I first got roped into the world of cycling by my husband, me kicking and screaming, getting dropped over and over again as he zoomed effortlessly up steep hills. He tricked me several times by taking me the long way to different destinations. I stood around for countless hours as we stopped in at just about every bike shop in Seattle, wondering what could be so enchanting about a certain type of crank or certain type of bar tape. I spent an entire Sunday, my first day off in a few weeks, riding in the rain pulling my hanky out at every stop to blow my nose, because I was still not cool enough to do a snot rocket. Thankfully, that skill is still not checked off my list, but I have gotten better with the hanky.

It seemed like I was watching my husband go through an ever changing set of bicycles, I think there were three in his first 6 months of his budding obsession. I started getting good at identifying the signs. I would be walking the dog and then get a phone call. My husband would say something like, “where are you?” and then ride up with his latest bike. Soon, he amassed a collection, one for every day of the week, with one day of rest. Well, actually, there never was a day of rest, riding bikes was daily, so I had no choice but to tag along.

I made two separate trips to pick up my husband in the emergency room, the first time being the worst, with his face covered in blood as he was strapped onto the table. I had to ride my bike there, because the car wouldn’t start. He was on his bike the next day, stiff and sore, but riding slowly. There were stories to tell at least.

My first big ride was 32 miles, and it thankfully ended at the wonderful oasis with a pool and an ample supply of cold beers. I pedaled and pushed along the inter urban trail, heading south along a path full of bunnies, stopping to eat a couple of my favorite cookies, which fueled me the rest of the way there. It was a mellow ride, not the intense surprise hills of Seattle. It was straight, flat, and most of reminded me of Davis, where I went to college. There was an intense climb at the end, but I made it to the top, feeling good in an exhausted sort of way.

I guess there was a shift. We kept riding and I allowed myself to be tricked into longer rides. I was feeling stronger. We planned another epic ride around Lake Washington, which sounded to me like a meandering stroll along the waterfront capturing beautiful vistas along the way. I imagined stopping to dip my feet in the water. However, the ride turned out to be an unmapped and unorganized mess, with backtracking through seemingly hostile suburbs of the east side, a long hill that wouldn’t quit, and eventually, a very sore knee that sent us back over the bridge at the half way point in utter failure. I was dropped on several hills, and instead of being motivated to push harder and catch up, I became defeated, slower. I started manufacturing complaints, saying, “I’m going as fast as I can.” I played right into defeat, losing that inner strength that I had built in other areas of my life. I complained a lot, and my husband fed right into it, saying things like “why can’t you go faster?” He was mad that I was weak, and the whole day seemed like an utter disappointment, since we had been focusing on what we did not accomplish. But actually I had just rode 68 miles.

My bike at the time didn’t seem to have style. It wasn’t me, and believe me when I say it would take one hell of a bike to fit my style. So when it was stolen, I was of course angry, actually my husband was more pissed since he rode around for about an hour looking for it. I was secretly excited because I was forced to go shopping. When one door closes, another one opens, so to speak. My second bike, born the year I graduated high school, became a better representation of myself, so at least that part of the puzzle worked itself out.

I quit the gym and started doing hot yoga. Things started to change for my mind. And my lungs felt stronger, which meant hills were potentially easier. I did this Chilly Hilly ride. I mean I worked my ass up those hills. There was snow even, but I was determined. I became goal oriented, each hill was a challenge that I huffed and puffed through, but it was a different feeling. The crest of the hill at the top brought a burst of energy, not a burst of defeat. Finishing the ride was going to be great, but having an Irish coffee would be even better. I had lost that feeling of failure when I was the last one up a hill. I measured my own strength against myself, not in competition with other riders, especially my husband.

Success doesn’t always mean you get a free ride. Sometimes, it’s just temporary. Feeling confident, I rode in another hilly group ride a few weeks later. Half way through the ride, my knee was throbbing with pain. I stopped several times to try to stretch, make it better, but with each new hill the pain returned. I was falling really far behind. My husband forced me to get a ride home, and I dismounted my bike, kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to surrender. I didn’t want to give up. I suppose now I’m a cyclist.

–Stephanie, owner of Sugar Bakery, Seattle WA


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!