In the summer of 2007, several months after having sold my car, I finally discovered that my bicycle could transport me further than the mile or two between work and home. Pedaling my 1960s 3-speed Schwinn twelve miles along the winding river between Ann Arbor and Dexter, Michigan, I first felt the thrill of self-propulsion. That solitary ride, through warm patches of sunlight and the sounds of a thriving forest, left me swimming in endorphins. I felt independent, strong, accomplished, and exhausted.
Intimidated by the hills, I left that heavy bike behind when I moved to Seattle; however, on my new 1985 Bridgestone 700, I soon discovered that I could not only master those hills, I could do so in heels! As a queer woman who never felt very feminine, I enjoyed playing with the contrast of delicate clothing and brutish effort; “tough and tender” is a good phrase for it. Working up a sweat in stockings and leather gloves felt more comfortable to me than keeping my dresses clean and pressed.
In the company of a certain bike club I befriended, I tested my strength and endurance, discovering that I could ride sixty miles into the Olympic mountains while hauling camping gear – something my friends and family back in Michigan could scarcely believe possible. I also learned more about the mechanics of my ride, and in turn felt more connected to my bicycle. All of these challenges have rewarded me with the same sense of empowerment I felt on that first 23-mile round trip with my old Schwinn, and this has significantly improved my self-confidence as a woman. Cycling now fits snugly into my life as an integral source of exercise, entertainment, and cheap, green transportation; I hope it always will!
–Jeni S., Portland
Tough and Tender is a compilation of photos and essays contributed by female cyclists from all around. Cycle Swift called for artistic submissions to celebrate women in bicycle culture. Stay tuned through August as we highlight contributors throughout the month.