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Tales of Inspiration: Discovering the Joy of Cycling

By Megan Flottorp

“It was the most empowering and emotional thing I had ever done, women of all abilities giving
it a go and conquering their fears, grinning as they crossed the finish line.”

Some of us come to cycling as children and never look back, for others, it is something that is
discovered later in life or that evolves from casual hobby to an all-consuming passion as the love
of the sport has time to develop. For 52-year-old Elaine Plant, her now enthusiastic dedication to
cycling was ignited in 2014 when her husband entered a charity ride and she decided to tag
along, riding a rusty mountain bike she had dragged out of the shed.

She’s certainly come a long way since that first 15-mile trek (that involved a lot of pushing her
bike up hills). Despite having done relatively little in the way of sports prior, Elaine is now
proudly completing events, winning medals, and even competing in time trials. She’s also gained
a whole new community of friends and is eager to encourage other women to give cycling a try.
We Love Cycling talked to her about how she developed her skills so quickly, the value of local
cycling clubs, and why she thinks everyone should enjoy the simple pleasure that is riding a bike.

Tell us how your cycling journey began.

Prior to 2014, I didn’t have much time for sports. I have three children and help run our family
business. I had dedicated the years to bringing them up, loving it, of course, but never taking the
time out to do things just for me. Although my husband and I had done some skydiving together,
I didn’t have much in the way of a hobby. Even when my husband bought a road bike, I was
adamant that I was NOT going to ride one – I mean, just look at the saddle! After my charity
bike ride on a very heavy mountain bike, though, I started having second thoughts. Once I’d
accepted that a road bike would be much lighter, my husband bought me a lovely Cannondale. I
still remember my first outing; I couldn’t pull the brakes hard enough and he had to stop me at
the bottom of a hill with a junction! I realized it was going to be a big learning curve!

Well, you’ve certainly come a long way in just over 5 years! What role has your local
cycling club played?

My husband heard about a local cycling club, Bicester Millennium, through a friend from work.
He joined and loved it so, true to form, I was soon to follow! This was a real turning point. I
learnt how to safely ride in a group, how to use my gears properly when climbing, progressed to
cleats (fell off a lot). But most of all – I made friends, I had a life outside kids and work, it was a

How does your current lifestyle and fitness level compare to before you started cycling?

It is a lot different! Since I started cycling, sportives have been entered and medals proudly
gained. I gave time trialling a go last year and have since treated myself to a proper time-trial
bike. It was like learning to ride all over again! The moment when I finally broke the 30-minute
mark for a ten-mile TT had me in tears, my lovely friends were all with me and were so happy
for me!

Who are the friends you cycle with?

We call ourselves the Bicester Belles and we literally do everything together. We are currently
supporting each other through this horrible time and have all planned a holiday together in
September (if it happens). This is one of the best things about cycling, in my opinion, the
friendships you make.

There are a lot of initiatives to get women on bikes. Do you find men and women are
equally represented in your cycling community?

Since joining the club, the increase in female cyclists has been amazing, sometimes in our group
rides the ladies outnumber the men! Our club, although still male dominated, has a large female
membership and we are definitely seen as equals. The only thing that still annoys me is the kit.
Unless we can get a minimum number of ladies to order a specific item for club kit, then we have
to have the male version. Chamois made for men, jerseys with longer arms for men, etc. If you
go into a cycling shop, the kit is invariably for men, sometimes a few pink bits in a small female
section! I’m particularly fond of the work done by VeloVixen though. They provide female kits
that fit all shapes and sizes; it is such a breath of fresh air and even led me to cyclocross.

Cyclocross is a big step! How did you get involved?

My friend who works at VeloVixen, Fran Whyte, is a keen cyclocross rider. Years ago, when my
husband took up cyclocross she tried everything to persuade me to try it. I was too scared, too
unfit, not good enough, etc. Finally, last winter Fran and her team had a goal to get a record
number of women on the start line for a cyclocross race at Milton Keynes. The Belles and I
decided to take up the challenge and, terrified, found ourselves on the start line along with 160
other nervous ladies. It was the most empowering and emotional thing I had ever done, women
of all abilities giving it a go and conquering their fears, grinning as they crossed the finish line. I
was hooked and bought a cross bike, along with the other Belles and we entered every race left in the season!

That’s wonderful! Based on the experience you’ve had so far – do you have any advice for
women who might be nervous about giving cycling a try?

I would say to any lady who wants to begin cycling – but is maybe too nervous or worried about
what she might look like – just do it! Find the joy in the simple pleasure of being out on your
bike, reach out to other ladies who enjoy the same thing and challenge yourself to do something
that scares you, the payoff is an elation like no other! Your self-confidence will soar, your skin
will glow, you will tone up and lose weight and you will be healthy and happy – but most of all,
you will be you again.

A big thank you to Elaine for sharing her uplifting story during these challenging times. It is
another testament to how strong the cycling community is and to the fact that we’re all here to
support each other. Stay strong, stay healthy, and keep riding!