Stats published early this year showed that of the people in England who cycled once a week, 27% were women. Of British Cycling members, 15% were female, and when we start talking about racing, the numbers are even smaller – we are in the minority. British Cycling have put a huge amount of effort into swinging these numbers round – and they’ve been very successful.
In their efforts in increase the number of female cyclists, BC have surveyed women to find out why they don’t ride – below are a few of the most commonly listed reasons.
As a cyclist, I am 3 years old, and I’ve battered most of these barriers down now. Here are my words of intermediate wisdom for those just beginning the journey by bike and teetering over the edge of becoming a ‘cyclist’:
Negative body image and resultant ‘muscular’ physique
I got into exercise full stop when I needed to lose some university blubber. I took up running, lost some excess fat – and then took up triathlon. For quite some time, I wanted to just race my bike and drop the running, but it took an injury that prevented me running to make me really go for it.
Why? I didn’t really want thighs like Chris Hoy, and I thought cycling might result in that.
That just isn’t the case. Yes – cyclists might have more bum and quad muscles – but your body shape is not going to drastically change unless you start squatting multiples of your body weight in the gym. Track sprinters have larger thigh muscles thanks to a huge amount of work they do. If you’ve got strong legs, you should love them and be proud.
I’ve been a non-sporty person of 60-63 kg, a runner of 55-56kg, and now I’m a cyclist of 58-60 kg. Since getting into sport, my attitude to my body has changed. Skinny meant running quicker. New muscles are a sign of new strength – bigger quads mean faster dual carriageway sprints come the summer. There are times when the glorification of willowy catwalk models gets in the way – but mostly I just want to be faster at riding my bike.
Lack of knowledge of local routes
I have a truly atrocious sense of direction. Sometimes, I get lost. And the world doesn’t end – I just get home later. If you’re able to clear a Saturday morning for that – problem solved. ‘Losing yourself’ when you need to be somewhere isn’t fun – for example, I wouldn’t suggest you try it on the way to work.
If you don’t have time to get lost – here are some options:
- Use MapMyRide.com – this was my first tool when I learnt to ride – I used to map a ride, print it out – and take it with me.
- Buy a Garmin 800 – it displays maps
- Use maps on your phone
- Join a cycling club – they’ll show you the ropes
- Find a local circuit and ride laps – not that fun for weekend miles but great if you want to get faster as timing yourself is a great incentive
I will never have a great sense of direction – but I can get a good long loop in now I know the area – it just takes practice (and you might get lost a couple of times).
Nobody to go with
I sympathies with this one, I’ve felt it a million times – I look for the perfect riding partner – someone just a little bit faster than me, who will be kind and wait for me when I’m behind, who wants to ride at 8 am or 10 am depending upon my mood on Saturday morning, and who favours week day rides of 60-90 minutes at 7am. That’s why I struggle to find a riding partner.
In terms of actual human beings around to go for a ride with? There are loads! I’m just one example, but local to me is Redhill CC who meet a 4 minute ride away and run groups from G1 (15-15mph) to G6 (racers), Maison du Velo bike shop 2 miles away do a womnen’s only ride every Saturday, Dorking CC are sub 10 miles away and seem to be growing rapidly, I see Addiscombe out most weekends local to me, and if I fancy a slower ride and a sweet treat, I could join Team Cake just a couple of miles away in Horley. If you’re in London, you’ve got 80 clubs to choose from!
Working for a bike shop, I’ve done my research on local clubs – and I’ve yet to find a town without a nearby club. Where do you find out where they are? Start here: www.britishcycling.org.uk/clubfinder
If you want to ride with just women – you might struggle more – but there are many new women’s clubs and groups, such as the Kent Velo Girls who now have 150 members. Admittedly, that isn’t much help if you live in Scotland, but British Cycling have reported an extra 115 women’s cycling groups available this year – so a google search might reveal more than you think!
Admittedly – you might not find the perfect group you gel with exactly – but if, like me, that’s what you want – I’m afraid it sounds like you’re a lone wolf best suited to your own company on most rides – when you want company, you’re going to need to compromise for other people’s needs.
Lack of knowledge of bike maintenance
I remember my first very awkward puncture. I was atop of Ditchling Beacon. I had a flat tyre, and a backpack. In the backpack, was: a bag of nuts, a phone with no battery, a map of Sussex, an extra jersey.
No tubes, no puncture repair kit, no tyre levers, no pump. I was really lucky because a friend from my new triathlon club (just joined) rode past and helped me – she also taught me how to patch a tube there and then – and made it clear to me that this was something girls can do without a huge amount of difficulty. As a 20 year old feminist, it’s terrible I had to be taught that – but I did have an idea in my head it was something I couldn’t do and I generally got punctures fixed at a bike shop.
Some bike maintenance is tricky – but a lot of it is pretty simple. Fixing punctures, changing brake pads, de-greasing a chain, tightening brakes, indexing gears (sorting them out when they get clunky), replacing gear and brake cables are all things you can learn how to do with the help of the myriad of YouTube videos available online.
Lack of confidence on a bike and cycling on the highway
This one comes up a lot. I’ll admit – it’s a sticking point, and there have been times I’ve felt so angry at drivers I’ve felt tempted to throw in the towel – but there is a lot you can learn to make this easier:
- Ride confidently – do not ride in the gutter – I’m not suggesting you ride in the middle of the road – but you should position yourself so that drivers don’t feel they can squeeze past you when there just isn’t room – make it clear you are using the road and have every right to be there
- Wear high viz and have good lights – knowing you can be seen will provide confidence and peace of mind – because you are safer
- Learn to anticipate drivers, and react – it’s nice to recess into your own little world as you ride – but if you want to do this, you really need to be on a velodrome, or perhaps to be a very lucky off-roader. You need to ride expecting drivers to do silly things – give a doors worth of room when passing parked cars, slow down when you see drivers emerging from junctions, make eye contact at traffic lights so you know you’ve seen each other.
What’s holding you back from riding? I bet there is someone out there who has climbed over your barrier and had a great ride on the other side..