Day had barely broken as women lined up in front of the Go-Girl Cycling in Fort Myers Sunday, eager to pin numbers on their stomachs.
Some already straddled their bikes, adjusted their helmets, drank a splash of water, or cleaned their sunglasses ahead of the ride. Soon all the 87 people lined up, ready to set off in three different waves. The majority were in for 45 miles, 25 others rode for 30 miles, and a dozen or so opted for the gentler 15-mile ride.
At 7:30 a.m., they pedaled away, to cheers.
Go Girl Cycling, a bike shop entirely dedicated to women, organizes collective rides every last Sunday of the month. But this week they rode as one of 46 solidarity rides that took place across the world, from Japan to Italy to Australia.
The Global Solidarity Ride was organized and sponsored by Liv, a women’s cycling brand. Its aim: support the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, who has been fighting for the right to ride freely. Liv is the team’s sponsor, providing bikes and gears.
Mountain 2 Mountain, a nonprofit that supports the Afghan team, wrote on its website “the act of cycling is so controversial that people throw rocks at female riders or try to run them off the road with their cars.”
“They’ve worked really hard in Afghanistan. As ladies in the U.S., we don’t understand,” said Lynne Sharp, who founded Go Girl Cycling nine months ago with her husband, Jonathen.
Women ride in the U.S., but cycling still remains a “from boys, to boys, for boys” club, said Jonathen Sharp.
“The ladies don’t get looked after,” he said.
The Sharps moved to Florida from Wales ten years ago, “chasing the sunshine,” said Jonathen. They founded Paradise Bicycles in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
“A lot of the ladies feel intimidated in a typical bike store. So I had a conversation with Jon, who didn’t get it — of course — he’s a guy,” Lynee Sharp said, laughing. Eventually, she said, he became 200 percent supportive.
“In the bad old days, when a woman came into a bike store and asked for equipment, the only answer she would get was, “oh, I think we might have some over there,” said Jonathen.
Go Girl Cycling is warmer and more welcoming than your usual bike shop. The walls are a soft orange color, there are couches to wait around, and a large collection of gear and bikes designed especially for women.
“A few years ago, a women’s bike would have been a male bike painted pink. But women have different frames: they have wider pelvis, their shoulders are more narrow,” explained Jonathen.
There are even helmets with ponytail ports. And not everything is pink.
“We have about three-quarter of a million dollars of ladies-only stuff in this store,” added Jonathen.
At 9:30 a.m., the cyclists starting trickling back to the shop.
The group was a cheerful mix of cyclists. Amanda Mavrakis, 26, started cycling last May; Leslie Robinson, 51, said she had been riding for less than a year.
Both rode the 45-mile ride, among more experienced riders such as Heidi Strohschein, 56, who had just flown in from Germany the night before. Stroschein, who is a four-time Iron woman, said she wasn’t much bothered by the jet lag.
Brian Burnett, 57, was another long time rider. A former marathoner, he said he biked 225 miles a week. Last year, he rode over 11,000 miles.
“It’s different, but better than riding with smelly guys. Guys would be racing, they’re more competitive,” said Burnett.
His friend Bob Wright, 71, suddenly called: “What was your top speed?”