I left a job at a local newspaper to immerse myself in the cycling industry just under a decade ago.
It’s been a journey. The cycling community is full of so many wonderful characters whom I respect very deeply. The industry is also constantly improving, and I’d say it’s getting easier and easier to be a woman within it – levels of respect are growing markedly. I’m pleased I exist in this life now, and not ten years ago. However, in my time I’ve come across plenty of face-meet-palm moments.
The ‘Hambini’ fiasco/asks 44k people to comment on my vagina one
Hambini is an engineer operating a YouTube channel.
In April 2020, he produced a video that contained a comment about me. I took issue with both the sexual nature of the invitation for comment and some of the replies.
I shared the images below on Twitter (my account is now private) with the caption: “Why does the cycling industry find it SO hard to attract women in key positions?”
The initial video produced by Hambini was deleted, by YouTube, for violating its policies on harassment and bullying.
My objection to the comments, and removal of the material, prompted a comeback video that further criticised me, and referenced this blog post.
The comeback video included substantial inaccuracies. The flaws within the video were so excellently summed up by RoadCC that I really have little to add. Inaccuracies included an allegation that I had broken Covid guidelines, which was not the case. The first ride used to illustrate this was before lockdown, and the other was permitted daily exercise.
Hambini’s video led to a flood of abusive messages being sent to me. Most of the messages shared a very similar language, with repeated use of words that are commonly associated with the Incel social media ‘movement’. I was either a “silly girl”, a “feminazi”, a “whore” or a “roastie” (I had to Google that one).
Hambini claimed to have zoomed in on my rides, videoing them so he could take note of where I had stopped – before sharing images of routes to his followers. He commented “I got 45 minutes of me going through her Strava account with every minute detail annotated”, and “in a video it’s much easier to see where she stopped as you move the cursor.” This attention on my whereabouts, alongside the comments which I read to be sexually agressive and the large and geographically diverse audience, concerned me.
I reported the events to the police. I told the police that I did not want to press any charges, I just wanted the harassment to stop. Hambini’s local police force told me via email that they visited him, to give him “suitable words of advice,” providing documentation that could form part of a formal caution if the situation escalated. They later told me via email that the matter was dealt with via a community resolution. Hambini claims that the police informed him during that visit that the matter had been “dropped”. Hambini described his experience in a video on YouTube, which has now been removed, for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.
Hambini then produced two blog posts, with publish dates in December 2020 (8 months after his first comments about me) and January 2021 (nine months after the first comments). These include Google Street View images from the outside of my home, my address, inaccurate discussion of my medical history and fertility (very strange that Hambini states doctors have told him I may have PCOS, based on an article about Red-S, which mentions ultrasounds, used by doctors to rule out PCOS), entirely false accusations of driving offences based upon searching MOT records (once, a garage broke the brake hoses on our car during an MOT – unsruprisingly, they fixed that before the car left the garage), false allegations of the use of YouTube accounts under alternative names, discussion of the alignment of my teeth and so on.
Videos produced over the last year have included comments about items being “more f*cked than Michelle’s vagina”, and a rant about a “dishwasher called.. Michelle. No Miele” and giving it a “good f*cking kicking because it’s just a piece of sh*t it’s so disobedient,” Hambini added “so if you have a dishwasher out there that’s called Michelle, sorry, Meiele, if it’s disobedient remember to give it a good f*cking kicking. Or a reaming, In fact, there’s a hole, a drain hole, I’m sure it’s an H7 fit, but it started out life as an M7. That’s a capital M.”
Some of these videos have been removed, by YouTube, for violating its policies on sexual content and/or harassment and bullying.
Hambini’s initial video, produced over a year ago, discussed an aero testing video I produced with Cycling Weekly. Hambini disagreed with the method employed by the expert we chose to assist us – in this case Aerocoach’s Xavier Disley.
Like any journalist, I love speaking to reliable experts (for example, those publishing under a verifiable name, and with a trustable reputation), and discussing their opinions. It’s very normal for experts to disagree – that’s called critiquing and it’s how we progress and learn as a human race. But I believe that this conversation needs to be honest and respectful for it to be useful or meaningful for anyone involved.
Hambini also suggested that the aero testing video had been paid for. This was not the case. All promotional content is marked clearly as sponsored, as per the rules all media must adhere to.
If there is one thing I learned through this whole, to be honest quite upsetting ordeal, it is that the cycling community I know and love has my back. I received some nasty, personal messages and read a lot of comments I’d rather not have – but I also received many kind messages and offers of support from the cycling community. So, thank you.
I’m not big into women’s specific bikes – but I am keen on components that fit.
