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The first time I felt like a real cyclist I was riding a bike older than I was, in shoes too big, wearing a hand me down jersey. I was alone, lost and covered in gnats. I rode for hours and up every hill I could find before I consulted my Iphone map, and navigated my way home. I was sweaty and sore and proudly called my father to tell him about my adventure.

I grew up in a family of serious bikers. My father has over six bikes, as do his three brothers, and their father. I inherited their passion for cycling, as well as their old bikes, shoes, and jerseys. As a female, I am the minority this cycling legacy, yet my new hobby has been met with familial enthusiasm rather than exclusion.

During my senior year of college I told my dad I wanted to start biking and he eagerly gave me his 1980 Raleigh, his Sidi shoes and two old jerseys. Everything was too big, but I wore my new gear on my new bike with passion for what it represented; I was a cyclist. I began commuting thirty miles to school, feeling stronger, more confident and independent than ever before. Even though I rode alone for a year, I felt constantly connected to my family, sharing every memorable experience I spent on my bike.

I devotedly followed the men in my family on their bikes as we rode the Eerie Canal and C&O Canal trails during hot summer months. We rode through quiet mountain trails in North Carolina, through busy Washington D.C. streets, by New Hampshire lakes, and over New York City bridges on tandems, single speeds, mountain bikes, and 10-speeds, anything that would get us to our destination.

This year, I followed in my father’s tire tracks by racing in the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a feat he has completed seven times. My Uncle Michael and I decided to participate this past May in the 102.7 mile ride, with over 10,000 feet of climbing. Without full knowledge of what I was getting into and without sufficient training, we both finished with a great deal of pain and pride.

My cycling experiences have been some of the most memorable events in my life and most times I feel like a real cyclist, whether I’m riding alongside a group of pros in the park or taking a solo trip to the beach. I yearn for more adventures, trips, and races on my bike and though I can always fall back in line with my family’s bike path, I am more thrilled to veer off their trail and create my own tire tracks, wearing shoes and jersey that are just my size this time around.

–by Effie Bowen, 23 years old, Brooklyn, NY

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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!