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Rapha Women's 100 - The Invisible Peloton: Jools Walker

The Invisible Peloton: Jools Walker

In the latest rider interview in our Women’s 100 series, Emily Chappell chats to the inspiring women who form part of her invisible peloton. This week, she catches up with her close friend, cycling activist and author Jools Walker who explains what cycling means to her.

31 July 2020

Jools Walker

Jools Walker is an author, presenter and blogger leading the revolution to make cycling socially inclusive.

What does cycling give you?

The main thing it gives me is freedom. It’s given me physical freedom, in the sense that I’ve pushed my body to places that I didn’t think it was possible to go, and I didn’t think I had that in me.

And on the mental side of it, the freedom it’s given me has been amazing. It gives me time to think. It gives me time to re-evaluate lots of things that are going on in my mind.

Being on a bike, and everything that I’ve been doing in cycling has allowed me to come out of myself. That’s been a very big change for me, in the years that I’ve been cycling. It’s brought me out of my shell.

Has it always been like that?

There was the initial excitement of getting back into it, once I’d gone through the admin of the cycle-to-work scheme. Then I was terrified about what people were going to think about me doing this. There was that fear of putting my head above the parapet, and noticing that I didn’t see other women like me in this world that I wanted to be in.

Ten years later I’m still facing these barriers. It’s funny when people say things to me, like ‘you’ve been a trailblazer, and you’re opening the door and laying down a new path for other women to get into it’. And it’s like… yes and no. You shouldn’t be a brave person or a trailblazer just because you dared to open your mouth and have an opinion on something.

I want more folk that look like me to be doing this. And if it’s meant over the years that I’ve had to take the brunt, and be that black mouthpiece talking about it, then fine, I will do that. Maybe there’s a 14-year-old black girl out there who wants to get into it, and she needs to see someone that she can identify with.

Tell us about a time when you exceeded your expectations, or achieved something you never thought you’d be capable of.

The first one that comes to mind is when I did Eroica in Limburg. I properly bonked for the first time. I didn’t know it but I was veering from side to side, and I couldn’t hear my partner screaming at me to stop, to pull over, for the safety of anyone else that was going to be going past us. I was absolutely done.

We had to get off and walk the bikes. And then when we got to the food stop, I realised how destroyed I was, because I’d never eaten so much before in my life. I was absolutely ruined at the end of the ride.

But I did it, and it was great. I didn’t think I had it in me to do that, and I did.

How did you get yourself through the tougher moments of the challenge? What did you do to keep yourself going?

I have to listen to myself. And that’s something that I’ve had to teach myself to do over the years. You know, if something is really bad, if I can admit to myself that I can’t get through it and I have to pull the eject cord, don’t take that as a sign of failure, don’t take that as a sign of weakness. It’s ok to fail. It’s ok if something doesn’t go according to the plan that you have in your head or the expectations that other people have put on you.

That’s something that I’ve had to learn to do – not to grind myself down, and not to make myself feel like shit just because I’m not as good as the next person. I’m only as good as I can be, and that’s definitely the thing that gets me through.

It’s you – the most important thing in all of that nonsense, and all of the noise. It sounds selfish, but you’re at the centre of all of it. It’s your ride, it’s your mission. And it’s your statement that you’re making. So make it however you damn well please! As long as you’re able to make it and feel happy with yourself when you’ve done it, that’s the thing that matters.

Who is in your invisible peloton?

Ayesha McGowan is definitely in there. She’s someone I consider to be a huge party of my cycling family. When I met Ayesha, it felt like I’d known her forever.

Jenni Gwiazdowski – she’s just super cool, and very understanding. Forming the Women Of Colour Cycling Group together was a big deal. She’s always been a huge support for me.

Yewande Adesida is in my invisible peloton also. There’s something about her – her attitude, and just the gumption that she has, is something that I wish I had had at the beginning of my journey.

Sometimes cycling is a challenge, and sometimes it can help us through the other challenges in life. Has this been the case for you?

Sometimes my bike is the last place I want to be. If I don’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, why on earth would I suddenly look at a bike and say – yep, this is the thing that’s going to solve it. So the times when I’ve had to take the thing that everybody knows me for out of the equation, to look after myself, have been really hard. I will never prescribe cycling as the thing that’s going to solve everything for you. Because it isn’t ‘one size fits all’ in regards to how you look after your mental health.

Cycling can be a huge challenge. But it’s weird that the thing that has caused me pain has also been the thing that has taken me out of the pain that I’ve been in.

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