To celebrate the Women’s Festival of Cycling we are featuring a series of interviews with inspiring female cyclists all throughout July.
Interview with Lisa Hilleren (@yo_uterus)
Why do you cycle?
Cycling provides me with endless opportunities to push myself in new ways and show myself how strong I can be. There is always something new to learn whether it be mechanics or riding skills, there is always something to improve or chase after. It's also wonderful to have an activity that is all about me and what I can do with my own body. Cycling is absolutely a "you get in what you put out" experience. It's such a rush to look back at the cycle of growth. On a less personal level, cycling also puts me in touch with my community and encourages exploration and thoughtful observation of the places I ride. It's so easy to tune out of what's going on around you in so much of the rest of city living so I really enjoy riding through the city and taking time to engage with what is there. I've found beautiful picnic spots, the friendliest coffee shops, and delicious food by riding my bike and paying attention.
What inspired you to start cycling? I grew up in the middle of nowhere and spent a lot of my childhood outside. I've been riding a bike for a long time, but I started to get serious about cycling as a lifestyle in college. I didn't have a car, so my bike became my transportation. I started doing longer leisure rides which led to me being a ride leader. I knew I was serious about cycling after I finished my first season of winter biking, which I did mostly because I was too poor to afford the bus. From that point on it has been exploring new avenues of cycling every year. I don't think childhood me ever thought I'd be racing bikes one day.
Did you feel like there were any barriers in your way when starting out cycling?
I think there are a lot of barriers to cycling, but a number of them are other people's attitudes. Cycling can be an elitist boy's club and it can take a while to find your niche. I was fortunate to usually get mad instead of getting discouraged. Several years ago, I walked into a bike shop in my neighbourhood to replace a tire on my junk bike commuter. I knew what size I needed; it was my winter bike, so I knew I wanted to run something knobby. The men in the bike shop tried to explain tires to me when I walked in clearly knowing what I was talking about. It shouldn't be necessary to take 10 minutes of small talk with shop employees to establish that you know what you're on about for them to treat you like a reasonable and sensible adult. Over the years I've seen a lot of people taking a glance at me and deciding that I couldn't be knowledgeable or serious because I'm small/a woman/overweight or whatever else. This is definitely the most frustrating thing for me, but eventually I found spaces where that doesn't happen and now, we all get to talk to each other about how stupid those other folks are for being dismissive. Don't get discouraged; get angry.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of cycling?
When you ride a bike, you experience your community in an entirely different way. Cycling gives you the ability to explore places that may be hard to reach on foot while still being deeply submerged in your surrounding in a way that isn't possible in motorized transportation. It's a way to unwind after a hard day at work. As the miles go by, I can work through my daily stresses and feel fully separated from the office by the time I get home. Cycling always leaves me with a sense of accomplishment. There is no disputing that my body did the work to get me where I am. That's a powerful feeling. Cycling taught me to trust myself and my own strength.
Do you have any words of encouragement for anyone wanting to get into cycling?
I made a promise to myself to not avoid doing things just because I'm vaguely afraid of them and that has been the best thing I could have done for my cycling experience. We were all new and afraid once, but you owe it to yourself to see how good you can be. There will always be barriers, but there are also always people around who want to help. Try your best to put yourself out there. Ask for help when you want it but don't be afraid to stand your ground and go for it on your own. Do your best to find your community. There are times where it can get really difficult to continue and having the support of your peers is the best thing to get you through. I've been lucky to have a number of women mentors in my cycling career. We are a small community, but we support one another, so do not be afraid to ask! There is a lesson in everything you do on the bike. The only way to have not moved forward is by not moving at all.