For one, it was a graduation gift. A bright red Giant. After a cross-country move, Abby Watson’s bike was her way of getting from A to B. It was how she came to know the city of Portland, Oregon, and how she met friends. As these things go in cycling, Watson ended up racing. “I was aware that people were on nicer bikes than me. That people were wearing more expensive clothes than me… but I found everyone to be super friendly,” she says.
For another, the bike has been a part of life, sometimes the main part, since she was 10. Julie Krasniak has been an athlete from early on in a multitude of sports, but one Sunday morning, her father asked if she would like to go for a bike ride. “It was so fun I just kept doing it,” Krasniak says, her French accent thick as wax over each syllable. She ultimately raced for years in the blue of the French national cyclocross squad and pinned numbers on as a road and mountain bike pro, competing in French road nationals and La Flèche Wallonne.
And for Kelton Wright, her bike was at first a way to get to work in Colorado, but soon became much more. She couldn’t afford to buy a car after moving from New York City and needed transportation. Cycling grew bigger a short time later; it was a way to mute the white noise of anxiety, in which each loud heartbeat is a good sign when she’s pedaling rather than a panicked metronome. “Cycling helped me get control over my body again and re-train my brain,” Wright says.
Watson, Krasniak, and Wright are women’s ambassadors for Rapha North America. Each represents a common element of cycling: the new, eager rider (Wright), the absolute professional (Krasniak, though she also holds a law degree) and the steady hand (Watson). Miles and history connect them, and Watson’s younger sister is actually Wright’s best friend. (The two are both from Ohio).
Watson is the common thread. She began to ride with Krasniak in Portland, and eventually served as a mentor to Wright as she began cycling. Watson and Wright have known one another since they were teenagers, but cycling added a new layer. Watson, ever perceived as the big sister, helped nudge the younger Wright along. “I don’t understand why I can’t just wear gym shorts and a tank top,” Wright says of her entrance into road riding. “I don’t want to have to wear special shoes.”
“You don’t want to put flat pedals on your road bike,” Watson told her, and began sending along her hand-me-downs. “As I got stronger, I was like, ‘What do you eat the night before?’ ‘How much water am I supposed to be drinking?’” Wright says.
Wright’s Boulder, Colorado office had a cycling coach (current professional Mara Abbott, twice the winner of the Giro Rosa), and the beginner began putting in miles. She wasn’t cracking the office’s cycling culture, though. “I really wanted to catch up to everyone in the office, because they weren’t inviting me on rides, even though they knew I rode my bike,” Wright says.
“How do I get in?” she asked Watson, who then sent her a Rapha jersey. People noticed. “It was like I had on Air Jordans or something,” Wright says.
Now Wright lives in Los Angeles and she spends her free time riding in the canyons; she has taken to cycling as a kite does to wind. She’s a naturally anxious person, and cycling has given her a form of control.
“It reduced my panic attacks by 90 percent. It fixed me,” Wright says. “For me it was time to be alone. And sort things out. Time that no one could talk to me and I could live in whatever world I wanted to. It was really freeing to be able to say to work, ‘I’m going to be on the bike for the next seven hours in the canyons.’”
Between riders there is an understanding that transcends easy labels and deepens relationships. It begins on the road and quickly spreads.
“I think you get an extra level of respect and understanding for people because you respect people even more when you respect how they are as a cyclist. That’s definitely been one for me and Kelton,” Watson says. “We knew each other before the bike, and now again in a different way after the bike.”
Wright agrees: “I feel like people on the bike intrinsically know something about me my other friends don’t.” If someone rides with her for 70 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing, “They’re a different kind of person. And I relate to them on another level that I don’t always with my other friends. Willing to put your body through that struggle — there’s something I can relate to in that… professional ambitions, hopes and dreams.”
Cycling is a job for some, a lodestar for others, or a simple way to work. One look at Rapha’s Women’s 100 indicates as much. Last year, more than 4,000 women rode 100km.
“I think it’s been super positive, Watson says. “I want to make sure that we keep engaging the racer, the more experienced crowd, but also the people getting into it. I think that’s the challenge.” The date for the Rapha Women’s 100 ride this year is 26 July 2015.
“It’s empowering,” Wright says. “There are maybe five women riding most days. Then, for the Women’s 100 there are like 70 women, and you think, ‘Where are you the rest of the year? We’re riding, why aren’t we riding together?’”