Published 13 August 2014
Report: Abby Holder
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A few weeks ago I went on a bike ride with 8,200 other women. The ride took 12 hours to complete, with eight of those hours spent at the lunch stop, standing in a mile long queue for the loos.
Ok. Some of that is a lie. The ride was part of the Rapha Women’s 100, which involved thousands of women riding 100km on the same day, in 40 countries around the world.
So strictly speaking we weren’t all on the same ride, but in Newcastle over 40 of us signed up for a ride organised by one of my fellow Breeze champions and that was enough to raise the eyebrows of a few passing pedestrians.
You don’t often see that many women out riding together. As an all-male club ride passed us in the opposite direction I heard one of them exclaim “they’re taking over!” But I don’t see it as taking over – just trying to even things out a bit.
According to British Cycling there are four times more men than women cycling, but over one million more women say they would like to cycle. That’s why the Breeze initiative was set up and since 2011 over 9000 Breeze rides have taken place across England with 50,000 participants.
Many of them have become regular Breeze riders and I’ve enjoyed seeing women on what I have come to think of as ‘the Breeze trajectory’.
It goes something like this: a bike is dragged from the back of the garage or garden shed, jet-washed to remove 15 years-worth of cobwebs, and taken with its rusty chain and under-inflated tyres, on a local Breeze ride. Its owner wears jeans or tracksuit bottoms and a helmet with lop-sided straps.
As the number of Breeze rides completed by the owner increases, a series of other changes can be observed: the jeans/tracksuit bottoms are replaced with padded cycling shorts, the rusting bike morphs into a leaner, shiner new model and before you know where you are, the owner is sitting in a cafe chatting about the relative merits of mountain bike pedal cleats over road pedal cleats.
But with all this new found enthusiasm, fitness and kit comes a new challenge. What do you do when a steady 15 mile Breeze ride is no longer enough? Where do you go when you want to ride further or faster? According to the Rapha 100 website, a third of the women who participated in that 100km ride last month took up cycling in the last year.
So if you’re looking for the next step, sportives might be a good place to start. I’ve ridden two now so I’m practically a veteran. If you’re a woman you do need to accept that sportive riding generally involves being outnumbered by grown men in lycra, but your eyeballs will soon adapt to this sight. My retinas have almost completely healed now.
Or, if you’re not quite ready for that, you could try a women-only event. I’m going to ride the Strada Rosa on September 14 – I’m interested to see if and how a women’s sportive feels different. Breeze have also recently launched some longer Breeze Challenge rides for women.
But you can’t ride a sportive every week, so another option is to join a cycling club. This can be a bit daunting if you’re relatively new to cycling and worried that you won’t be fit enough or fast enough to keep up on a club ride. I’m curious about cycling clubs because they have a reputation for being a bit cliquey, yet most of the club members I’ve met don’t fit this stereotype at all.
So for the purpose of this blog, I conducted a small and highly unscientific experiment. I looked up two clubs near where I live to see what they had to offer for a woman looking for the chance to try more challenging rides. The first had a very prominent section on its website for ‘women and girls’ and offers its female members social rides and skills and maintenance classes.
On the second website I could find no acknowledgement of women as cyclists. All the photos were of men. All the club officials listed were men.
I know five minutes looking at a website is a little superficial to make any sweeping judgements, but if I was looking for a local club to help me take my cycling to the next level, five minutes research online is exactly what I’d do, and I know which club I’d choose.
I haven’t tried either of these clubs, but I have recently been out for a few rides with the local mountain bike club. As a fairly inexperienced mountain biker this is something I wouldn’t have contemplated had my boyfriend not persuaded me to go along with him and give it a try. It’ll be a while before I’m doing wheelies or throwing myself down vertical drops, but riding with a group of more experienced riders certainly pushes me and I am starting to see my riding improve as a result.
So in future I won’t rule out joining a club and I also hope to see more clubs taking steps to actively reach out to women riders. They have nothing to lose and maybe a million new members to gain.