Cycling in groups has many advantages. The women of Madam Vélo experience this every time they go out on the bike together. After a bike ride in Westhoek, Sophie, Sofie, Sarah and Mieke tell us why they love to go cycling together and what this means for them.
Hi, Sophie! You founded Madam Vélo in 2015. What does it stand for?
“Madam Vélo is a cycling community for women. The goal is simple: get more women on bikes. We organize bike rides, participate in cyclos, hold workshops, go on a bike trip… Everyone is welcome, there is no required level. We have a cool cycling outfit but nobody is obliged to buy it. Madam Vélo is not a classic club with members and fixed appointments. Everyone chooses where and when they want to bike. We also encourage our ladies to organize rides themselves by posting them in our Facebook group.”
That is clear. Now tell us ladies, what do you love about cycling?
Sofie: “I started cycling because I wanted to feel alive & kicking when I was 40. I am now 40 years old and I will continue to bike, to also be healthy when I’ll be 50 years old (smiles). In the meantime, I – luckily! – discovered how much fun cycling is. It's a combination of friendship and clearing your head. Cycling moves my thoughts and brings peace to my head. It gives me a feeling of freedom, especially in the West Flemish fields here.”
Sarah: “For me the social aspect is essential. You can catch up while you are cycling in a group. It’s a combination of social contact and sports. I think it's important to do something for my health. Cycling is ideal for that. Every now and then I go full out and then I feel that I am alive. I need that."
Mieke: “Same here: I think cycling is a wonderful combination of suffering and enjoyment. I once went up the Altro de Letras in Colombia by bike, the longest climb in the world. Extremely difficult and during the climb I repeatedly asked myself: 'why am I doing this?' But once I had reached the top, it was fun and then you quickly forget that pain. I really can't miss cycling. I plan it and make time for it. I thought the covid period was wonderful: suddenly there was a sea of time during the day for cycling, for example during my lunch break. Now it's needed to plan again, but I'll do it anyway because I know I'm not such a nice person if I can't ride my bike… (laughs)”
Sophie: “What is so nice about cycling is that you get to all kinds of beautiful places that you might not otherwise see. In Westhoek alone there is so much variation in cycling routes. You can bike through flat polders, climb spicy hills and ride through historic cities and picturesque villages. And don't forget the many remnants of the First World War. It is always a discovery here.”
You have convinced us to start cycling ourselves, for which we thank you! What makes it so special to bike in a group with only women?
Sarah: “Many women experience a barrier to join a cycling club. They think the pace is too high in a mixed club and they have a lot of questions. Our community is especially ideal for women who are in the beginning phase of riding their bike. It is a combination of technical guidance and the social aspect.”
Sophie: “Don't forget also the gastronomic aspect! I try to provide a stop in every ride where we eat and/or drink something delicious. After the effort there is of course time to relax. This can be on a sunny terrace, in an authentic pub or in the place where we stay. In any case, it is always fun. It is in those moments that close friendships are formed.”
Mieke: “I can fully confirm that. We all get along very well. We're not a competitive women's gang. We are committed to each other. I only compete with myself.”
Sofie: “We are all different too. I am a sprinter while Mieke rides slower but is better on long distances. That's fine, we know this about each other and we take it into account."
Isn't there a risk of cycling too fast, because maybe nobody wants to show they can’t ride along with the rest?
Sarah: “That could be, but not with us. The slowest determines the pace here. Out together, home together!”
Sophie: “I always indicate the level for organized rides. This way the ladies know what to expect and they can estimate whether it is something for them. The positive thing about cycling in a group is that it can make you ride faster because you are pulled along by the others. This makes it easier to cycle at a higher pace with the same effort. If you don't cycle that fast, you can still cover a nice distance. The others bring out the best in you!”
Do you always cycle in groups?
Sarah: “In addition to Madam Vélo, I'm still in a cycling club, but I often cycle alone as well. I need those solo rides.”
Sofie: “Very recognizable! Every year on my birthday I do a long bike ride alone. A good moment for self-reflection, and ideal as I bike completely based on my own pace.”
Mieke: “I'm lucky: my husband also likes to bike and we often go out together. We regularly go on bike trips and he even cleans my bike. I can't clean it on my own or he'll get angry (laughs). A luxury, I know!”
Sophie: “We sometimes go on cycling weekends or cycling holidays with Madam Vélo. This is ideal for cycling and relaxing together. Ypres and the surrounding region are a perfect destination for this. It is a beautiful cycling environment with a wide range to discover things together after cycling… and of course to taste it too (laughs).”
Sophie, do you have one last tip for women who go cycling in groups?
Sophie: “Calm group rides on a flat or other course, such as with Madam Vélo, are ideal as a long endurance training. Faster and more intensive workouts are better on your own. When you go cycling in a group, it is important that you know how far you can go. The most important thing is to have fun, to enjoy the environment and to relax after the effort!”
Thanks for this lovely conversation, ladies. Have lots of cycling fun in Westhoek, and who knows, maybe we'll bump into each other somewhere on the Flemish roads!