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How can we get more women into cycling?

Laura Scott
8 Mar 2018

Cyclist writer, kit tester & endurance rider suggests ways we can all bring down the barriers that could be stopping women from cycling

The question of how to get more women into cycling was once again raised when the BBC published an article entitled 'What is stopping women from cycling?'

The article quickly did the rounds in the cycling community. Journalist Anna Allatt spoke to women across the country on what was stopping them, as well as pulling on data released by Sustrans in 2013.

According to Allatt, the primary three things stopping women from cycling are harassment, self-confidence, and concerns about safety.

I had experienced all of these things, in my journey into cycling and was curious to know, was this still actually the case? Are women not cycling because of these things?

I decided to do a quick poll on twitter to see what my audience thought: 329 people voted, with 46% stating safety as the primary barrier; self-confidence followed this at 32%.

This stat, be it not very scientific, made my stomach sink. The idea that all that is holding women back from cycling is lack of confidence, seemed crazy.

But then I remembered my own journey into cycling.

Commuting origins

As an adult, I picked up cycling again as a way to get to work cheap. I was working in media, and between rent and my monthly tube ticket, the little money I had left over was barely enough to survive off of baked beans and toast.

A colleague eventually convinced me to give cycling a go. I thought he was insane… this is London! But continuously on the brink of entering my overdraft, I decided why not and bought an old purple three-speed dutch bike with basket and my love affair with cycling was reignited.

I will never forget my nerves before that first day cycling into work. I gave myself over an hour… for what would probably take even a slower cyclist 20 minutes.

Over the next few weeks and months, my confidence slowly began to increase; I got faster, I started to go along more direct routes, I got a better bike. I was now a cyclist.

Charity challenge

One evening I was in the pub and a friend invited me to join on a charity ride from Paris to London. This was when my cycling addiction got real.

I bought a cheap road bike and set off. I had no idea what I was doing other than being a charity ride with friends. It was a challenge for all of us, and we battled through.

When I got back to London, I was keen to keep up this new found love for road cycling. I asked around and found out about cycling clubs. I went on my first ride and was dropped.

A friend in the club waited for me and tried to make me feel better by taking us off on our own ride. But the damage was done. I might love cycling, but I was a crap cyclist.

Being somewhat stubborn I wasn’t ready to pack it in quite yet. I decided I would enter sportives and ride them on my own until I got ‘good enough’ to join a club.

It was not long after I bought myself some cycling kit. Up until this point, I was still riding in yoga gear. I know, I know… even I wonder how/why.

I wasn’t quite ready for the whole skin-tight lycra thing though, so was buying tops at least two sizes too big.

Slowly but surely my confidence grew, I learnt how to deal with various mechanical issues by watching YouTube, I bought a Garmin and was no longer afraid of getting lost, and finally, I joined a club.

I went on a club ride and wasn’t dropped this time, in fact, I was one of the stronger riders that day.

Stick with it: Cycling has given me so much

I look back and wonder what my life would be like now if, after that ride which shattered my confidence, I had just given up.

I would not know many of my current friends; I would not have rediscovered my sense of adventure, I definitely would not be as confident in other aspects of my life as I am now.

Cycling has given me so much, and that is why it upsets me so much that lack of self-confidence is still a barrier to women cycling.

As a cyclist who faced all these challenges as I was picking up the sport, I believe there are plenty of ways for us as the cycling community to get more women cycling.

Essential networks

One of the first ways to help, is by making it easier for women to find a supportive network and rides to participate in. The Breeze network does a fantastic job of connecting cyclists.

Although I think it's important to emphasise here that not all rides need to be short or slow. I wanted to ride long distances almost from day one and wanted to find others who shared this ambition to learn more about how to get into ultra endurance.

For those who really feel like they are starting from scratch though, many councils offer various programmes for all abilities.

Michael Corden, Head of Training at Cycle Confident spoke to me about a 'women's-only group in in partnership with Waltham Forest Council.'

The purpose is 'to train female instructors and female ride leaders, to encourage women to cycle for recreation and commuting.

'The emphasis is on bike safety, bike handling skills and building confidence.'

Do your part to get more people cycling

That said there are ways you can personally help both men and women to build their confidence around cycling. So my challenge to you is to give one day a month to ride with a friend who might not be as confident as you are.

Or if you are part of a cycling club, organise a taster day with rides accessible to all abilities.

Helping each other to become more confident cyclists is something we are all capable of. All it takes is giving a bit of your time, and hopefully, we can see at least this barrier into cycling become a thing of the past.

Laura Scott

Laura Scott is an ultra-endurance cyclist, who grew up moving between the UK and Canada. She writes regularly for Cyclist.co.uk, giving advice on long-distance riding and reviewing the latest kit.

In 2016 she took part in a solo unsupported bike race across the US called the Trans Am Bike Race, completing 2,200 miles (3,540km) with a dislocated shoulder and fractured collarbone after being hit by a car on day one.

She has taken part in numerous other long distance events and will be racing the Trans Atlantic Way in Ireland this year.

Laura hopes to inspire more women to take up cycling and give endurance racing a go by sharing her adventures.

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