Women Involved: Nicola Rutzou

My name is Nicola and I live in Sydney, Australia. I started cycling in 2008 simply to take part in a charity bike riding event and my interest and participation in the activity/sport has grown exponentially ever since.

In short – I love cycling. It has changed my life. Some might see it as bordering on obsession but the way I look at it, there are far worse things to be obsessed with or addicted to.

I’ve certainly never been the sporty type. In fact, I’ve always believed I was so hopeless at any kind of sport it would be better for everyone if I just didn’t participate.

At school, my extra-curricular activity was playing the flute in the school orchestra. I avoided sport and got away with it quite successfully. No one is more surprised than me that I’m now hooked on the sport of cycling.

Check out Women Who Cycle.

Tell us about the introduction to your #bikelife-
My #bikelife began about eight years ago when my partner suggested I join his work team to complete a charity bike ride in the picturesque Barossa Valley. I knew almost nothing about bicycles and hadn't ridden one for about 20 years. We headed off to our local bike shop and returned some hours later with a shiny new road bike complete with clip in shoes and pedals. I was super scared on my first ride but by the second one, I was hooked. By the time I made it to the start line of the charity ride about four months later I was in love with riding. My life had changed. 

How did discovering the love of cycling change your life?
This might sound a bit melodramatic but discovering cycling has given my life meaning.

It's worked on many levels for me. Firstly it's given me a sense of belonging to a community. Before I found cycling I didn't know many people within my local area despite living there for many years. Now I know dozens of locals and I'm part of the local cycling tribe.

It's also given me more confidence in all aspects of my life. Learning to master a physical discipline has given me more confidence in myself. It's made me realise what I can achieve.

What suggestions can you give for someone who is nervous about attending a cycling event?
It's important to take it step-by-step. Choose something that will be a challenge for you and work up from there. For me, the first 80 km ride I finished was a huge challenge. Several years later I was able to go back to the same event and complete the 160 km version of the ride. That was also a huge challenge.

Despite completing many events, I always get really nervous the night before an event. I've learnt to handle the nerves by just pushing through and focusing on the end result. I know that once I start the ride I will relax and enjoy it.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
When I started riding the only skill I had was to keep the bike upright. I've had to learn to corner, ascend, descend, ride in a bunch, pedal effectively, clip-in/clip-out and more. I learnt my skills by joining my local bike club and joining their bunch rides, attending some formal skills sessions, listening to tips from fellow riders and above all else practicing. When I first began one of the elders from my bike club said to me that it takes at least three years to feel really confident on the bike. At the time I thought he was exaggerating, but three years in I couldn't agree with him more. And I continue to learn all the time. 

Do you have any suggestions for someone looking to purchase their first road bike, especially if they are looking to ride on a regular basis?
You should buy the best bike you can afford. If you buy the entry level bike you'll probably want to upgrade within a few years so stretch yourself a little if you plan to ride on a regular basis. My first bike lasted just two and a bit years before I upgraded.

A lot of buyers focus on the running gear (gears and brakes) of the bike rather than the frame. If you buy a bike with a quality frame you can always upgrade the running gear but not the other way round. The frame is what provides the ride quality, and needless to say, you should buy the right size. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
It gives me an amazing sense of freedom. There's nothing better than that feeling of rolling down the road with the wind whipping past.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I own three road bikes. I had a brief interlude with a sensible utility style bike but that left me via eBay a few years ago.

Two of my road bikes are Specialized Amiras - a six year old one that I'm sentimentally attached to, and a newer S-Works Amira that rides like a dream.

The third one is an 'adventure' road bike called a Specialized Diverge which has disc brakes, thicker tyres and a sturdy alloy frame. I use it to get around the place and occasionally ride to work. It even has a rear rack to carry stuff around. 

Tell us about your blog, Women Who Cycle, and how it got started-
I started it about five and a half years ago on a bit of a whim. At the time I was working as a public relations consultant and I often talked to my clients about blogging. It got me thinking that I quite liked the idea of starting a blog, and out of the blue one day it hit me - I should start a blog about women's cycling. 

What inspired you to choose blogging as a way to share your #bikelife?
I was just so in love with cycling that for me it was easy to share my passion. There's nothing more satisfying than receiving a comment or email from a woman who's read my blog and been inspired. That's what keeps me going with it.

What has been the most interesting thing you've learned since you started blogging?
I've learned that everyone involved with women's cycling is super passionate about helping others. This includes women who are pro cyclists, team owners, coaches, industry workers, and everyday riders. They are all so generous and encouraging of others. 

Any suggestions for someone looking to start up their own blog?
Only start a blog if you have a topic that you are truly passionate about. You don't have to be very knowledgeable, that will come. You can always call on experts to help but you have to have the passion. It has to be authentic or it's not a blog. 

You work at Ashfield Cycles, tell us about your job as store manager-
Ashfield Cycles is a small bike store in the inner western suburbs of the beautiful city of Sydney. I'm not a bike mechanic so I do pretty much every other task that needs doing - selling, answering queries, ordering, stocking shelves, merchandising, handling warranties, booking and checking in bikes of service, admin and more. 

What inspired you to seek employment at a bike shop?
It was one of those things that just happened. I was looking for some part-time work, while still working as a public relations consultant and I happened to be speaking to the owner of the shop, and the rest is history. I've now worked there full-time for about three and a half years. 

What advice would you give to other women looking to seek employment at a bike shop?
Do it. Don't be put off by the male-dominated environment. I've learnt so much working the bike shop and continue to learn but you definitely don't need to be male. If you're passionate about bikes like me it's an ideal place to seek employment.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
In the city of Sydney the number one deterrent is safety. Most women don't feel comfortable riding on the road and we don't have very good bike paths or bike infrastructure. Plus, there are a lot of very aggressive drivers.

I also think that many women perceive cycling to be for men. In Sydney and other places in Australia, there are many more male riders and I think it puts women off. Thankfully that's starting to change but we've got a long way to go.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
There are many things that could change but two key things are: better cycling infrastructure and bike shops that make women feel welcome. 

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
My mission in life is to encourage more women to ride bikes. I'm inspired to do so because I love it so much I want as many women to experience the joy of the humble bicycle.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have three University degrees (two in communication, one in history).