Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rolling Model vs. Faux Model: A woman of a certain age rides a bike

Why, no, I didn't get around to air brushing the wrinkles off my forehead!
I'm starting to wonder if I'm now the unofficial spokeswoman for bike riding women over 40.  Dottie and Trisha from Let's Go Ride a Bike recently posted an interview with me for their new Roll Model series and I think that just might be the case, and I have to say, I kinda like it.  Whether or not the role caters to my narcissist in me or not, it's satisfying to think that perhaps my approach to comfortably settling in to middle age might be helpful to other women (and maybe a few men) who are nearing that time of life with a sense of dread.  Or, are already there and fear life has past them by.  I hate to think that anyone struggles with the idea of getting older but our culture encourages it.  Perhaps, aging isn't a monkey on my back because I've always been focused on what the future holds.  My friend Marc, a year younger than me, once remarked that he doesn't experience depressed feeling about being in his 40's because he doesn't look back at his youth as the best days of his life.  The good stuff all came much later after high school football.  Being young is filled with  insecurity and self-doubt but as Dan Savage says, "It gets better."

Obsessed with the same shoes and the perfect pair of jeans for the last 30 years.
When I first started writing this blog, I avoided referring to my age, not because I can't admit what it is, but because I didn't want to restrict my audience to an older age group.  Would a younger reader even be interested in what a woman in her mid-40's had to say.  Was there even an readership of women my age who would find posts about women's bike commuting relevant. Why make my age an issue if it really wasn't one I spent much time focusing on in my daily life? Still, I didn't like feeling like I had something to hide.  Was I acting the fraud?

The "boyfriend" jean.  Genius!  I don't do "skinny" but some 40+ ladies carry them off very well.
After a couple of years of writing SRAB, I started referring to my age more and more because I've found other women who are my age and older who blogging about transportation cycling and because a number of readers have shared their ages and age related biking issues in the comments section. 

Yes, that is a Hello Kitty t-shirt.  So, what?!
Unexpectedly, several younger women readers left comments appreciative of my attitude about aging, from my choice to flaunt the conventional image of the middle aged women by riding a bike instead of driving an unnecessarily large and expensive SUV to my deliberate decision to accept aging gracefully rather falling victim to a desperate attempt to appear forever 21 (although I admit that I have purchased there a couple of times in the last decade).  Gratifying feedback, since I can't deny that I don't see the messages fed to women, young and old, everyday that our value is in our youth or the illusion of it. 

Let's not reject Ashley as a bike riding roll model just because she's young and beautiful.
Does that mean that I can't adore the cycle chic movement?  Absolutely not!  My love of fashion far exceeds my bank account, and if I'm anything like Grandmother Geer, always will.  I'll express that love on my bicycle and hopefully present a happy vision of stylish but not undignified bike commuting.

She did a great job of showing the world how to properly use the bike lane.
The cycle chic blogs have been criticized for featuring images of attractive young women on bikes, thereby trivializing women's biking and further objectifying women.  I don't buy a bit of it.  Style innovation almost always finds inspiration at the ground level with youth culture, and our cultural standard of beauty has expanded considerably in the last few decades.  Sure, cycle chic blogs frequently provide us images of 20something cyclists flaunting "it" - in every size, shape, ethnicity, type of hair, gender and subculture.  I love it because I'm seeing young women proudly embracing what makes them beautiful and unique, which is not something I enjoyed in my 20's. 

Undeterred from having her bike stolen, this new NAU grad and aspiring screen writer borrowed a bike from a friend to get her Target shopping done.  I'd love to know what she'll be up to 30 years from now.
I remember the days when women almost shunned their sexuality because their skin, hair, body shape, height, nose, whatever was too much this or not enough that.  And forget about older women!  They were simply invisible!  When I first began my research in to bike commuting, however, the first images I saw older women, often far older than me, looking elegant and worldly on bicycles was at Copenhagen Cycle Chic. The message for me was that age doesn't have to stop me from living, evolving with new experiences, being strong or from being a woman.  Biking as transportation doesn't become childish, silly act of age-denial just because the rider is over 35. 

