Cycling UK - 100 women in cycling
I don’t talk about women’s sport and women’s cycling specifically for any sort of accolade - as lovely as this is - but instead because I strongly believe in the transformative power of sport for everyone, and especially women and girls. In a society obsessed with how women look, intent on women fitting into predefined moulds of beauty and social compliance, sport instead says - I don’t care what you look like, what can your body DO? How far, how long, how high, how fast, how strong? And that is pretty bloody empowering.
I grew up swimming, 12 years competitively, and never once saw my gender as a barrier to me doing sport, talking about sport, or in fact, doing anything. Sport was my default, training my norm. When I entered the real world at university however, I realised how naive I was. Misogynistic pockets of society still believe the archaic notion that sport is a men’s club, and tweet sportswomen and broadcasters telling them to get back to the kitchen. Women and girls too cite several barriers stopping them from participating - from safety and road infrastructure in cycling, to self-consciousness; a belief that sweating isn’t “feminine” (I suffered from this for a long time), a fear of lycra, a worry they are not fit enough, not strong enough, not good enough.
Cycling UK’s recent campaign focuses on research which says that people are more likely to do something if they have been inspired by a friend or loved one. And how true is that? Your best friend says, come on, let’s go for a bike ride. You’re likely to say yes. And I am a firm believer in once you’ve turned those pedals - you’ll be bitten by the bug. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go. With one million women thought to cycle regularly right now, and British Cycling aiming for one million more by 2020 (with nearly 850,000 counted at the start of this year), the trajectory is certainly trending upwards. But when you consider three times as many men as women ride a bike, we still have some way to go. To put more clearly, 85% of women in the UK don’t ride at all.
But if every woman who rides a bike gets two friends out to ride with them, encouraging, empowering and enabling them, we could see a huge increase in the number of women riding. We could overturn that deficit. At a time when we have not been more physically or mentally unwell, nor our planet been under more pressure, cycling - be it active travel, spinning to the shops, a club ride for coffee, or racing - could be just the tonic.