Frankie's Rides and Tirades

Title: Frankie's Rides and Tirades
Author: Traci Brynne
From: North Park
Blogging since: June 2007

Post Date: June 25, 2007
Post Title: Frankie Goes to Australia, Part 1

Six months ago, I applied for a leave of absence from my doctoral program, bought a plane ticket to Australia, disassembled my road bike, and stuffed my backpack full of maps, panniers, energy goo, and Lycra. Having reached the outer limits of my patience with graduate school, my throbbing brain and I concocted a plan: to travel the east coast of Australia. On my bike. At the time I made this...interesting decision, I was hardly what you would call a hard-core roadie -- I was more like a cycling neophyte, someone who had only recently made the transition from workout shorts to actual padded spandex, and who originally christened her bike "Frenchie" under the gross misapprehension that Lemond was a French bike maker (the bike has since been renamed "Frankie" -- remember that, it'll be important later).

I rode 656 miles, from Byron Bay to Sydney. Afterwards, as I lay in a bunk bed in a Sydney hostel and considered my road-weary bike -- which felt, at that point, like an extension of the lower half of my body -- something profound clunked into place in my brain: the ride, all 656 miles of it, had been the easy part. I'd gotten past the hard part without pedaling a single Australian mile (kilometer, whatever). Well before that airline conveyor belt in LAX had slurped up my boxed-up bike, I had actualized a fantasy of becoming a fresh version of myself. Somehow, in the process of filing for legal separation from my university and slinging enough lattes to power Las Vegas and pay for my plane ticket, I had accomplished everything I had needed to save my own life from its inertia. As it turned out, the plan itself did the hard work for me.

Everything from there on out had been icing on my cake.

I spent two more months in Australia.

Then my bike and I came home.

Yesterday, I got the name "Frankie" tattooed on my ass.

Post Date: June 27, 2007
Post Title: Frankie Goes to Australia, Part 2: Negotiating the Fraternal Order

The first time I set foot in a bike store alongside my loyal cycling buddy, Jeremy, I knew something along the gender line was very wrong. While Jeremy could walk into a store and ask for "that hard thing you put on your head," and be met with "ah, so you've heard of helmets. Welcome, my brother, to the Fraternal Order of the Men Who Spin. Ooh-ha-ha," I could walk into the same store asking for an assessment of Campignolo versus Shimano front derailleurs for bikes with a granny chainring and be met with "uh-huh, yes, we DO have princess lights for cruisers. I think they're somewhere in the back, in our 'pansy' section." One time, while shopping for a saddle that didn't feel as though it was designed specifically to mangle unsuspecting women's butts by an angry butt-hating misogynist, I was forced, by the lack of any women working in these stores, to ask the guy helping me what his girlfriend rides. His response: "she rides what I tell her to ride." Hmph. I need to have a little chat with your girlfriend. I also need to have a little chat with your boss about the total uselessness of his staff when they say things to me like, "I've ridden all these girls' saddles, and this one is definitely better for your butt." As if your sit bones know what my sit bones need on a 60-mile ride. Lots of things about girl bodies and boy bodies are the same -- but pelvic structure ain't one of them. And when it comes to throwing down a hundred bucks on a piece of equipment that will end up being a very close friend of mine, I would really just like to talk to another girl about it. Not to mention the somewhat degrading sensation of having a guy ask me the last time I had my butt measured and would I like him to do it for me?

My point is this: cycling is one more arena in the world of sports where women must throw some elbows in order to get the kind of recognition and support they need to be great athletes -- or even just weekend warriors, out there taking over road shoulders one pink saddle and ponytail at a time. Men cyclists seem to be very aware that theirs is a well-insulated world, where they can hang out in skin-tight clothes, sip lattes, shave their legs, and say "France" with an accent (just so long as it's prompted by "the Tour de") with no social impunity. When there are no chicks around, this must feel like a boys-will-be-spandexed-and-shaven-boys fantasyland. When you put us into the picture, however, said boys seem to need to defend cycling's more metrosexual habits with a hefty helping of condescending paternalism.

Lest I be accused of being an unconstructive critic, I feel I should point the Fraternal Order in a more helpful direction. So, here are two simple tips for making cycling the Switzerland of the gender wars: 1. Hire women in your shops so that I can stop enquiring after shopboys' girlfriends and wives. 2. When there just aren't any women around to help me pick out new shammies or the right length crank, give me the best, paternalism-free advice you can.

And (not a requirement, merely a personal favor), stop buying all our gear in freaking pink.

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