If you’ve ever been to watch a track cycling event you’ve probably watched a very unusual race called the Keirin. I’ve always enjoyed it and for a number of years I’ve been aware that it’s a big sport in Japan where it was developed. Men’s Keirin racing is very popular but women are also involved and it’s growing. Here’s a few insights based on some research I undertook:
Keirin is a track cycling race where between six to nine riders race over about 2 km around a velodrome. It is a relatively new Olympic event, first raced by the men in 2000 and the women in 2012. Keirin has been a big part of Japanese culture since it was introduced in 1948 as an initiative to rebuild after the war. The race starts with a pace setter (typically a motorised “derny”) who starts slowly but gradually increases the speed until peeling off with about 600 or 700 metres left to race. Usually the riders are travelling at about 50 km/hour by this point and have hopefully manoeuvered into their favoured position. Once the “derny” is gone the race is in full flight and the riders fight to take line honours.
The women follow international competition rules in Japan to keep things safer: while the men are renowned for shoulder barging and head butting through their racing, Girl’s Keirin is a bit more ladylike. The women use colourful disc wheels and tri-spokes provided by the JKA –the same colour wheels as the lane colour they draw.
I first heard about the Adelaide-based women only cycling club, The Skinny Lattes a couple of years ago but it wasn’t until now that I made contact. I previously profiled a women’s only club based in Austin, Texas in the US, a country where I’m sure there are plenty of women’s only clubs. However, The Skinny Lattes is the only one I’m aware of in Australia (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that). I recently caught up with Belinda Bramley who is the Club Secretary and one of the founding members.
When was the Skinny Lattes formed?
The Skinny Lattes Cycling Club was formed in 2002 by three girlfriends Felicity Laing, Lynette Collins and Belinda Bramley who recognised a need for a women’s specific cycling group.
How many members do you have? How do you join?
Currently we have 90 members. We don’t search for members – they find us. You contact the club via the website, and then we chat with potential new members and if we sound like the right club you join via the Cycling Australia Website.
My photograph of Anna at Dunc Grey Velodrome
I was lucky enough to catch up with the amazing Anna Meares via email for an interview. I find Anna very inspiring and have been lucky enough to see her race a couple of times at the velodrome in Sydney.
Q: My Sydney Cycling Club, Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club (LACC) has a girls’ development squad called the Pixies. They ride and race both track and road and range in age from about six to 13. What words of wisdom could you offer them?
A: I have heard of the Pixies (very cute little group and cute name). My advice would be to have fun, enjoy the sport, enjoy the company of old friends and new friends because these will be memories that last you a lifetime.
Q: At what age did you switch from ‘having fun’ racing and riding your bike to ‘serious’ training? How old were you when you found your first coach?
A: I was 13 when I found my first coach in Ken Tucker in Rockhampton. I probably went from having fun to serious when I was 16 years old.
Eight year old, Ava Giramondo is a member of the youth development squad of my cycling club Lidcombe-Auburn Cycle Club (LACC) and she recently presented to her Year 2 class at PLC Sydney, her reasons for selecting cycling as the best sport. When I read it, it seemed to me that Ava’s reasons were not dissimilar to many female cyclists. I particuarly like the bit about how she and her friends don’t have to hang out with the boys! Enjoy….
Here’s Ava’s presentation:
Good morning/afternoon 2c.
In my opinion cycling is the best sport. The type of cycling I’m going to talk to you about is bike racing. It can be enjoyed by both young and old. There are two types of racing you can participate in; road racing and track racing at a velodrome.
Here are three reasons why in my view cycling is the best sport.
Elsa von Blumen on her high wheel bicycle
As well as being a keen cyclist, I am also a lover of social history and when I get to combine two things of interest I’m pretty content.
I have a great book called Wheels of Change by Sue Macy in my home library and thought I would share a story I enjoyed.
If you think that female cyclists in the past 20 or so years have been real trailblazers then think again, because the true trailblazers where the women that were racer bicycles way back in the late 1800s.
