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Do We Need a Women’s Cycling Community?

As part of our 2016 Women and Cycling campaign we are taking a closer look at the issues affecting the number of women choosing to get around on bikes in the UK.

As was mentioned in our earlier ‘why don’t more women cycle?’ blog, here in the UK, the number of men making journeys by bike far outstrips the number of women doing so. And, as we don’t believe that there is anything intrinsically male about cycling, we are curious about a couple of things:

 

1) We want to understand why more women don’t cycle 


and.. 


2) We want to find out what would encourage more women to cycle

 

A member of our legal team, Emily Rawlins, rides with the women’s only cycling group, Team Glow and she recounted her experiences of joining Glow in a blog last week. In the post, Emily mentioned that women’s cycling groups are beginning to spring up all over the country and a quick Google will tell you the same.

These female groups tend to focus on catering for varying levels of ability with an emphasis on inclusivity and friendship, but they are not popular with everyone.

If you are at all familiar with women-only cycling groups or have ever had a conversation about women-only anything, the chances are you’ll have come across the following view:

 

Why does it have to be women’s only? Why not just make it for everyone?


And this is a valid question. Does it have to be about women’s cycling groups? Can’t they just be for everybody? My argument is this – they can be for everybody, but there is a great benefit in having clubs that are exclusively for women.

 

Where are the women's cycling communities?

Strongher is an initiative that has taken the concept of a women’s cycling community and transformed it into a tangible reality. Led by professional female cyclists, such as Marianne Vos, it is a global network that aims to connect cycling women across the world and develop women’s cycling.

Strongher runs women’s cycling events and an interactive platform and app that is designed to show women both how and what to cycle, wherever they are in the world. It is hugely aspirational and definitely a good resource for interested parties. However, it doesn’t answer all of our questions and its global scale means that there are local aspects that simply can’t be tackled.

The fact of the matter is, that in this country, only about a quarter of cyclists are women. There is also a popular view of cyclists as lycra-clad males that does not extend to the opposite sex (or for that matter, to those less inclined to wear lycra). The combination of these two makes for a cycling environment that is easily perceived to be unfriendly to females.

And though nobody is actually telling women not to cycle, the impression that cycling is a sport for men can be enough to discourage many women from getting involved.

Locally, Manchester Wheelers is an example of a group that does cater for both genders with a specific focus on encouraging women to join up. They have women’s rides about once a month, but what is perhaps more significant is that they really focus on engaging women as part of their general group. In an ideal world this is what I’d like to see all cycling groups doing, but for now I acknowledge that women’s only groups are a great route to having a greater mix of riders further down the line.

 

"I believe that a women's cycling community is a positive phenomenon"

I believe that a women’s cycling community is a helpful and positive phenomenon, but I think that it is a temporary solution. This community or, more accurately, these communities provide a gateway into cycling for many women who may not otherwise get involved. Take Sky’s Breeze rides for example. These rides, which are set up in different locations across the country, are specifically geared towards complete beginners and women who haven’t been on a bike in years. These rides can feel far more approachable and don’t tend to induce fears of being left behind as the slowest rider or of being the odd one out in a boys’ club. Concurrently, the women’s rides organised by mixed groups like the Manchester Wheelers are a great gateway to more inclusive riding for women who are just starting out.

 

Furthermore, the more women’s cycling groups there are, the more women we will see out on the roads and the less cycling will be seen as a ‘man’s interest.’ I hope that if we can achieve more gender parity in cycling then we will naturally move away from gender-divided groups as the barriers to cycling that can lead to women wanting to only ride with other women, are  broken down.

 

We’d like to know what you think – both men and women. Do you agree with me that a women’s cycling community is a good thing? Or do you think it is unnecessary, unhelpful and maybe even sexist?

 

Tell us! Get in touch on Twitter (@twisted_spokes), comment in the space below or post on our Facebook wall.

 

Further Reading:

To read more about Twisted Spokes, just click here.

To read about Strongher, just click here.

To read about Manchester Wheelers women, click here.

 

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