PEZ Bookshelf: “Ride the Revolution”
Book Review: Due to the winter weather Chuck Peña has been catching up with his reading list and top of that list (so far) is “Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling” edited by Suze Clemitson. A book not just for women, but a part of cycling history.
It’s winter, which means most cyclists are worried about gaining weight and losing fitness. So that means a lot of time on the turbo trainer watching Le Tour DVDs. Or maybe riding with ‘The Jensie’ and others from around the world on Zwift. But winter is also a good time to chill out a little. Take some time off the bike to indulge in food and drink (you’ll work the pounds off in the early spring). Spend some quality time with the family. Or catch up on some reading. “Slaying the Badger” … check. “Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape” … check. “Merckx 525” (as much for the pictures as the prose) … check. And now I can check off “Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling.”
My timing couldn’t have been better. I no sooner finished reading the book than 41-year old Australian Bridie O’Donnell (the subject of chapter 4 of the book) set the new women’s UCI Hour Record of 46.882 kilometers! Her breaking the hour record is an even more remarkable feat knowing she’s a full time doctor. Good on ‘ya, Bridie!
If you’ve seen “Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling,” “Ride the Revolution” is a logical companion read (especially since one of the contributors is Kathryn Bertine). But this is not your wife’s/partner’s book club book. In other words, even though the editor and all the contributors are women and it’s about women’s cycling, it’s not a book just for women, i.e., it’s not a chick-flick book or a feminist manifesto (that’s simply a statement, not a judgment or commentary).
“Ride the Revolution” is a collection of essays edited by Suze Clemitson aka @Festinagirl on Twitter (I follow her and we’ve had some back-and-forth), an author and journalist who writes regularly for The Guardian. Each chapter (30 in all) is about a woman in cycling and starts with a short bio and a blurb by Clemitson that is sort of a backstory to the chapter. In many cases, the subject of the chapter and the author are one in the same. Some are transcripts of interviews. Others are written by Clemitson based on Skype conversations. It’s a bit like the varied colors in the peloton.
The first chapter is about Beryl Burton (the Eddy Merckx of women’s cycling – or is it Merckx who is the Beryl Burton of men’s cycling?), which was written by Clemitson but she wanted Maxine Peake – who wrote a play based on Burton’s autobiography “Personal Best” – to write the first chapter, but Peake was just too busy. Clemitson, however, is no slouch with words and she captures our attention and interest in the very first paragraph:
In the 1950s and 1960s two women gloried in the twin initials ‘BB’. One was poetry in motion, a superstar who left men groveling in her wake. The other was Brigitte Bardot.
To steal a line from the movie “Jerry Maguire”: You had me at hello.
Clemitson has divided the book into different sections with the different authors providing their perspectives on these subjects:
• The Pioneers
• The Riders
• The Service Course
• The Media
• The Administrators
• The Campaigners
• Women Who Ride
It’s always a risk doing a compilation of pieces written by different authors. Sometimes, the writing is so wildly different that you end up with a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces don’t quite fit together. But Clemitson is a deft editor and the different chapters flow like gentle waves. Although the book is not strictly chronological, Clemitson created an element of a timeline by starting in the past with chapters about Beryl Burton and Mien van Bree (The Pioneers) and ending squarely in the present looking out to the future with chapters by newcomers Anna Doorenbos and Kelton Wright (Women Who Ride), both of whom are prolific Tweeters. Speaking of Tweeting, with only a couple of exceptions each chapter includes the person’s Twitter handle. So if you like what you read and are wanting for more, Clemitson has made it easy for you to follow them.
The women in “Ride the Revolution” aren’t always familiar names, especially for American readers (like me). However, two will be known to those on my side of the pond: Connie Carpenter-Phinney (winner of the first-ever Olympic women’s road race in 1984 and wife of Davis Phinney – I’ve had the good fortune of meeting both) and Betsy Andreu (wife of former Motorola rider and teammate to Lance Armstrong, Frankie Andreu – Betsy is a friend via Facebook and we exchange messages from time to time). But part of the fun of reading “Ride the Revolution” was getting to know the women who were new to me. Marjin de Vries who explains the proper technique for women to take a quick pee while riding (and points out it’s not just for professionals “because when you are just riding your bike around you don’t want to get partially undressed.”) Roxane Knetemann whose story about growing up as the daughter of one of Holland’s greatest male cyclists (Gerrie Knetemann, who won multiple stages in the Tour de France and was the 1978 World road race champion) and then making her way into the world of professional cycling isn’t unlike any other sports story of a son who follows in the footsteps of his father (as the father of a budding junior golfer, I could relate to this father-daughter relationship). And Roxane reminds us that cycling should be fun: “When you have fun you can be serious, but when you have no fun and you’re serious it’s not a good combination.” And then there’s Ottilie Quince aka Poppet who is the recipient of a kidney transplant from her mother and is “the fastest female transplant cyclist on the planet.” Described by Clemitson as having a “lofty peroxide quiff,” you can almost feel Poppet’s energy and exuberance in the words leaping off the page.
