Sarah Mithen's Cycling Widow story, published in Ride magazine
The Cycling Widow by Sarah Mithen
A fellow cycling widow recently asked me whether writing this article would put the feminist movement back 50 years. Won't I make it sound like women are dependent on their men for entertainment she asked? Won't it make us look like all we do is sit around waiting for our partners to come home and have no interests of our own? For example, I don't often hear "I'm a shopping widow" touted at the pub. The thought is just not entertained.
A cycling widow however is a bona fide and legitimate term that I and my fellow female friends with cycling partners use on a daily basis. Yes, we only use the term when we are whining about the amount of time our men spend on their bikes, or the amount of time it takes them to get home from a criterium on a Sunday morning when for some reason their bikes "always" want to go where the other bikes are going. Usually this is via Mordialloc along Beach Road in Melbourne (about 20kms in the opposite direction to home). This ensures that "I'll be home by 11am" does in fact mean... "you won't see me until after 3pm", and there goes another weekend!
I had no idea when my partner turned up on our first date on a bike what was in store for me. I naively thought it meant he liked to keep fit, and after noticing he had great legs, thought nothing more of it. When he bought me a mountain bike early in the relationship, I thought it was sweet and romantic, an activity we could do together. I imagined leisurely tootles along the beach and to the coffee shop and certainly nothing that would raise a sweat! I could still wear my trendy ¾ leggings and a t-shirt and feel like I was the cool sporty type. When he bought me padded knicks and pedals that allowed me to clip in on one side, I thought to myself "are you crazy – why would you do that?" And when I asked if he had any ideas on how we could spend the weekend and his answers always seemed to start with "well we could go for a ride to...", I really began to wonder what I had got myself into.
Why do our men insist on riding everywhere they go? When this includes riding to a rural wedding 2 hours drive out of Melbourne and almost missing the ceremony, it means the man is serious. Not even a scary, angry and emotional bride was enough to discourage the thought (it was enough to scare me). Add to this the ordeals at the airport when your partner refuses to go on holiday without his bike, being asked ever so nicely if you would mind taking your lap top on holiday so he can download his heart rate files (Polar you have a lot to answer for), and the Christmas day car shuffles when he believes he can get a psychological edge over his competitors by riding on a traditional day off and you begin to get the picture.
Surely you are beginning to feel sorry for me by now? Well what about our sink being constantly full of upended drink bottles, or me almost calling a plumber because for months I thought I had a leak in the bathroom only to discover it was the wet knicks hanging over the top of the shower on a daily basis. And what about the bike bits that fill the house that our boys call "art" yet we call "mess"? Being jolted violently awake by early morning alarms and the sound of tyres being inflated in the hallway when the birds are barely singing. The energy bars, bags of snakes and goo that fill the cupboard single-handily keeping the confectionery giants in business. Track pumps crammed into the corner of our bedroom as if trying to pass for an accessory (I think not!), spare tubes under the bed, oil and grease on the carpet, heart rate transmitters thrown casually on the lounge, blunt razors, washing loads filled entirely with socks and Lycra and the smell of pasta cooking at 7am! This sport of cycling really has a lot to answer for!
The scary truth is... I secretly like being a cycling widow. I say this in a hushed tone for fear "he" might hear me. For that would be admitting that I have embraced his sport and understand the nuances that I openly chastise and complain about. I secretly like wearing Lycra, getting sweaty and getting up to frightening speeds as I celebrate a long descent. I like the sound of a bunch clipping in as they take off from the lights and the unity and mateship associated with signalling potholes and debris. I like the fact that there are more bikes on Beach Road in Melbourne on a Saturday morning than cars and that mountain bikes, roadies, hybrids and tandems all share the same bitumen. I like sitting up to 2am for 3 weeks in July to see if the Aussies can keep hold of the Green Jersey, and I like the fact that I know what the words cage, cadence and cleats mean. And yes, the best part, the shaved legs! I really really like the shaved legs.
The defining moment for me came when I recently celebrated my birthday. Having felt ready to graduate to some Shimano SPD-SL pedals (forcing me to clip both feet in and not cheat), I hinted that maybe some new shoes were in order. As I undid the sexy bike shop bag "wrapping" and held the lightweight shoes in my hand, I thought to myself "who needs diamonds when you can have carbon fibre?"