A few weeks ago, Dutch cyclist, Anniemik van Vleuten suffered a terrible crash while competing in the Olympics Road Race, after being in the lead for much of the long distance race. As she lay in hospital being treated for multiple fractures, she was also administered a dose of Mansplaining by a gentlemen on Twitter. This gentleman tweeted to AvV: "first lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady...whether fast or slow". Subsequent outrage by the Twitterati ultimately forced him to flee Twitter altogether.
Far be it from me to compare myself to AvV - an amazing cyclist with droolworthy Strava updates, who made a quick recovery after the horrific accident, going on to win the Belgium Tour 2016 in spectacular fashion - I discovered recently that the menace of Mansplaining is much more pervasive, and also exists in the realm of sphere of lesser cyclists such as I.
A few days after AvV got mansplained, I was out on my customary Sunday ride. Although less frequent than they used to be and than I would like, my Sunday rides are my happy place, my escape from the rest of the week. On this particular Sunday, I was so desperate for some solitude after a hectic week that I even declined a friend of mine who wanted to ride with me - she was perfectly understanding about my craving for "alone time". Little did I know there was some uninvited riding company coming my way.
As I was enjoying my me time, a cyclist passed me by, and bound as I am by bicycling niceties, I wished him a good morning and he returned the greeting. But it did not end there. This gentleman continued to cycle alongside me, and began a torrent of unsolicited advice:
"You should switch to clip-less pedals."
"Your seat is too low."
"You should do hill repeats."
"You should ride 3 times every week."
"You should drink water every 15 minutes."
"It's good that you already have a watch. Are you tracking everything?"
"How many kilometres are you riding today?"
"How many kilometres have you ridden so far?"
"Switch to a higher gear."
"Now switch to a lower gear."
Each of these pieces of advice and instruction was followed by this broad overarching piece of advice: "you need to do this if you want to make it big." This man insisted on cycling next to me for the next couple of kilometres where, after telling him repeatedly that I was, in fact, not interested in "making it big", I tried valiantly to de-couple myself from a riding partner that I had not signed up for. I would slow down so that he would just go ahead but he would linger back to continue the mansplaining. I would go faster, but he would catch up to continue the mansplaining. I was extremely relieved when, upon asking me which turn I was taking next (a u-turn) he finally informed me that we would be parting ways.
Mansplainers and mansplainer sympathists may argue that this gentleman was, in fact, doing me a favour by giving me so much free guidance. But that would be missing the point. Here was a man, who found a woman cycling alone and started dishing out tips and information from the seemingly entitled position of being a male cyclist, with the underlying assumption that he was a more superior cyclist.
Did this man bother to ask me anything about me first? Such as my cycling goals, past cycling experience, what I was trying to get out of my ride, whether there were any other demands on my time that would prevent me from meeting the magic number of three rides per week, whether I was even inclined to be a high mileage cyclist, whether I actually felt comfortable on my seat or in my gear of choice, whether I was thirsty enough to reach out for water every fifteenth minute.
No, he did not.
Would he have subjected a lone male cyclist to a similar tirade? I have my doubts.
My multiple protests of "but I do not want to make it big" were simply ignored. And when I asked him why he was cycling without a helmet, I was dismissed. Here it is: the arrogance of a man who could not concern himself with trifles such as the most basic rules of riding safely (Rule Number 1: wear a helmet), yet thought it acceptable to dish out a series of generic (and as it seemed, unending) recommendations to a female cyclist he did not know from Eve.
I always welcome advice and help from cyclist friends, we are all learning here after all. But does someone really have the right to impose advice on a perfect stranger in a complete vacuum, not knowing the first thing about them, not inclined to actually engage with them? This could have potentially been a fruitful exchange, perhaps if it had been a dialogue, perhaps one which did not commence from the assumption that I, as a female cyclist, needed to be told how to do things. Where it did not appear that the person giving me a monologue was just shooting his mouth off.
Who knows, though, what if I followed this mansplainer's advice to every last word and "made it big" - would I be freed from the scourge of mansplaining? Probably not, as Anniemik van Vleuten's experience demonstrates.