There isn’t a single theme (other than women in cycling) that permeates throughout “Ride the Revolution.” A lot of it is about the bicycle racing world. As such it wouldn’t be complete without a chapter about Marianne Vos, who dreams of winning a Paris-Roubaix for women before she retires. Many of the authors are British and the 2012 London Olympics women’s road race is touchpoint in several of the chapters. The other touchpoint is the 2014 La Course, the women’s race on the Champs Elysee on the last day of the Tour de France. But it’s not just about the racers themselves. Caroline Stewart is a fully qualified bicycle mechanic who provided support at the 2014 Women’s Tour (Britain) and the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire. If we want to make the sport (not just women’s cycling) bigger and better, we would all do well to abide by her philosophy: “My cycling may not be your cycling, but it’s just as valid.” Hannah Grant, once a chef at NOMA (one of the world’s best restaurants), is chef for the Tinkoff pro cycling team. Did you know Alberto Contador’s favorite food is a simple potato frittata? Former Australian National Road Champion Tracey Gaudry is the first ever woman Vice President of the UCI and gives us a view from the top of the sport as she tries to drag women’s cycling into the 21st century. Rochelle Gilmore, also a former Australian National Road Champion, gives us insight on what it takes to put together and manage an elite women’s pro team (Rochelle is the owner and manager of two pro teams: Wiggle High5 based in the UK and the newly formed High5 Dream Team based in Australia). And while “Ride the Revolution” gives us an insider’s look at women’s pro cycling, it also provides an outside looking in perspective through the actual and metaphorical lenses of photographers Ashley Gruber and Joolze Dymond. (As an aside, if I had one nit to pick with “Ride the Revolution” it’s that there aren’t enough pictures!)
But “Ride the Revolution” isn’t just about racing. Anna Doorenbos is a recreational cyclist in Washington, DC. By her own admission, she will always be plus sized and writes about the stresses of finding appropriate kit that fits: “If you want to wear spandex, and are female on the larger side … good luck.” But that doesn’t stop Anna from riding, which only reinforces Caroline Stewart’s maxim. Kelton Wright is a cyclist, writer, and cat enthusiast, as well as being a Women’s Ambassador for Rapha. Her “10 Reasons Why Being a Girl On a Bike Rocks!” is required reading for all the guys (but single guys should pay particular attention).
As I read “Ride the Revolution” I was reminded of my youth and being a junior tennis player in the 70s (yes, I’m old). Women’s professional tennis was still in its relative infancy – maybe about the same as the current state of women’s professional cycling. But all that changed when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs on September 20, 1973. Over the course of the next decade, women’s tennis took off. And I followed Chris Evert’s and Martina Navratilova’s matches as much as I did Bjorn Borg’s and John McEnroe’s. Are the 2012 London Olympics women’s road race and 2014 La Course the beginning of the same thing for women’s cycling?
Ultimately, “Ride the Revolution” is about breaking down barriers to women in cycling – whether it’s in the professional ranks or your local Sunday club ride. And the spirit of the book is perhaps best summed up by Chris Garrison, who does media relations for Trek. She is also a bicycle mechanic (including being Keith Bontrager’s 24-hour race mechanic) and vividly remembers these seven words when – while working as a mechanic in a bike shop – she offered assistance to a customer and he replied: “I need to speak to a mechanic.” Those words have stuck with Garrison, but now she’s working off a different set of seven words: “I’m a woman, and I belong here.” You go, girl. And yes, you do.
“Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling”
Edited by Suze Clemitson
320 pages, Bloomsbury, 2015
• Check prices at Amazon.com
***Rider photos do not appear in the book.***
Pez contributor Chuck Peña is a former weekend warrior racer who now just rides for fun, but every once in a while manages to prove Fausto Coppi’s adage true: Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill. He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, Karen (who works for Revolution Cycles), his daughter, Marin (an aspiring junior golfer who can beat him, but not all the time … yet), and their dogs, Cooper and Roxy. You can follow him on Twitter @gofastchuck