On Sunday, close to 7,500 female riders took part in the Rapha Women’s 100 across the globe. These numbers signify a worldwide shift in the perception of cycling and its role in many people’s lives, writes Kath Bicknell.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

The Rapha Women's 100 is about inspiring ladies all over the world to ride 100km on a chosen Sunday in July. A milestone for some, a new route or adventure for others, a community building exercise for all.

This year saw numbers almost double after last year's inaugural event. Not only did 7,470 women register to ride in the Rapha Women's 100, but over 320 organised rides took place across 40 countries.

I joined one of four bunches that rode from Sydney to Gosford. The route was scenic, the road surfaces surprisingly good, the food and coffee stops unexpected (but gratefully received) and the kilometres traveled were really satisfying to achieve.

Riding to Gosford I enjoyed meeting ladies who have cycled for far longer than I have and learning from the experiences that they brought to the group. I felt similar admiration as I watched strong-minded new recruits conquer a distance like that for the very first time.

It made me think back to the journeys I had when I was discovering the sport for the first time too, an unsure 16 year old, half my life ago.

I used to ride from one end of town to the other on a second hand road bike my mum had bought me. I'm still not sure why she did that, it wasn't for Christmas, or a birthday, it was a "just because". In that simple gesture she changed my life.

I didn't know many people I could ride with, so I spent most afternoons pedaling as fast as I could by myself. My school friends used words like "crazy" or "hard-core" to describe me, and looking back I suppose it must have seemed a little bit odd.

Living in a city of over 300,000, I knew of about five girls my age who rode, but they seemed "serious". They were hand picked by talent identification programs and raced, or had raced a bit previously and were already burnt out. While a lot of us are friends now, we didn't have much in common at the time.

Physically gifted racers and an odd-ball: It's hardly an image that's going to inspire half the population to give something like cycling a go, which brings me back to "the Rapha".

This event comes at a time when participation in cycling is dramatically on the up. It is obviously linked to a broader business plan for the high-performance clothing company, who seek to engage a large part of the market that too often sits at around 20 percent. The Women's 100 has grown to be something far bigger than Rapha and, as a female rider, I can only admire the result.

As each individual experienced their own 100km on Sunday, they were encouraged to share images and thoughts using the #womens100 hashtag. Ladies from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Samoa, Romania, Portugal, London, the USA, Canada, the list goes on.

The event is so large that other companies driving women's participation through their own products started sharing in the event as well: Specialized and Liv (the women's bike brand which now boasts a separate identity to Giant) being the two obvious ones that come to mind.

Most importantly, the Women's 100 isn't a "one off". Rapha have been hosting and encouraging regular training rides in the lead up, which will continue beyond the event. Their retail stores and local ambassador riders are central in seeing these rides develop and grow.

A community builds. And with it, the perception of riding for women undergoes a dramatic shift.

It's no longer so hard to seek out role models, to learn from others, to share stories, to ask advice, to ride to participate rather than race, to be supported, to learn about equipment (designed for needs that might be different from a male majority), to look good, to feel good, to click a hashtag and see thousands of images that show that what you're doing isn't unusual at all.

Well done, Rapha. While a large part of the cycling industry are still scratching their heads working out how to get more women on board, the ways you have built momentum are empowering indeed. And you have done so by creating a model that's not just about women's participation, it's about participation full stop.

…As I looked around the crowd on Sunday, I suddenly didn't feel like an odd-ball at all.