What happens when two blokes join an all-female group ride? Ross Inglis explains:
Next time you spot a roadie group, or you’re in one, do a quick count. How many of the riders are women? Chances are, very few. One in 10, if we had to guess.
So we were intrigued when we ran into the Hotties, an all-women group riding out of Bike Auckland partner Hot Cycles in St Heliers. It’s the city’s only exclusively female road group we know of, it has its own team kit, and it’s growing fast. We asked if two blokes, myself and my riding buddy Dave, could join a Hotties ride to sample life on the other side of the road cycling gender divide.
“Absolutely!” was the answer. “You can be honorary Hotties for the day!”
Thus, one crisp Sunday morning at 7am, we join 10 Hotties and their leader, the redoubtable Orla Seymour, for their regular social ride. This one was to be a loop from St Heliers into town, out along the Northwestern Cycleway, through Hobsonville, Greenhithe and Milford to Devonport, where we’d hop on the ferry back to the city. It’s known to the Hotties as ‘North Shore Nancies’ and it’s 70km in total, at a relaxed pace.
To their credit, none of the Hotties bat an eyelid at the presence of two hairy blokes. They are uniformly welcoming. As we glide along Tamaki Drive I meet Eva Nugent, an Irish physiotherapist, who agrees that the sunrise unfolding over our right shoulders is truly magnificent and confides that winter riding in Auckland has it all over Dublin, where the locals resort to wrapping their toes in tinfoil to keep them warm.
We leave the Northwestern Cycleway and start climbing up Triangle Road; I meet Emma Dalton, the group’s youngest member. Emma is tackling a group ride for the very first time; she joined the Hotties because she’d heard it was an encouraging place for beginners.
The reputation, it turns out, is justified. The Hotties’ social group is novice-friendly by design. The pace, at an average 21 to 23 kmh, is non-threatening and there is a no-drop policy, which means if you fall behind for any reason, the group will wait for you.
The policy is tested not far along Triangle Road, when Orla punctures. Sure enough, everyone waits while she efficiently swaps out the tube. Orla’s no stranger to punctures; it turns out that she’s a bit of a machine – she has a half-Ironman and an Ironman under her belt, and is now in training for the 320 km enduro event at this year’s Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge.
Orla has been leading the social group since February. Her primary mission, she reckons, is to keep everyone safe. To that end, she opts for routes with plenty of cycle ways. “A lot of new riders don’t even know the cycle ways are there,” she says. “As soon as they get on them, you can tell they instantly feel more comfortable.”
Puncture repaired, we get back in the saddle. It’s a chatty group, riders forming in two and threes and exchanging gossip. I natter with Sheridan Hornsby-Hunt who volunteers that, at age 60, she’s today’s oldest rider. “Not the oldest Hottie, though,” she quickly adds. “There’s at least one who’s 68.” Sheridan appears not to be easily phased, so I put to her a delicate question: What’s the protocol on the road for, um, clearing one’s sinuses? This is not a minor matter, as anyone who has ridden immediately behind a prolifically snotty bloke will agree. “Well, we do, of course. Everyone does,” Sheridan smiles. “Maybe we try a little harder to give plenty of warning.”
Sheridan has been riding with the Hotties since 2015, partly to keep fit and partly for the company. “It’s a very friendly group,” she says. “It would be much harder to do these rides on your own.”
The Hotties’ sociability is a real drawcard. Over a café stop in Milford I ask the crew why they opted for an all-woman group. “Friends!” one volunteers. “It’s all about the group.”
And what, I ask, is it like to ride with men? “Competitive!” they respond. “Too fast. And if you get left behind, they’re not going to wait for you!” There’s a view that chaps over 35 are rather nicer to ride with; younger than that and there’s just too much testosterone. That said, the occasional bloke does appear on a ride. Friends and partners are always welcome.
In any case, the Hotties’ relaxed, non-competitive approach is working. There’s a pool of around 25 social Hotties, with 15 on average turning up for Sunday rides and about the same number for shorter evening rides on Tuesdays. The social group is just the start for some riders, says Orla. Once they’ve built up confidence, they can move on to a faster Hotties group, which aims at 24 to 26 kmh. Both groups attend training camps and take on events like the annual Cycle for Life. Twenty-eight women completed the 107km version of that event this year; half of them were Hotties.
Coffee over, we roll through Takapuna and into Devonport to catch the ferry. Most of the Hotties head to the shop and then home. Dave and I, a blokes’ group of two, farewell them and peel off for a late breakfast. A wonderful ride with a great bunch of riders, we agree. If you’re going to spend your Sunday morning on a road bike and finishing with the group is better than being in front of it, the Hotties are your crew.
The Hotties can be found on Facebook and new riders are always welcome. Ross Inglis has been a roadie in Singapore, Hong Kong and Auckland for longer than he cares to remember. He also runs Bike Auckland’s bike shop partnership programme.