Suzanne Deveney, a lifelong resident of Chicago, rides and photographs the city she loves. Her unique perspective often brings focus to street art and the beauty of an urban landscape as only can be viewed from a bike. She embraces all types of cycling, and rides a road bike, a commuter, a vintage Peugeot, and this year embarked on a new venture, learning to mountain bike. She writes a popular cycling and photography blog, and is a freelance contributing writer to http://lovingthebike.com/. She was the organizer of the 2013 Chicago ride for Cyclefemme, a grassroots movement that celebrates women on bikes. Her cycling adventures have taken her abroad, riding from London to Paris in a group of nine women and 127 men, culminating with a final ride along the famed Champs-Élysées.
You can follow Suzanne on Twitter.
What was the highlight of the 2013 women’s cycling season for you?
This year’s cyclocross season has been extraordinary. It was exciting to see a record number of women line up for in Boulder for the Nationals. That speaks volumes about the future of cycling in general, and how much women are falling in love with riding. I would say, however, that a defining moment was the women’s road race at the 2012 Olympics. That race was exponentially more exciting than the men’s race, and the fact that people could watch live around the world should show promoters that women’s cycling is every bit as marketable as men’s. I believe that race turned many people into cycling fans.
What do you love most about the sport?
I’m a little weird. I can sit and watch people ride bikes for hours on end. During grand tours, I’ll watch a stage live online, then every time it’s played throughout the day if it’s televised. It is the most beautiful and graceful sport, yet the most punishing on the human body. There is also a camaraderie that I believe is unmatched in any other sport – professional or amateur. It’s truly a community, no matter what you ride or where you ride.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Extremely optimistic! Here in Chicago, I see more women riding and getting involved in advocacy and promotion of the sport. That’s very encouraging. There’s also a misconception that men aren’t as welcoming to women who enter bike shops or pull up to a Saturday morning group ride. I find nothing could be further from the truth. If I could change one perception about cycling, it would be that. The guys I know that ride are welcoming and more importantly, encouraging to women who ride, and that leaves me the most optimistic about the future.
In 2013, a lot of fans started to get more involved in women’s cycling and helped to generate a “buzz” around the sport. Any ideas what we can do to help even more?
There are women doing remarkable things at the grassroots level that will have an enormous impact. Look at women like Heidi Swift, who rode the 2012 Tour de France route with five other women. Sarai Snyder of Cyclofemme, who’s done extraordinary work getting women of all abilities to ride together. Barb Chamberlain moderates Women’s Bike Blogs – a list of about 600 blogs all written by women about cycling. There’s Breeze Network in the UK, Women Network from the League of American Bicyclists, and countless women making a difference in their own communities. These are the women – and men – who will have an impact on the sport.
How can cycling – fans, race organisers and the UCI – encourage more women to start racing?
I just read an article that stated reports of cycling accidents and deaths are discouraging cyclists, women in particular. People, especially inexperienced cyclists, fear for their safety, particularly when riding in urban areas. This points to the importance of bike infrastructure and education. Communities must make roads safer so that everyone is encouraged to ride. Speaking from experience, once someone falls in love with riding, the possibilities are endless – which may include racing. It all starts with one wheel out your front door.
On a professional level, having more women’s races in general would go a long way to encourage women. A women’s Tour de France? Fans are supportive; finding sponsorship in a tough economy is probably a different story. And unfortunately, there is still a disparity in pay and prize monies. In every facet of life, whether sports or business, the gap must close.
What sort of things should race organisers do to encourage more people to watch races?
Well, in order to watch, they need to be shown. How many women’s races are televised or streamed online? Very few. But when they are, people watch and engage. The 2012 Olympics and recent cyclocross Nationals proved that; my Twitter feed was going crazy during the women’s races. Ultimately, sponsors will be the true influencers over race organizers: increased sponsorship means more races will be accessible. As fans, we need to pay attention and show sponsors that it’s money well spent. We need to support those sponsors who are in turn supporting and promoting women’s cycling.
Do you race – and if so, how did you get into it? If not, why not?
I don’t race; I don’t have that competitive gene – at least when it comes to cycling. I get the most joy from just riding my bike. It doesn’t matter to me how fast I’m going, I just want to be fit enough to be able to ride into a very old age. To race means that one has to “train” and that negates my purpose for riding. I admire those with the discipline and drive to stay competitive; it’s just not for me. I’m content to be on the sidelines as a spectator for races, pushing myself to ride as hard or as easy as I feel on a given day, and riding with friends to a final destination at the coffee shop.
Which riders are going to be worth watching this year?
There are riders who make any race exciting to watch: Marianne Vos, Katie Compton, Mo Bruno Roy, and young riders like Ellen Noble.
But more than that, women who race the local crits and cyclocross races are the ones I admire most. The training and dedication it takes to be competitive while holding down a full time job, raising a family, maintaining a relationship shows how much they ride for the pure love of the sport. And I admire (and am a bit envious of) the women who show up week after week to the “spirited” and mostly male Saturday group rides. These are the riders I watch.
Here’s a time machine which you can use to meet any rider from any point in history. Who will you be meeting?
While I was riding my bike in France, I often fantasized that when I stopped at a picturesque café along the way I would find a group of older men and women – the original domestiques – savoring an espresso and talking about the early days of bike racing. I’m fascinated by those early grand tours; what that must have been like! Even today, I have a soft spot for the domestiques of the peloton; those riders who consistently turn themselves inside out for the benefit of the team and a single rider. Often, we don’t even know their names. Those are the riders I want to hang with.
Last question, and it’s the one that top psychologists agree reveals more about a person than any other: which is better – cats or dogs?
Seriously, I can’t answer this question! I’ve lived with both cats and dogs at different times in my life and loved them all equally. I’m sure my not answering reveals as much about me as if I had answered. You’ll have to let me know on that one!