Women’s experience of cycling is not celebrated enough in bicycle communities. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different!