How do we get more women in cycling clubs?
British Cycling have just announced over 860,000 more women are now riding bikes and they are well on their way to their target of 1 million bums on saddles by 2020. Furthermore they have a working group of riders and industry folk setting out to improve racing opportunities for female riders here in the UK.
With this in mind, I was invited to talk at GS Henley’s AGM on Friday night. The club membership is currently 10% female, 90% male and they are very keen to get more women in to the club. So if there are more women riding bikes than ever before, where are they, and do they feel comfortable enough to join cycling clubs?
I posed the debate on my social media after a discussion on the night itself, about how to get women joining cycling clubs, because it is a very tricky line to tread.
My mum and I first went to a women’s only introductory ride and joined the club after that. That ride was all ages, abilities, and bikes welcome - truly targeting those new to the sport. And it was honestly the best thing I’ve done - neither of us would be the riders we are now if we hadn’t joined a community of cyclists. Here’s why…
1. Learning group etiquette is essential to make sure you are riding safely on the roads, with awareness, whether you are on the big club run, or out with a couple of mates. The skills you pick up riding in a group, doing through-and-off, riding two-abreast etc. are crucial when riding a bike.
2. Riding with a group is infinitely more social and fun. You cover a greater distance, faster, in seemingly no time at all, chatting and laughing, and making new friends along the way.
3. Riding with a group makes you stronger. I have heard women say, and I have thought it myself, I can’t join that group/ that club / that ride because I’ll never keep up. That’s EXACTLY why you should join in. Sitting in a group is easier than riding alone and you’ll be amazed how much your average speed increases surfing the wheels. And if you get dropped, you’ll automatically ride harder to catch back on, and the group (should, hopefully) wait for you . That is training. That is where progress and improvements happen.
So are women’s only rides the only way to get more women joining clubs, or are they patronising, treating women as though they are a special breed, in need of extra attention?
For some, women’s rides offer an alternative to how cycling clubs COULD be perceived. Male-dominated, chauvinistic and competitive. While some women thrive in that environment, and think nothing of joining a group of men for a ride, for others it is a seemingly insurmountable barrier stopping them from truly maximising their potential on a bike, be that riding socially for coffee and cake, or discovering a sport they could excel in.
British Cycling have also done a tremendous job with Breeze Rides, and I’m sure those female-only, women-led rides have done an enormous amount to help increase the number of women riding. Women’s rides are empowering and sociable, but they must be in place alongside wholly supportive, inclusive, all-encompassing group rides, where women are cyclists, no matter gender, age, or ability.
This is not an exercise in man-bashing either. We are not asking men to change their behaviour within cycling clubs. Another point put to me on Friday night was that women should simply “get on with it”. As harsh as it sounds, this is a sentiment I can agree with. Are women holding themselves back? Are women making excuses, allowing a life on the bike pass them by because they are too afraid to step out of their comfort zone, where life truly begins? I am fortunate perhaps, I have never viewed my gender as a barrier to getting on a bike, joining a ride, or a club. But many will have. Many women will see cycling as a man’s world, and who can blame them, when so much of cycling media is aimed at, and solely reports on men’s cycling? You can forgive women for thinking that sport - and especially cycling - is not for them.
But if you are riding a bike, and have thought, as one lady did who messaged me on Instagram, that you are too slow, too unfit, too weak to join a club, JUST BLOODY DO IT! I can’t emphasise that enough. Contact your local club, and ask about group speeds, group etiquette and distance. If it is a good club, no one will get dropped, several speed groups will be offered and newcomers will be welcomed with open arms.
So are women’s only rides the answer? It worked for me, and proved the pathway to joining my local club in Cheltenham. But this is not a one-size fits all model, and different personalities will respond to different approaches. It’s about seeing women as individuals, and not a group who need special treatment. The key is ensuring your club offers women both mixed beginner rides, ladies-only rides, as well as challenging training runs to cater for all needs.
Finally, look at your club’s social media posts and images. Ensure women are as prominent as men, and therefore seen to be as well-respected and appreciated in the club. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Visibility is key in showing women that cycling truly is a sport for them too.
Ladies, clubs are calling out for more women. Step up and get involved!