The number of times I’ve been asked to ride a bike with a saddle that seemed to have a personal vendetta against my ever having a sex life ever again is obscene. Pro tip: always take your own saddle if you’re not riding your own bike.
In most cases, the bike industry specs unisex bikes with saddles designed for men. Which is why press bikes are sometimes not fun for me – but much more importantly (and why I refuse to shut up about this), why every single beginner women’s ride I’ve guided has been dominated by talk of saddle discomfort. Ditto, every Facebook/WhatsApp group serving women on bikes.
Women are being put off cycling before they’ve had a chance to get hooked because the stock saddle is very often a torture device for them. And it would be so easy to fix. Sure, finding the right saddle for you can take work, but if all bikes sold to women were fitted with a saddle vaguely in keeping with the average female anatomy it would go a long way to increasing female participation.
The ‘is this your girlfriend?’ one
I’ve just waved my dictaphone below the face of the owner of a leading bike brand, for around ten minutes. Now I am sauntering around the factory – next to a male journalist who I became acquainted with around an hour ago.
Bike brand owner to male journalist: “Is this your wife?”
Bike brand owner: “Is this your girlfriend?”
Me: “No… I am a journalist. Also on your factory tour. I just interviewed you.”
Maybe I asked the wrong questions – but at the time queries about the pro team the brand sponsors and disc brakes seemed pretty representative of what any other journalists might ask.
‘When a woman says something intelligent, she gets more kudos’
I was once told (face to face by a peer, we’re not talking social media comment trolls) that female journalists receive greater respect from the audience, because they’re impressed that a woman has the capacity to understand the science/tech/racing all on her own with her tiny little brain.
I’m not sure if I was meant to agree and feel great sympathy for the men who are no doubt womansplained to and patronised at all angles. I’ve lost count of the number of female mechanics who tell me customers literally look like they’ve been threatened with a machine gun when they suggest that they are indeed about to take their bike into the workshop and [shockhorror] fix it for them.
The ‘aero tits’
I’ve just interviewed a former team mechanic, about tyre pressure of all things. Sexy subject, I know.
He’s also a bike fitter so when I mention I’ve had some knee pain I think nothing of a quick bike fit check up whilst I’m there. Until he turns into a complete creep, insisting on making comments about my un-aero-boobs via private messaging despite repeated replies along the lines of “I’m not interested (and also married)”.
I didn’t mention this to anyone, I was young, naiive and embarrassed. Other women spoke up after receiving similar treatment and the mechanic was sacked.
Closely related: the ex-colleague who DMed me to say “I wouldn’t mind seeing you in the shower, like what’s his name did”. I’ve no idea what he’s talking about but spent the next week wondering if I once forgot to lock the shower door.
The ‘unisex titles don’t want to hear about women’s product’ one
Forty journalists sit through a several hour long presentation about a new men’s product, before the two women invited are treated to an additional 30 minutes on the women’s iteration. During which one marketeer comments “female pro cyclists don’t need women’s products, because they’re hardcore.”
Needless to say, the majority went away and wrote about the men’s product, with no real information about the women’s version – since no one had really bothered to tell them about it. And seemingly some members of the team felt women’s product was redundant for those who are ‘hardcore’ enough, anyway.
Surprise and congratulations for… being able to keep up
Sometimes, brands will invite a group of journalists out for a bike ride – usually for the launch of a new product, so you can all try it together and chat to the creators.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve joined the “long” or “fast” ride (read: it’s rarely that long or that fast, most of us spend our days at desks) to be congratulated with a comment along the lines of “GIRL POWER.”
I once high-fived the guy back and shouted “BOY POWER.” I don’t think he got the joke.
This isn’t about who is, isn’t, should be, shouldn’t be, faster or slower. It’d just be nice to feel like less of an “other”, I suppose.
Being told you can’t keep up (or descend fast)
For example, the time the route looked to be particularly hilly and the ride guide glanced around at the four assembled male journalists (who were all awesome, btw), commenting, “you will be fine”, before staring pointedly at me and adding “you, I’m not so sure.” The repressed rage got me to the top of the most of the hills first, so that worked out well.
Another close personal favourite was the women’s bike launch where no rider was allowed to overtake the guide, who proceeded to ride embarrassingly slowly, on the descents. This has never, ever happened on a mixed launch.
Always being the ‘only girl’ on the photoshoot
Grimacing madly whilst being sent off in various orders to promote assorted views of gender politics.
The result is that it’s always intensely difficult to find a picture of two women actually riding their bikes together. Ditto, anyone from the BAME community. And this, among other reasons, is why the cycling media has a massive representation problem.