I'll close with the shameful admission that I don't feature that many over 40 cycling women in this space.  It's not for a lack of trying, however.  I just don't know that many cycling women in that age group.  Most of the cycling women that I run into are complete strangers, usually students at NAU.  That said, when I do see older women cycling around town, they possess that determined look of one who is going some place, confident on two wheels.  My fear of being arrested as the crazy, bicycle-riding, stalker lady inhibits me from pursuing them for a photo but I'll try to do better.  If you happen to live in Flagstaff, are 40+ and would like to share your thoughts about being a female transportation cyclist "of a certain age", please drop me a line.  I'd love to offer you a forum for your experiences.


DAN said...

I never looked to you age on your blog, I only seen it as a cycle culture/ commuting blog. Keep up the good work.

anniebikes said...

In cycle commuting, age doesn't matter. I never thought about your age, frankly, just that you're a woman in Flagstafff who shares a love of biking. I'm turning 50 this summer and still bike commuting, touring, and blogging. I always look to the future, because as you say, there may be better days ahead.

disabledcyclist said...

"(and maybe a few men)"...I would fall into that group,I imagine,LOL! :p

I never gave a second thought about age when reading your blog (or upkeeping my own)...but that may be because like many nearly-40 men (I'll be 39 next month),I really am just a grownup sized kid,LOL! It's how I feel now,and how I have since I was in fact,a kid.

Life is what one makes of it,especially (or at least) in this country. admire you not for being a 40-something woman who transportaion cycles,but for being a kindred spirit in the love a cycling period,end of sentance :)

Roll on,Sister,Life is Good,as the t-shirts say,and better on two wheels,and as we age,we're wiser enough at least to know to enjoy it more than we may have in our youth :)

The Disabled Cyclist said...

I'm in my 50s and ride my bike to get around, I have pictures of women in their 80s on my blog riding their bikes, it is an ageless activity, if you want it to be.

katerine said...

A few days ago I turned sixty and discovered that it is just fine. Wrinkles and such are perfectly acceptable as I no longer worry much about what other people think. Refreshing.

Now that I have started cycling again I am enjoying reading the various blogs. Thank you for sharing yours.

Oh yes, I recently discovered cowboy boots. What fun for a Chicago area person like myself.

She Rides a Bike said...

Thank you for visiting my Katerine. I'm always glad to hear from women who are new to transportation cycling and over 40. I'm especially inspired by women committed to doing what they want to do despite the messages we receive about what we can or can't do, should or shouldn't do. I just saw a blurb on CNN that a 73-year-old woman became the oldest women to summit Mount Everest! I have no intention to try to follow her on up but her accomplishment makes me determined to continue to pursue challenges that interest me.

Good for you on your cowboy boots. I'm sure that you'll wear them well!

Carolyn said...

I'm over 40 and ride a bike as my transportation. I feel no shame in doing that and not having even a car. In fact I feel proudly defiant not being like everyone else!

I think riding also makes me feel and look younger as no one believes that I am over 40!

She Rides a Bike said...

Carolyn: My goal is to be car-free. The less I use my car the more confident I am that I'll make the transition just fine. Since I'll be moving this summer to a much larger city, I look forward to combining my bike with public transit, which I love for how urbane it makes me feel.

She Rides a Bike said...

Carolyn: My goal is to be car-free. The less I use my car the more confident I am that I'll make the transition just fine. Since I'll be moving this summer to a much larger city, I look forward to combining my bike with public transit, which I love for how urbane it makes me feel.

ladyfleur said...

Cycle Chic is not just for the young lovelies! I'm just shy of 50 and I love to ride in dresses and anything else I please here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It must run in the family because my 50+ sister who rides around in the hottest little numbers in her beach community in Florida.

That said, I agree there are fewer older women than younger who make a point of dressing stylishly on the bike in my area.

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