An Unfinished Journey
In the second instalment of Pearson’s interview with Emily Chappell, the celebrated endurance cyclist and author reflects on how far she’s come personally – but how far the wider sport still has to go.
By Ian Collier.
The issue of diversity in cycling is not a new one. While endurance legend Emily Chappell insists her particular discipline bucks the trend, she’s all too aware there is a lot of work to do in other areas of the cycling world.
“Endurance cycling somehow lends itself to gender being slightly less of a factor,” Emily explains. “It could be because, for instance, when you're doing a Transcontinental with a lot of people (the annual, week-long race across Europe is entirely self-supported), you mostly don’t see each other. You’re all having the same experiences – just 50 kilometres up or down the road.
“But other areas of cycling are different. For example, professional female road racers are at a tremendous disadvantage compared to the men. When you see Équipe Paule Ka, one of the best female teams in the world go under because they don't have any money (the Swiss-based team folded in October this year), that just seems absurd. It’s a massive problem.
“And if you look at the last few months and Black Lives Matter, people have begun to realise that there’s a massive racial disparity. And that then intersects with all the gender biases. Women, and particularly women of colour, are at an even bigger disadvantage and even less represented.”
Emily’s evolution, from self-confessed nerd to inner-city bike courier to now one of the world’s best-known endurance cyclists, is inspiring. And when we suggest her incredible feats on two wheels, not to mention how she’s translated her story into two successful books, affords her the title of role model, she reluctantly agrees. “I was a total nerd at school and pretty clever, I guess.
So, the obvious route was university, where I did okay. At Cambridge, all of the people you could class as role models were academics. And you were tested and judged on academia and very little else. I realised I didn't really have any other role models. But when I moved to London, I began to realise there were a lot of other ways of challenging yourself in the world and my ambitions gradually drifted.”
As Emily got drawn further into the world of endurance cycling, she took inspiration from the likes of Dervla Murphy, the writer best known for her 1965 classic, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. Another who caught her eye was Alastair Humphreys, the English adventurer and author who, over a four-year period, cycled 46,000 miles around the world. After establishing herself in the sport of endurance riding, Emily had the opportunity to meet Juliana Buhring, who in 2012 set the first Guinness World Record as the fastest woman to circumnavigate the globe by bike. They are now good friends.
“I found it fascinating and inspiring reading about their exploits,” Emily says. But it was the ways in which they expressed their sort of inadequacies and vulnerabilities that really made me think, ‘Maybe I could do this too’.”
We have no doubt Emily will inspire new generations of riders to get on the saddle.
Buy Emily's new book 'Where There's A Will' here >