Women, Doing it for Themselves  

Women, Doing it for Themselves  


International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated each year on 8th March, providing a platform to recognise achievements and increase awareness of inequality and discrimination. In this article we celebrate IWD by highlighting three fantastic female-led projects, addressing inequality in cycling. 

Sadly, cycling remains a male dominated sport and activity. For every female member of a cycling club, there are three males. British Cycling membership rates are around 80% male and 20% female. Surveys suggest that twice as many men cycle regularly (once a week) compared to women1.

In 2022 British Cycling registered competitive events in Scotland attracted over three times as many male entrants compared to female entries, whilst non-competitive events only fared slightly better. Overall, females made up 24% of event entries. Whilst in mountain bike leadership, women are outnumbered by men by nearly four to one.  

These statistics demonstrate the need for female focused interventions to address the difference in participation rates between the sexes. Three members of our Women’s Development Group are involved in projects doing just this, providing more opportunities for women in cycling, specifically mountain biking and track cycling. The projects are each headed up by all female teams, all of them wanting something to happen, and making sure that it does, by taking the lead and organising it themselves. We spoke to Katie May about the Limitlass mountain bike festival, Leanne Whitehead about Dirt Divas and Fiona Walker about the Women’s Track Fund

Katie May – Limitlass 

Limitlass is a women’s mountain bike festival whose purpose is “supporting lassies to redefine their limits”. Winner of the Scottish Mountain Bike Event of the Year at the 2022 Scottish MTB Awards, the festival was held in August in Aboyne in Aberdeenshire. Alongside Katie in the organising team is Anna Riddell and Fiona Finnie, and an all-female crew delivering the coaching, workshops, and guided rides. 

Fun, friendship, and female empowerment are at the heart of this festival, with the first event attracting 70 attendees, who enjoyed a packed programme of activities. Friday night was film night, showcasing women in mountain biking and the opportunities to ride in the local area. Female-led coaching and workshops were delivered on the Saturday, and in the evening were talks from the organisers on their experiences getting into mountain biking and the development of the festival, and from Colour Collective on how to improve diversity and inclusivity. Sunday was given over to guided rides, ensuring participants enjoyed the spills and thrills of the local trails.  

Katie highlighted the challenge of trying to organise a first edition of a new event within a short timeframe and on top of full-time work for all involved. Their energy and resourcefulness meant they secured funding and sponsorship to enable the event to be delivered on budget, whilst keeping the cost to attendees as low as possible, including the option to purchase a limited number of non-coaching tickets. Included in their task list was working with the local landowner to gain permission for the event, including managing the risk to the landscape and trails.  

The event was such a success it is returning this year on 18th-20th August. Katie told us “It was amazing. We got some really good feedback from the women that came. We had two people that had never ridden a MTB bike before, all the way up to women who had raced Enduro World Series.”  

Leanne Whitehead – Dirt Divas


Women’s mountain biking and gravel riding in Scotland was given a further boost with the advent of the Dirt Diva’s festival in October last year. A team of women worked together to deliver this event, headed up by Leanne, alongside Kerry McPhee and Eloise Park. They told us “We are a rad bunch of guides, coaches and riders that believe in the power of the bike to improve mental and physical health and bring women together!” 

Beginning with a Facebook post investigating whether such an event would appeal, Leanne revealed she was blown away when she received over 100 responses indicating an interest and Dirt Divas was born. Not just a festival, it is also now a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting more women to ride bikes and get outside. 

A newbie to the world of event organising, Leanne admitted she initially knew very little about funding or sponsorship and climbed a steep learning curve during the process of pulling everything together. However, she does know cycling, and with the support of the team, they delivered an event that provided everything a women’s muddy cycling festival would want; talks from awesome women in cycling; films; coaching sessions; guided rides; workshops; merchandise stands; a hill climb event; and even a ceilidh on the Saturday night.  

Aberfoyle proved an ideal location, utilising the local outdoor education centre for accommodation and event village location, with access to technical mountain bike trails and gravel trails so good the local area has been re-named ‘Gravelfoyle’. The festival attracted 97 participants, 20% of whom were new to mountain biking.  

Leanne described the whole experience as “amazing” but admitted it was a challenging undertaking, involving a lot of work. However, this has not put her off and the festival returns this year on 22nd-24th September. 

Fiona Walker – Women’s Track Fund

The impetus for this project was when low numbers had signed up to a women’s track racing event, leading to its cancellation. Recognising that there are and have been several initiatives supporting women to try track cycling, Fiona, alongside Liz Wisdish and Gillian Anderson, wanted to do something to support more women to progress on to competitive events on the track. Thanks to Scottish Cycling Springboard funding, the Women’s Track Fund project was created. 

The organising team liaised with Glasgow Life to book velodrome time and equipment, enlisted the help of experienced track coach Neil Macleod to design and deliver the sessions, and invited women accredited on the track to attend. Coaching was delivered over four, two-hour sessions at the Emirates Arena, at the low-cost price of £20 for all four. Recognising other life commitments could make it difficult to attend all four, the project was flexible to the availability of attendees, who could sign up to their choice of 1-4 sessions. The project was delivered during September to November, attracting 30 women, whose ages ranged from 16 to 66, with an average age of 30.  

The sessions focused on equipping attendees with the skills and confidence required for bunch racing. Those who had raced in the past refreshed their existing skills, whilst those who were newly accredited track riders developed their newly acquired skills in preparation trying racing on the track for the first time.  

Coaches observed riders’ progression during individual sessions and across multiple sessions; Fiona told us “It’s great to see the progress, it’s one of my favourite things as a coach, seeing people improve in such a short space of time.” 

The impact of this project is already being felt; women’s racing has been introduced at Track League, and there were 13 women racing at the Monsters of Track event in January, with 15 entered into the next round.  

Fiona acknowledges the financial challenge of delivering track events, due to the considerable cost of hiring the velodrome. Races that attract larger fields are prioritised, which means women-only races don’t always happen. However, there is some funding left over from the project which has been assigned to underwriting costs to ensure some upcoming women’s track events can go ahead. 

With World Championship track racing coming to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome this year, we hope more women will be inspired by our amazing female athletes and want to get involved in the wonderful world of track racing.