That’d be me, Francesca d’Ath, and my toes, yesterday while biking to rehearsals.
Pandemic and very delayed sensible government response allowing, I’m performing at Sophiensaele next week. A double bill of two solos, the other with Claudia Tomasi, and both started with Isabelle Schad way back in January.
I don’t know if we’ll even get to perform next week, carrying on like we will, and it feels dead weird to be art-ing while shit goes exponential in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, Europe … In case we don’t or if we do, here’s me looking well tasty.
And for everyone who saw that poster around Berlin-Mitte, yes, that is me, yes that person is trans femme and serving deep trans femme energy, and yes, even a glance at a poster of me will turn your children trans.
Friday got me to the “It looks like a bike, dunnit?” stage, which was me lying to myself. Saturday was the real work of cutting brake and gear cables, and the horrorshow of setting up cantilever brakes. Sunday was “It’s gotta be rideable by 3pm, ’cos you gotta haul arse up to Wedding and see Dasniya perform.”
Sunday. Many videos of Calvin Jones of Park Tool later, a rideable bike.
So many ways to measure and fit a chain. So many ways to set up and index front and rear derailleurs. So many ways to wrap bar tape. So, so, so many videos on YouTube. Only one Calvin Jones.
And of course, not finished. Riding to Wedding and back rattled everything into place. The gears, they went *ching* like Kelis’ Milkshake. The brakes can throw me over the bars with one finger. Still a little skippy and noisy and squeaky though.
And the new riding position is a bit of work. I bought a fizik – or rather, fi’zi:k – Vento Argo R5 saddle ’cos the cutaway down the middle on my old one was nice but not in the right place, and this one is wider (for my weirdly spacious sitbones) and shorter, and very much does not stab me anywhere from butthole to pubic bone. I also bought fizik seat post and bar stem, ’cos I’ve loved using their bar tape the last couple of years. My new position is about the same length on the bar tops but slightly lower on the hoods and drops. This bike has always been a size or two too big for me, and getting low without getting stretched out or loosing the cyclocross agility I need has been a messy process, compounded by the shit cable routing for the front brake.
And today, with a very big box of discarded packaging, another box of old and destroyed bike parts, I decided to sort my drawers of bike shit. So much shit. So many old parts. I now have two drawers of very fucking highly organised and actually usable parts, two sets of serviced and ready to thrash wheels (one for cobbles and one for cyclocross), one sexy refurbished bike and pretty close to getting back out on some training rides.
It’s seen better days. Like the day before I bought it, for example. Original parts are now frame, forks, and handlebars. The latter I considered replacing as well this time but I like their fit and buying highly specialised fit stuff online without measuring and trying is a high risk activity for me.
So. First set of Fulcrum wheels rebuilt by me and bearings replaced in the shop ’cos I have not yet cried my way to spending 300€+ on a bearing press. Second set of Fulcrum wheels also rebuilt and laughing my way through flushing one set of grotty bearings and regreasing them ’cos I can’t afford another trip to the shop right now. Very tasty Challenge Chicane cyclocross tires on the former, with tan sidewalls (Which is high fashion. Allegedly.) and the Strada Bianca ones on the latter. Dead fucking sharp.
Old parts stripped from bike and in a box. New parts I’ve been collecting for months in another. Bike frame cleaned, much WD40 huffed, vague ennui slash sadness at the crappiness of the BB30 bottom bracket, which I considered replacing with an adaptor and a threaded one, which would mean a whole new set of cranks, which realistically isn’t a bad idea but fucking hell we’re very in “You spent new bike money on your old bike. Again!” territory right now, so, no, creaky fucking BB fucking 30 it is.
I did buy a chain whip and cassette remover ’cos I wanted to be able to swap the cassette between aforementioned dope as fuck wheels (“You could just swap the tires, Chica?” “I could just not? Dickhead!”) and woo! tools! My baba was very in the room yesterday. Not sure if he’s proud or confused about me, but he was very professionally interested in wtf I was doing.
Yesterday, then. Bike stripped and me all, “Fukken really? This again? Oh god why?” And today so far, past the grotty cleaning stage and starting the funtimes rebuilding stage, pretending the subsequent running and setting cables stage is no big deal and will not take me an upsetting amount of time.
