Initiatives for bringing more women into the world of cycling are coming along in leaps and bounds, writes Kath Bicknell. Looking at some successful examples for this highlights ways other initiatives can do the same.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

About a year ago I wrote an opinion piece I wanted to title "Some women don't help themselves." It was about women's participation in cycling, and how, despite some people's best intentions, events designed to inspire sometimes end up having the opposite effect.

The article was in response to a ride I'd looked forward to for a long time, with a strong group of cyclists I admired. Shortly before the ride, the event details were changed from '4 hours' to '1.5 hours, easy-medium pace, all welcome.'

My issue was not with the aims of the ride itself, but in the poor communication of the ride setting mixed expectations among participants. Within about 20 minutes riders had been dropped and/or lost, and people stood around wondering how this could have happened.

http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/4194_rapha-womens-ride-500-mcbeard.jpg
(Stick together, it's more fun that way - Beardy McBeard.)

I never published that article. I felt it undermined all the hard work that has been going on in many local riding communities to increase the visibly, confidence and participation of females in the sport. Still, drafting the article alerted me to a common gap in these activities.

There are a lot of initiatives for beginner female riders and a growing presence for high-level racing. But you often have to look harder to find organised activities for ladies in the midfield; women who are reasonably fit and skilled on a bike who could do with some challenges and structured mentoring of their own.

Since this time I've found myself actively noticing when initiatives are working hard to bridge this gap.

The Silent Revolution website is one excellent example of the way the web can be used to build a strong and confident women's community of mountain bikers. Forum posts, organised rides, visible kit… the increase in girls owning and enjoying their experiences on the trails, due to initiatives like this one, is such a positive and motivating thing to see.

Hajar Baker's recent series of articles on Silent Revolution, interviewing 10 women about their experiences in gravity enduro, builds on this momentum. Ladies' numbers are low in this relatively new discipline of mountain biking, which brings together reasonable fitness with a competent level of skills.

http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/7432_julie-mcvie2-500-bicknell.jpg
(Use social rides to session your skills too - Kath Bicknell)

http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/3237_julie-mcvie-500-bicknell.jpg
(Start slow and build up over time. Julie McVie makes it look easy - Kath Bicknell)

Articles like Hajar's provide role models of all ages and experience levels for women thinking about giving it a go. It's strange there aren't more of them elsewhere, too.

The Rapha Women's 100 provides another powerful example of using the internet to foster the growth of women's cycling. On 20 July, female road cyclists from all over the world will aim to pedal 100kms.

A map on the Rapha website shows organised road bunch rides throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. I hope to see more on the map over the next couple of months.

Through integration with social media and Strava, ladies feeling a little alone in the sport become part of something much larger.

http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/9368_rapha-women-s-ride2-500-mcbeard.jpg
(There's something really empowering that happens when a group of like-minded riders get together - Beardy McBeard)

I recently joined the Sydney Rapha Festa Della Donna ride, a three hour-ish morning ride to celebrate International Women's Day. The Rapha Cycle Club Sydney had been holding lead up rides, which built the skills, fitness and riding ability of ladies newer to the sport. As a result, this longer ride was well organised and well paced.

A mechanic rode with the bunch to help keep everyone moving, Beardy McBeard documented the day with evocative images, and food and coffee added to the social, network-y feel of the event.

Knowing these rides are linked to a broader business plan for Rapha adds an important element as well. Too often women's initiatives are volunteer run and without additional support, can lead to volunteer burn out.

The Rapha Women's 100, and the ongoing visibility Silent Revolution provides women mountain bikers, represent just two areas where a range of ideas, initiatives and energy are coming together to build positive experiences for women in cycling.

Also, and critically, they're not just one off events. There's lead up and follow through. They provide a way for ladies to meet similarly minded riders to share their enjoyment of the sport, far beyond these organised events.

http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/8654_rapha-women-s-ride3-500-mcbeard.jpg
(Explore the city you're in - Beardy McBeard)

Cycling Australia's SheRides program represents another new avenue for women entering cycling; organised rides from other retail stores and cycling clubs represent another. Live broadcasts of women's racing is building more visibility too.

Add to this the growing number of entry- to mid- to high-end bikes for ladies in the market, and an ever increasing range of good looking and functional women's cycling clothing and accessories.

I admit to feeling burned more than once about ideas that are supposed to make ladies feel more included in the sport. And I still see videos and news articles that make me want to bluntly enquire as to whether there were any women at the event. There's obviously still a long way to go.

But since critiquing my own pent up rant at one attempt gone wrong, it's so heartening to open my eyes a little wider and see quite a number of successful, well thought-out ways of integrating women into cycling. Together, these are fast establishing new expectations among cyclists for what the sport is and what it can be.

If you have been similarly impressed by changes in your own local cycling community, please leave a comment on our Facebook page or below. I'd be curious to hear about it and I know many other riders would too.