Guest post by Kyleanne Hunter.
For most of you reading this, the bike is important. For many of you, it may be the thing. You plan work, dates, time with your friends and family around your training schedule. If work goes late or plans change to interfere with your ride, the world may as well have imploded in on you, because it’s that catastrophic. You count calories and watts to find that magic strength to weight ratio. You fuss over race weight, LT power and training hours. You need Di2. You shop for teams based on the discount you get at bike shops and how many races they’ll comp for you. We’ve all done this. (yes, I’m guilty of it too) We’ve also all cloaked ourselves in altruism to do a charity ride in a nod to social consciousness that fits in our training plans.
And while we’re fussing over race wheels, race weight, and watts, we’re taking for granted that we get to ride our bikes. So close your eyes for a moment and remove yourself from the decision of choosing between your Zipps’ or Enves’ and imagine that when you go out to ride you are choosing to risk your life. Imagine that just to pedal to the store you are defying centuries of law and cultural and religious norms. Imagine that you have to train in secret, not because your significant other is upset that you bought yet another set of race wheels, but because a large portion of your society considers it a morality crime.
I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to join the crew of Mountain2Mountain and Afghan Cycles to deliver some new road bikes and equipment to an amazing group of women in Afghanistan, and chronicle their boundary-breaking journey. Like any revolutionary, the women of the team are only peripherally aware of the larger-scale impact they are having. They are riding their bikes because they love it. They are risking societal shame and outcast because they love their country, and hope to paint it in a positive light to the world. When they speak of the bike, and their ability to race, they sound much like my friends and teammates. The laugh and sing with their friends on team road trips. They joke with each other and their coach. They balance school, work and family with training time. Because of the dangers – both culturally and physically from living in a war zone – they get to train 2-3 times a week. But they make the most of these limited training sessions.
When they speak of sending a message to the world, they speak of their love for Afghanistan, but there is so much more than that. While there were attempts to create a women’s cycling team 20 years ago, Taliban control and fundamentalist rule made it impossible. The Taliban forced women into the shadows, and strict interpretations of Islamic law and morality codes forbade women from straddling the saddle of a bike. To put it in context, riding a bike carried the same stigma and punishment as prostitution.
Yet as the Taliban has been loosing its grip on the country, young women and men have begun to emerge and question Taliban-imposed law, asserting what they know to be right. Read more