Women face a vast array of choices these days. We have more freedom now more than ever. A generation ago in Australia, it was impossible to obtain a mortgage without a husband and pregnancy was the end to a woman’s career. Furthermore, many women were not encouraged to finish high school or pursue further education.
In my own experience, after graduating from the University of Chicago, my mother told me that when a man said something that I didn’t understand, I should just smile and nod. I ignored this advice and chose a career which developed my skills, took me around the world and made it possible for me to meet my Australian husband. In my travels and at work, I have met many fabulous women. We have all faced times when we must make choices, not for lunch, but for significant decisions that change the course of our lives.
I had a #bikeshopeat with Fiona Morris which reminded me about the choices that we make which set the course for one’s life. Fiona is an Australian cyclocross (CX) racer. She is one of faces of MAAP, a Melbourne-based cycling apparel brand, and wife of Garry Millburn, who is a member of the Australian CX team. I met Fiona through my husband Justin who started participating in CX races in the winter of 2015. She accompanied Garry to Belgium and the US last Northern Hemisphere winter to support his racing endeavours. This winter, my husband mentioned that she had returned much fitter and was now winning CX races. My husband’s exact words were, “I used to pass her last winter. She kicks my arse now.”
As a result, I was curious to know what had happened during her time away. I saw her in Newcastle, at the penultimate CX race of the season. I invited her to #bikeshopeat with me especially after finding out that she bicycles to shop for groceries and doesn’t own a car. While arranging a time and place to meet, I also learned that she has three bicycles: road, cx and fixed gear also known as a “fixie.” However, she was unsure of which bicycle to take to the city. If she took the fixie, she would need to take the train to meet me because of the hills between home and the city. We planned to wear every day clothes. Consequently, I asked if she would be willing to try an e-bike. With Eurocycles a few kilometres away, I thought there might be an opportunity to try something new.
The day was beautiful, if a little windy, and we met at the south end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Riding more upright on a bicycle is a different experience for Fiona. T-shirt and jeans from Zara. Le Coq Sportif shoes.
I recognised her immediately because she was sitting upright on bicycle. Scores of people, bent over in the classic roadie stance, had already passed. While this is more efficient for directing power to the pedals for distance and speed, it can wreak havoc on clothes. (Shirttails, uncomfortable arms in a jacket, grease on legs etc.) And without professional help to find the correct position, it can be murderously uncomfortable.
Getting to know Kent Street Cycleway together. En route to Pitt Street Mall.
Fiona loved the Riese & Muller e-bike which has a classic upright style but mentioned that it was an adjustment. I knew that the upright stance would be a change for her. But the e-bike would make it possible for her to ride directly from home to the city. Eurocycles had thoughtfully attached a blue basket to the back of the e-bike to carry her handbag and any treasures along the way. (She admitted to a little #bikeshopeat the night before, such was the seduction of the e-bike!) Before setting off to the Strand Arcade, I mentioned how the King Street Cycleway disappears into the road. We rode quickly along Kent Street Cycleway. On King Street, light traffic made it easy to cross several lanes of traffic to arrive at Pitt Street Mall. I had planned to have a coffee at the Strand Arcade and then a stop at Seed Heritage.
At the cafe, she mentioned that she bicycled daily in Sweden where she was on exchange as part of her university degree in industrial design. However, upon her return to Sydney, there was no bicycling. Growing up in the country, she started riding motorcycles when she was four and later horses in the bush and difficult terrain. She stopped bicycling altogether as a teenager because her father insisted that she wear an (ugly) helmet.
Later, after accompanying Garry to the US for the CX season as supportive partner, she was inspired to try a CX race. Because of her foundation skills on motorcycles and horses, her skills-pickup was quick. She was inspired to start training for races and improving her fitness and skills. And Garry began to support her when it was race day. Intuitively, he was able to provide her with direction and support her while racing. I asked her what her plans were in CX. As we finished our coffee, she said that she wanted to compete on the national level and make it onto the podium. She had a plan to get there which included Garry’s coaching and more training. With his experience, she would be able to get there faster. Life with an elite athlete is often skewed in one direction. In this case, it has started flowing in another.
I’ve tried CX and it is oddly addictive. I’ve written about our experiences with CX (Racing to a Race and Competitive and Confident). Fiona has written an excellent introduction to cyclocross. One of the best things about it is the culture of the people. Because it’s a nascent sport in Australia, spectators and participants are very supportive and encouraging. The format is family-friendly, racers are easy to watch and the race itself takes a few hours on the weekend (as opposed to all day or all weekend). Participants are also a particular breed. I like to think they are the best type. They are interested in problem-solving, have the ability to innovate and a “can-do” attitude. All of these qualities are necessary to CX because some of the obstacles are seemingly impossible to surmount. Being able to adapt makes it possible to carry on. An analogy for life, one might argue.
As we left the cafe, I suggested having a look at Seed Heritage which is undergoing a change itself. In the shop, I made the observation that Fiona’s style was very “Californian” breezy, casual, youthful. And yet, she expressed dismay. Now that she is a little older, she wanted to look a little more stylish and put-together but didn’t know where to start. I suggested several outfits which were a departure from the jeans, t-shirts and jumpers that she usually wears.
We had a great time in the shop and she was surprised at her appearance. Clothing is transformative. I believe that it can inspire us to be a better version of who we want to be.
I took Fiona back to the Sydney Harbour Bridge via Market Street and the Kent Street Cycleway. We both had work to attend. I was a little worried about the quick, blind right turn onto Kent Street but she followed me successfully onto the cycleway.
She later told me that she often follows Garry in the same manner (and probably at the same speed but without an electric motor!). Later, we both passed a young man on his bicycle easily while ascending Kent Street. He was in shock at two women passing him so easily. He recovered by asking us the price of our e-bikes. As we set off over the bridge, Fiona said in parting, “E-bikes are the future!”
I think this is the only time that I will ever be in front of Ms. Morris on bicycle.
Thank you to Fiona and Eurocycles for coming along for this #bikeshopeat.
Please follow Fiona Morris on Instagram for her daily dose of fast-bicycling inspiration with style.