My fingers and hands are serving high femme mechanic realness.
I pretty much had made peace with moving on from dance and all in the last couple of years, enjoying training for myself and finding myself at a distance to those worlds. Then, late-last year, Isabelle said, “You’re doing a solo!”
We’ve been rehearsing irregular weeks since late-January, slowly building a work that finally got a formal-ish public outing on the weekend in Isabelle’s studio at Wiesenburg (masks and physical distancing and pandemic attentiveness obviously). First time performing in more than two years, and, after a decade living in Berlin, first time I’ve performed here — in a formal, dance scene context at least, not counting small, more private art-ing.
It’s been huge, a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and a lot of responsibility in being seen. Being seen by both the audience, some of whom recognised parts of themselves in me, and understand what that means, and being seen by those who came before, aunties, mothers, old ones who visited, who I called on ’cos I needed their strength and support and approval, and I needed them to see me, us like this. And my babaanne, wandering around after just out of sight. I am grateful for them all, and for those who came up to me after, who were the ones I needed to fully see me, and who I needed to see also.
Another pause now, then — as always, pandemic allowing — at Sophiensaele in early-November.
I was semi-watching the GCN Show while doing my regular late-night lying on the floor stretching and mobilising work the other night. They were talking about the new Canyon ZCC eSports Development Squad. Not really my thing ’cos all the equipment for indoor training runs to thousands of euros, plus I need to be outside in the weather. But they cut to the application page and were scrolling down when I saw this:
And yes, I sat up and stopped the video and took a screenshot and had thoughts and feelings.
Canyon is a German bicycle brand that sponsors a number of teams and coincidentally, my fave rider, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. I’m not sure of their exact involvement in Canyon ZCC, whether they just sponsor, or whether they’re deeply involved in day-to-day organisation, but that little ‘Other’ with its additional field to write in what you want is a big deal.
The last years living in Berlin, I’ve done freelance money work in design / development for many agencies, organisations, companies, and so on. I have a pretty good familiarity with how things get done. This wouldn’t be some random person setting up the form who just stuck in that third option ’cos they felt like it. Something like this would be a discussion, one of those very German discussions, up and down the ‘flat hierarchy’ in meetings, everyone giving opinions, and someone(s) in the room very explicitly advocating for this and laying out the reasons why and planning for how things would proceed if one of the Dev Squad was non-binary or trans or intersex or ‘other’.
It’s a big deal and not something that happened accidentally. (Maybe it is, kinda doubt it and flexing my multiple experience here. Yah ’cos I’m particular, I checked how Google Forms works and it’s a deliberate two-step process to add an ‘Other’ checkbox.)
I’ve written about this in cycling before, specifically in the Rapha Women’s 100 last year, and more broadly writing and talking about trans, intersex, and non-binary people, BIPOC, and ‘non-standard bodies’: fat, adaptive / dis- / differently abled, neurodiverse, in cycling and sports and dance. More recently, connecting the cycling industry with policing (thanks especially to Cyclista Zine) and its involvement in regimes like Merida and Bahrain.
Having this option is a very political choice, especially in the last few years when trans women and trans feminine people — as well as cis woman who don’t fit white cishet normative criteria, and trans men and mascs — are being attacked on multiple fronts from access to bathrooms to whether we can compete in sport to fundamentally if we should exist at all.
Contra that, there’s some frankly fascist attitudes towards what constitutes acceptable bodies in cycling, both as a professional sport and as a consumer lifestyle. And there’s a weird sliding between using acceptable and compliant trans and non-binary bodies (and using this word rather than talking about people and selfhoods) as both a progressive signifier and as a beard in making politics and governments palatable.
In the ’80s, South Africa was blacklisted from sport, and tours like Springboks to Aotearoa to play the All Blacks were met with riots and razors in the playing fields. Now, Israel Start-Up Nation is a regular on the start line and it’s all ‘keep politics out of sport’ and no one mentions Palestine.