An early American racer Elsa von Blumen of Rochester New York saw herself as a role model for good health, particularly for women. She was quoted as saying in an article for The Bicycling World in 1881:
“In presenting myself to the public in my bicycle exercises, I feel I am not only offering the most novel and fascinating entertainment now before the people, but am demonstrating the great need of American young ladies, especially, of physical culture and bodily exercise.
Late last year I was at an event staged by Australian Cycling Executives (ACE) and Annette (Nettie) Edmondson was a special guest. I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Nettie and asked her if I could interview her for Women Who Cycle. Here’s the result:
Q: How old were you when you started riding? What got you started?
I was 13 years old when I was selected for cycling by the Talent Identification Program at the South Australian Institute of Sport after they tested a range of students for their physical attributes and capabilities. I had never considered cycling as a ‘sport’. I saw it more as a hobby and didn’t actually know there was a whole ‘racing’ world out there. I gave the Talent Search’s year-long track and road program a crack, really enjoyed it and here I still am today!
The awesome Anna Meares & Kaarle McCulloch
One aim of this blog is to educate people about the upper echelons of women’s cycling. Men’s cycling gets so much focus and so much airplay that I feel duty bound to help correct this in some small way.
One of the great things about the Olympic Games is that we all get exposed to a myriad of sports we’d never usually pay any attention to, and that includes women’s sport. I personally love to watch track cycling both live and on TV so I thought I’d give a little preview of the Australian women’s track team so when you’re watching in July you’ll know a little about each of these wonderful women. The track cycling events are from 2 to 7 August so make sure you check local programming and tune in. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
The track team was confirmed a week or so ago and the women’s contingent includes:
One of the things you will have learned if you’ve read other parts of this blog is that I’m a member of a great cycle club called Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club known as LACC.
A new innovation for the club is its focus on junior riders or more specifically its junior female riders under the stewardship of the very enthusiastic Gay Chandler and her trusty husband and sidekick Ian Watson. I caught up with Gay recently and asked her a few questions about the team she’s nurturing known as the Pixies.
Q: When did the Pixies team start?
A: The LACC Pixies are now a year old and this winter will be the second year of road racing.
Q: Whose idea was the team?
A: It came from what I could see was a need to have something to attract more young girls and women into cycling as their sport.
Q: Why are concentrating only on girls?
A: The club had a handful of boys riding and racing but only three girls training and they were reluctant to race. I also noted that when a boy wanted to race the Dads went out and got a bike and got them into it. However their daughters never got the same input or encouragement and so the idea of having bikes for the girls to give them a go and get them into the sport emerged as part of the team purpose. This meant that the LACC Pixies would be seen as a development team.
Kate in the NSW IS kit racing at Parramatta last December (note the lovely bike she's riding - same as mine)
One thing I’m beginning to learn as I dabble in the world of professional sport which is something I haven’t really done before is that things can change quickly. A sponsor pulls out unexpectedly, an injury occurs or in Kate Bate’s case an injury reoccurs. I originally spoke to Kate a couple of weeks ago and she told me all about how her focus was on the London Olympics.
So I wrote my blog post and as I sometimes do I sent it to Kate to fact check to make sure I’d got all the details right. I got a surprising and apologetic email back about 12 hours later to say everything had changed and Kate would be announcing her retirement the next day. Kate’s a very humble and kind women and she was actually apologising to me that she’d messed up my story. But never mind, I’ve salvaged it with a new angle. Easy done.
Australian champion track cyclist Anna Meares at a recent event
I had an opportunity to do a great two-day bike skills workshop earlier this year. The first day was on the Dunc Grey Velodrome at Bass Hill and while I hadn’t previously considered track, I thought it would be a great opportunity to improve my bike skills.
My partner Phillip started riding track last year, firstly to compete in the winter track series called RAW at the velodrome and then the summer series at Lidcombe run by our bike club LACC. So I’ve watched him plenty of times but never really considered giving it a go myself.
The bike skills workshop day was a great way to be introduced to track cycling. It was a women’s only workshop which worked well for me. From my observation women and men learn skills like riding a bike very differently so it makes sense to segregate the sexes for this purpose.