Women’s Cycling

I attended a talk last week at Look Mum No Hands that was titled ‘Mind The Cycling Gender Gap’.  This was the launch of the second zine from Tiffany Lam, a feminist passionate about inclusive cycling, that includes stories from women relating to cycling and empowerment.  There was also a panel of ladies including a feminist activist, founder of cycle workshop Bike Freedom, and lady who has a keen interest in mobility and health and well being.

If you have never been to Look Mum No Hands then I would suggest checking them out – they are a popular cafe in London especially with cyclists but they host regular events also.

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Whilst the talk was very insightful and it was good to hear the individual stories from people I found myself having different opinions to the others and if I am honest I left feeling a little sad.  Why? Maybe I am lucky with those I surround myself with that I have not had the same negative experiences that others have had but also because a lot of the questions that were being posed could be answered easily with some simple research and there are resources available out there that are clearly unknown.

I also think there is a gender gap in a lot more than just cycling but will stick to the topic at hand!  It led me to think more about women’s cycling, specifically what barriers there are that women experience?  What would stop a female from starting cycling?  Is the answer to segregate the two sexes or does that not simply compound the issue?

Since the talk I have taken the time to speak to a number of female cyclists in person and online to find out their thoughts on this subject and try and understand a little more about what some potential reasons could be for the lower number of female cyclists on the road.

Fear and safety when out and about on the bike is one reason that I heard consistently more than anything else as a reason not to cycle.  However, whilst this can be true, sometimes it is the perception more than reality and how can we change that?  I admit when I first started this was my main concern but with experience comes confidence and of course some common sense with certain roads avoided for safety. I live in an area where after ten minutes of cycling I am on country roads, which are quieter.  I am also lucky that I am not too far from two closed cycle tracks in Redbridge and the Velopark and these are great to start without the fear of traffic and other road users.  The answer suggested at the talk was that the government need to make changes to the roads but is that realistic?  It is important to remember that significant changes to infrastructure come at a huge cost, using the cycle paths pre-Olympics at Epping Forest as an example where the cost was £839k according to TFL just to implement, which is actually an insignificant figure in the grand scheme of the highways spend and more importantly paths such as these, while worthwhile, do not cater for road cyclists so is not an answer to the initial problem raised but a step in the right direction.  When I refer to road users I am doing so intentionally as the responsibility for safety should be shared equally whether that be by car or bike users or pedestrians.

Cycling clubs can also be a deterrent but again, in my experience, this can be perception rather than reality.  I am not saying all clubs are the same but speaking from personal experience I am a member of Romford Cycle Club and Havering Tri and both are super inclusive and gender does not even come into it.  We are all equal and we are all undertaking the same activity.  For me this is key and again this is just my personal opinion but I want to ride my bike and there is no necessity for me to do so with just females.  I appreciate the position that some ladies may feel less pressure being surrounded by women only and a great example of this is the Breeze programme.  ‘HSBC UK Breeze offers fun, free bike rides for women of all abilities across the UK’.  Though in speaking to some ride leaders from Breeze most feel this is viewed as a platform people use to then transition into club riding.  It is important to remember that different cycling clubs have different purposes and you need to find one that will suit your needs and goals – some want to race, some to explore, some to get from a to b and no reason is right or wrong but a club opens up your accessibility to like minded people.  Just because one doesn’t should not make them a bad club but instead simply not aligned to your needs.  You can search on the British Cycling website to find local clubs to you here.

Don’t be put off by the MAMIL!  I heard this word over and over again and I loathe it!  For those unaware MAMIL stands for middle aged man in lycra and for a lot of people this image of cycling is off putting.  BUT what is wrong with the middle aged man in lycra?  Why does he have such a negative reaction when people refer to him?  What says he is not supportive?  Why the negativity because he chooses to cycle in lycra?  It is also something not just off putting to females but males in the same demographic too.  I didn’t want to wear the whole cycling get up when I first started as I felt stupid if I am being completely honest and yet now it is all I wear when I cycle.  It is comfortable and it serves a purpose.  There is nothing saying you have to dress like this though – it depends what sort of cyclist you want to be.

This Girl Can is a campaign ‘funded by The National Lottery, believes that there’s no right way to get active – if it gets your heart rate up it counts. And we want more women to find what’s right for them’.  They cover cycling on their website and provide some useful resources for those wanting to know more.  Remember everyone starts somewhere!

Specialized UK also have a number of female ambassadors who host a range of rides across the UK (both road and MTB).  They are run by the appointed female ambassadors and are female only led rides, all free departing from a nominated store.  Details can be found here, where you can sign up and it also provides all information about pace and requirements.  The ambassadors are super helpful and more than happy to answer any questions you may have.  Again this gives the opportunity to ride with like minded individuals and widen your network of those you can regularly ride with.  I have been on one of these rides and even completed a 100 mile sportive with the same ladies who met through the Chelmsford led rides.

British Cycling one in a million is a new campaign that is looking ‘to encourage more women to feel safe and confident in the saddle and inspired to ride’.  Do you cycle?  Why not take part?  More details can be found here.  According to British Cycling 723,000 more women have been influenced to cycle since 2013 as part of their four year #WeRide women’s strategy which has a target to get one million more women cycling by 2020.  The aim of this strategy revealed extensive changes that have been put in place across all levels to begin to counteract the legacy of a 50-year gender gap.

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So come on ladies (and gents) lets get on those bikes!

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