This super woman has been a multi-tasker all along, while managing her training and acing all her rides. We take you through her stupendous cycling journey in a quick chat with her.
Lena Robra moved to India from Germany in 2012 to pursue her PhD. She has been cycling for a long time and started participating often in cycling events after the BBCh ITT, 2015 where she stood second. She is currently working for The Anonymous Indian Charitable Trust and is the Co-ordinator, Bengaluru Sustainability Forum as well as the founder and organiser of The Moving Waters Film Festival.
What motivated you to start cycling?
Cycling is a normal part of upbringing in Germany and it is mainly a mode of transport. It is cheap, keeps you independent and does not have an age bar. Recreational cycling was always part of my family culture, so multi-day cycling trips where a mode of vacation for us from a young age on wards. I started mountain biking as recreational cycling because I love the exposure to nature as well being on the trail. Focusing on the trail keeps my mind busy and my head free of all the worries and thoughts of everyday life. As a student cycling was also an opportunity to earn money, which is of course a motivation as well. I worked for the bike messenger service ‘radz fatz’ in Hannover Germany.
You participated in The Tour of Nilgiris 2018. Tell us about your experience?
TfN for me is riding in the nature while everything else is taken care of. One of the best feelings one can have in life. It is a truly well organized event.
Tell us about any other cycling events that you have participated in?
I have participated in many of the BBCh (Bangalore Bicycle Championship) and BAR (Bangalore Amateur Racing) events, which according to me are the best organized races in India. I have further more participated in the Embassy Pedal for the planet event, the Mysuru Dassera race, the Coimbatore MVS cycling carnival and the Montra cycling sportive.
Who/What has been your backbone throughout your cycling journey?
My husband Nikhil has been my backbone throughout. He is very understanding. He encouraged me to participate in my first race ever. He helps me to keep my system updated and to fix my bike. My coach Biky Venky is very supportive. Whenever I miss my training due to work he helps me schedule it again. Also my fellow women riders Vicki Nicholson and Samira Abraham are my support group as well. Vicki has been a superb mentor and a stellar example of how to be in a friendly and fair competition.
As a woman cyclist, do you face any stereotypes and how do you tackle them?
No I don’t face stereotypes. I might sometimes surprise men who see me racing the first time as in how fast I can ride, but that always results in congratulations and not prior stereotyping. I might also face little to no stereotyping because I am a foreign/European woman.
What I do face and what is sometimes annoying that race distances and/or prize money differs highly between men and women categories. I guess this is based on the assumption that women are not strong enough in case of distances.
In terms of prize money, I really don’t know. There is an upcoming event where the men’s category winner gets 20,000 INR and the women’s category winner gets 5,000 INR. That is not very encouraging for women to see. I get it that the competition is more in the men’s category, but honestly how is that the fault of the women who are showing up for their races. For all you know they might also be training hard to reach where they are.
What’s your take about the availability of cycling gear for women in India?
Availability of high quality gear, especially bib shorts is poor in India. 2go has made a good prototype for a womens jersey, I am not sure whether that is out for sale by now though. The Heini women’s collection is ok. It does not compare to what you can get outside of India (Including Heini’s own products. In terms of Bib-shorts, what is available for women lags behind compared to what is available for men in terms of choice and quality.
Well and getting Bib shorts which allow for a ‘bio break’ is still a far stretch in India. I wish manufacturers would reach out more to women who are actively racing and training and ask them for their needs.
We need more than the regular recreational cycling wear.
Work/family and training – how do you juggle them all?
I have to juggle work, family and training, though my life is certainly made very easy by the fact that my husband is a cyclist himself, as well as a bike shop owner and a mechanic. This means he is very understanding of my training sessions, he makes sure my equipment is up and running and whenever he can he accompanies me on my rides and races. I imagine this part to be a lot harder for those women whose partners are not into cycling, for those women who have a larger family then a dog and a husband to care for and for those women who also have a job to manage besides kids.
How to I juggle it? A lot has to do with communication with my partner, planning ahead of when, which event is coming up and of having a training schedule so that it is clear when bike sessions are planned for. If I am pressed for time, an indoor session certainly helps and of course for me having a coach (Bikey Venky from bvcoaching) takes off the mind space of planning the training.
What is your piece of advice for fellow cyclists who want to pursue it as a way of life?
Don’t get too much into competition levels, at least in the beginning. Try to rather make cycling part of your regular life. Commute whenever you can (prevents road rage and save time); go for cycle rides with your friends to experience nature and the joy of it, as well as awesome roadside food. Get a coach and workout targets with her or him if you want to get fitter, but don’t forget to put in a leisure ride every now and then. See whether you can include your family (partner and kids) every now and then. That will help to build an understanding for your new found love for cycling. Very important, if you want to rope in your partner into cycling to have a partner in crime: Give him or her a better bike for the initial rides and make sure it is the right size and saddle height. There is nothing worse than being stuck with an ill-fitting city type bike while your anyway fitter partner is pedalling away on their well-maintained road bike and your partner would certainly not want to come for a ride with you again.
What’s next in your cycling career?
Hopefully an international race, maybe Tour of Bintan next year or GDD (Giro de Dolomiti)
That was a super powered chat we had with Lena as a series of outdoorsy women we adore. If you have an outdoorsy story to share with us, do reach out to us at [email protected]