A Shared Legacy
Intro Anna Maria, Vintage Cycling Photos courtesy of Ray Napoles,
Words by Rebecca Bratburd
When Rebecca approached us about sharing her and her mother's road racing stories we were incredibly excited. We are the first post Title IX generation, and we really wanted to celebrate this legacy. Unfortunately, Rebecca and Nancy didn't have any photos from Nancy's days as a racer, so we teamed up with one of our favorite Instagram accounts, Onthebackfoot to bring you some incredible imagery from the beginnings of women's racing in the US . Ray Napoles has been collecting and posting archival photos. Truly a stellar feed, Ray had hoped to be able to track down photos of Nancy. Sadly, he wasn't able to find any. So instead we are sharing one of his galleries from the early 80's, and we want you to participate, lets name these racers! Maybe you see your aunt or your mom or yourself. And if you have any photos of Nancy Ann Hudson, we want to post them. Help us attribute these pioneering ladies who made the sport what it is today! They were fighting for much more than just to stay in the break. But even back then, these incredible women were doing it with so much style!
In 1980, a fiercely competitive 27-year-old woman raced against a very young Greg LeMond. There wasn’t a women’s field, and not racing wasn’t an option for her.
“I was more like one of the guys. My attitude was, ‘I can do it!’ I could go faster than some of the guys, and I stayed up in the pack no problem,” she said.
Her teammates backed her up, and the race officials backed down and allowed her to enter into the men’s race. She got dropped that time, but, admittedly, looked great doing it on her eye-catching, sparkling white Colnago bicycle. Even 35 years ago, being fashionable came second only to being fast.
That wild woman is my mother and this year she’s convinced me—at 27 years old—to start racing.
I’m training with a women’s development team for my first race in Central Park. My coach and the team captain are both women, and they’re teaching me all the lingo: Hold your line! Hug her wheel! Keep your RPMs up! Get into your drops! All while avoiding the bonk.
While technology has changed over the last 35 years, the glory of winning has stayed the same. Women’s cycling is actually a thing now, but so many of the rituals have stayed the same.
When my mom talks about her cycling experience, she doesn’t distinguish herself against men. She trained and raced with men, wore men’s clothing, and rode a men’s bicycle. It would be another two and a half decades before one of her sponsors—Specialized—would introduce its first women’s bicycle.
Even then, it was a pricey sport to be a part of. Her Colnago cost more than $1000—which is roughly $3000 with today’s inflation.
“It cost more than my VW!” she said.
Fashion was an undeniable aspect of cycling, and a way to express one’s dedication to the sport.
“Back then, the only way you could get a jersey was to be on a team. If you had a jersey, you were very legit,” she said. “You couldn’t go to the store and buy one.
Now it’s like football or basketball where fans can buy the jerseys.”
Racers in the ‘80s wore leather helmets, leather shorts, and leather gloves with perforated cotton across the backs of the hands.
“It was even cooler when you’d break them in like a baseball glove,” she said.
More than six thousand Instagram posts tagged #sockdoping can’t be wrong: the demand to look good is still strong. Boutique cycling brands like Tenspeed Hero and Forward Cycling, and larger brands like Levi’s with their new women’s commuter line, are there to answer.
At a recent Specialized Women’s event in Manhattan, a brand development leader handed out women’s specific cycling gloves. A far cry from what my mom used to wear, the Grail gloves are luxuriously soft like something you’d pair with an evening gown and are decorated with subtle polka dots.
When you strip away the fashionable details, the essence of cycling boils down to the thrill.
“Getting yourself into shape, building up the mentality to race, and working toward your goals is all still the same,” she said. “Fashion is fun, but does it win races?”
Perhaps not, but innovation in bicycles and cycling apparel is making it more comfortable for women to ride. The women’s market has taken off with speed since Specialized introduced its first women’s specific bicycle in 2004, giving us more options than ever.