So, how’s a trans or non-binary or ‘other’ person going to negotiate that? And yes, I’m putting this on these athletes as well as the organisation itself, rather than the cis athletes, specifically because our visibility too often necessitates a compromise, a sectioning off of who we are in order to participate.
I don’t even have answers to this anymore. It’s legitimate to want to bomb down mountains on a bike or thrash through mud and snow in winter for all the reasons it’s fun. And competition is part of that. It’s not possible for that fun to pretend it’s not part of a global crisis going back hundreds of years. And then, sometimes we have to silently participate in these systems just to survive.
Every athlete that ticks the ‘Other’ box and writes in their truth is doing something radical and putting their own existence on the line. I want to see them thrive doing what they love, and be exemplary for young ones who need to see themselves and their own possibilities. I want to see them have space to effect actual deep change. I’m not sure the cycling industry is anywhere near ready for that.
Feels a bit weird to be celebrating something as superficially frivolous as new cycling kit at the moment. But it’s not.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has been my favourite rider for what feels like years now, even though it’s probably only early-2018 I first saw her race, or maybe late-2017, and her winning the cyclocross World Championships at the start of February feels like years ago as well. I’ve been needing new kit for a while now (and a new bike, and an old bike rebuild), and been holding off ’cos kit is mad expensive and none of what I saw really grabbed me, both aesthetically as well as in terms of what it means.
I have no idea how she might see someone like me, what her position is on trans femmes and trans women competing in the women’s section. And I have no idea what her position is on Black Lives Matter, or even if she has the space and support to have an unambiguously public one. But I do know young Black and Brown girls and women see her lining up first row of the start line every week, see her race and win (back when those things actually happened) in the Rainbow jersey, and see themselves, see possibilities for themselves and people like them. That shit matters.
I was 💯 Shut Up And Take My Money! the instant I saw her kit and everyone I’ve shown it to is 😍.
This is about the minimum space I need to not feel compressed right now.
And I wanted to write about dismantling – rather than diversity in – white cisgender masculine heteronormative space but I’m tired. When I ride I’m usually the only woman in a sea of dudes. I’m definitely the only trans feminine, queer, non-white person. And on the very rare occasion I’m in a woman-centric space, like the Rapha Women’s 100 last year, I’ll still be one of the only non-white (yeah I’m specifically using that term), and definitely the only trans feminine person. And in dude space or white cis women space I never feel safe or comfortable or able to relax and I’m tired. I can’t trust you all and I’m tired.
Recreational and athletic space is highly, highly normalised as white, cis– and heterocentric and masculine, and that includes cis women doing the policing. I don’t want to have to engage with that as a precondition for physical recreation or as an athlete, and it feels like this is the bare minimum of space I – we need to have some room to breath. But I don’t want to talk about all that ’cos I’m tired of saying it in so many different ways for a lifetime and seeing my siblings say it and live it and lose their lives for it for way more than a lifetime.
So, for all you BIPOC trans femme riders, and those of you prepared to educate yourselves, Cyclista Zine has been making me feel good about myself lately.
And for the rest of you, educate yourselves and donate to Black and Indigenous trans funds and support organisations like:
Berlin getting in on the emergency bike lane trip. I had to go up to P’berg to pick up my laptop and found all of Kottbusser Damm on both sides hastily converted from double-parked cars to orange stripes of bike lane awaiting a quick once-over with the street sweeper. Dead cruisy to ride and realistically, like other cities in Europe using the pandemic as a chance to permanently improve things, this needs to stay. Personally, I’d have made it as wide as two lanes and consigned the centre one only to cars, ’cos we all know how much people love to double-park and as much as I love hoonage, private vehicle ownership has gotta go.
I’ve ridden over that bridge many times, the last in the damp grey drizzle on Tag der Deutschen Einheit when I totally over-extended myself (seems to be a theme?). This is the first time I’ve seen it from this direction, coming along the very sandy, loose, dusty and full of exposed roots single track from Schleuse Kleinmachnow. One of my favourite parts of the Mauerweg and in general to ride and eventually I’ll stitch together a whole — multiple whole routes from those glorious cobbles up Rudower Straße all the way to those cobbles up Wannseestraße. Simple pleasures involve getting thrashed on cobbles and slithering around on single track.