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More women are getting on their bikes

Written by Fiona June 07 2011

My recent article about women and cycling appeared in the latest Cycling Scotland newsletter. Here’s what I wrote:

I took part in the Bealach Mor cycle event 2010

More women get on their bikes

Has anyone else noticed the quiet, aherm, revolution going on Scotland’s roads? There hasn’t been a great deal of fanfare and, certainly, I’ve not heard any boasting. But determinedly – and with great camaraderie – more women have been getting on their bikes.

Sightings of this new breed of girl riders are anecdotal rather than recorded but nonetheless evident. On peaceful country roads, women have been spotted cycling in audibly amiable and chatty groups. At traditionally male-dominated bike clubs, the signing up of a new female member has become less of an item of headline news. And many more cycle commuters now wear pink jackets and flowery helmets.

Reports from the cycle retailers are that sales of women’s cycling clothing are up. At sports store Decathlon, Mike Foulds confirms: “In the past two years we’ve seen demand for women’s bicycle clothing triple in the UK.”

It’s also apparent that the rise of the 21st century Cycling Chick is typical of our gender. (Being a woman I’m allowed to write this!) Generally more modest and less confident than our male counterparts, the fledgling chick is to be seen attending bike skills sessions, beginner maintenance workshops, guided cycling rides, such as the SkyRides.

What is even more heart warming to witness is that women are organising – because women are very good at organising – special events and skills days for themselves. A Women-Only “Learn to Ride” Biking Festival took place on April 3 in Glasgow. Women on Wheels (WoW) have been successful in attracting riders to skills sessions and rides both on and off-road.

Two new women-only cycling events take place in the UK later this year. The Cycletta events will be held near London and Manchester in September and October and offer a fantastic opportunity for women to enjoy a mass participation event on safe and traffic-free roads.

In Edinburgh a year-old women-only bike club, Hervélo, has been a big success. With some 60 members and a wide range of regular bike rides on offer the club aims to encourage women of all cycling abilities to take their pedalling to the next level.

I’m delighted to witness this new girls-on-bikes trend. As a leisure, commuting and now long-distance sportive cycling fan I’ve most likely bored more than my average share of women (and men) about the benefits of riding my bike.

But what intrigues me is why women have been getting on their bikes in recent years?

One theory is that women have been inspired to take up cycling thanks to role models such as Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton (see her cycle training tips), Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead.

Other cycling commentators point to an expansion of more all-inclusive and fun cycling events, such as the annual Pedal for Scotland, the Big Bike Day, the TweedLove Bike Festival and the new Kinross Cycle Sportive, which includes an entry level challenge.

Scot Tares, who runs sportive training specific tours and courses at Perthshire-based Skinny Tyres, reports that 60% of bookings have come from women over the last year.

Tares says: “The rise in cyclo sportives has paved the way to a more open and inclusive environment that women can take part in without the male bravado more traditionally associated with bike events.

“We find that women are keen to learn new bike skills – and they are not embarrassed to say that they need a boost to their confidence.”

An alternative hypothesis focuses on the reduced environmental – and financial – impact of cycling when compared to driving. It’s suggested that women on average are more concerned about climate damage and household savings.

Yvonne Press, a cycling commuter from Edinburgh, says: “With petrol prices rising and roads clogged with vehicles, cycling is the obvious alternative for getting around the city. I like that cycling is green and saves me money.”

The 32-year-old PR consultant has also found a time-saving advantage. She says: “Because of the traffic it’s difficult to predict a journey time when driving. But when I cycle I use cycle paths and lanes, so I know almost to the minute how long a journey will take.”

It seems that Press is not the only woman interested in using a bike to get to the office. Matt MacDonald, of Edinburgh-based sustainable transport project A Better Way to Work, also has evidence to show the roots of a growth in female cycling commuters. A free cycle training initiative that provided on-road training to boost people’s confidence run over the last year by the project attracted 76% female riders.

Another obvious benefit of cycling is fitness, and the fact that riding a bike is great for toning thighs and bums – the areas of the body that women most often want to change – is suggested by women themselves as an incentive to get on their bikes.

Press reports: “I’ve definitely lost weight and toned up because cycling is now so much part of my life.”

Another newbie female cyclist, 44-year-old Rachel Higgins, a lawyer and mum, says: “Weight loss and agreeing with a friend to do my first ever novice triathlon have got me back on my bike after many years of not riding. Since January I’ve lost a stone.”

Personally, I’ve another hunch: Just like wives of golfers who take up golfing themselves, rather than enduring the life of a golf widow, so more women are joining their men, and their MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra), on bikes. My motivation to ride the epic Bealach Mor Sportive was partly instigated by my very own MAMIL.

If he was planning long training rides every weekend then rather than be left at home doing the washing I decided to join him. I’ve also ended up with a bling-bling carbon fibre bike and a range of bike gadgets that would have every MAMIL going green-eyed!

Let’s hear it for the new Cycling Chicks (and those, like me, who are very happy to be called MAWILs)!

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