Reports from the front line of grassroots women’s racing in the UK from feminist and second cat racer Hannah Nicklin. Let's go! 💪

Seven Great Things They Don’t Tell You About Bike Racing.

This bit of text was originally written in 2016 for London Women’s Racing before I was a committee member, with the aim of encouraging other first-timers into the league. While there are a host of great articles giving you advice on the technique and skills sides of things, and often training events and sessions with clubs where you can learn key racing skills with others, there are some things that you don’t hear so much about, but that are totally part of the magic and thrill of it all. So I wrote this.

Hannah Nicklin at the Lovelo Cinnelli Road Race
Photo credit: Huw Williams

Seven Great Things They Don’t Tell You About Bike Racing.

1: Shouting.

I’m serious. Shouting is great. I love shouting. I also love being straightforward and to the point. But as women we’re often taught to apologise for ourselves, to be quiet, and to deny what we know. In the bunch, when there’s a split second between decisions, your job is to SHOUT. No time to apologise, you shout to keep each other safe and aware. ON YOUR LEFT. HOLD YOUR LINE. A flick of the elbow ‘your turn on the front, I’m moving off’. One of my earliest races, at the Hillingdon Winter Series, I remember really loving that I didn’t have to apologise for shouting. SHOUTING.

2: Female friends from all walks of life.

The women you meet in cycling are without exception badass. In different ways, with different qualities, but they all have that extra spark that at some point got them on a bike and it’s amazing to be around them. There’s this extra bit of solidarity, that recognises we’re doing something a bit odd (let’s admit it), against the grain of what’s expected of us (especially as women) and also awesome. There’s solidarity as well as competitiveness.

3: The gear.

You get to chat with women about women’s gear and women’s bikes. It’s like a in-real-life Wiggle reviews ‘filter by gender’ section but where you actually get to touch the longed-after softshell, look at the weird shaped ‘supposed to relieve all soft tissue discomfort’ saddle, or lift the carbon frame you’ve had your eye on for too long.

Sprinting to third place in a Hillingdon Imperial Winter Series race
Sprinting to third place in a Hillingdon Imperial Winter Series race. Photo credit: Huw Williams

 4: It feels badass.

Seriously. It feels amazing. The first time I smashed my pedals into the ground going around a corner at Lee Valley I found out that, yes, it’s briefly terrifying but quickly realised that Newton’s Third Law was on my side and the impact just rights you. Also, sometimes someone takes your photo when you’re cornering awesomely and you then become one of those cyclists whose Facebook profile is a race pic. Come on over to the dark side. Join us.

5: The sound.

This is a bit of an odd one, and you’ll have to wait until you do an open road race, but honestly there’s something really special about the sound of 40 bikes going 60kmph in the bunch, there’s this… Roar; it’s quiet and breathless, like nothing else.

6: You’ll get dropped.

Not necessarily at your first race, maybe not even as a beginner, but there will be a point when you get dropped. It’s just part of it. And it’s where I learned that there are different ways of progressing, many of which don’t end in winning. The way to learn is pretty much to do it wrong a lot. So, you get dropped? Process goal one is getting on the start line. Process goal two, get comfortable in the bunch. Three – move up in the group so when someone attacks you don’t hang off the back and you’re less likely to get dropped. It took me 3 races to get that. Being dropped was part of it.

7: I’m afraid.

I’m someone who’s scared of… Pretty much everything actually. I do a lot of stuff in my life because I refuse to be in thrall to that fear. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’m scared. That’s ok. I’m doing it anyway.

If you’re interested in racing, LWR is a great place to start. Find out more on their website.