Bike skills training for women

Banjo Paterson's Mulga Bill certainly lacked bike skills

So you’ve got the shiny new bike. You sort of know how to ride it, because you rode a bike when you were a kid, and you seem to instinctively know how to keep your balance. However, you really feel a bit nervous and can’t imagine you’ll ever feel confident alongside all the other riders who appear to exude confidence. Sound familiar? It’s exactly how most women feel when they take up cycling in their adult years.

You’ll be pleased to know that there are some passionate individuals out there who are helping to teach bike skills, and as a consequence getting more women to ride bikes confidently.

Last week I had the good fortune to speak with Canberra-based Tanya Saad who has started her own business teaching women how to ride bikes confidently at all levels. Thanks to Stephen Hodge (former cycling pro) for bringing Tanya and I together.

As Tanya pointed out Canberra is a great place to ride a bike, it has the highest cycling participation rates in the nation but there’s a gap in the bike skills of many of these riders and that’s where her new business Wheel Action comes in. While not unique to Canberra Tanya laments the fact that most bike shops sell you a bike and are not really interested in you from then on, except for ongoing servicing or to sell a few accessories. Most don’t ask if you can actually ride a bike confidently and certainly don’t offer a solution if you were to say no. There are a few exceptions like Le Spit Cyclery in Sydney’s north who do offer bike skills workshops but they are sadly very rare.

I suppose that’s good for people like Tanya who now has a growing business to nurture. Tanya didn’t set out to focus only on women but since she started her business in March this year all her clients have been women.

As Tanya explains 10 year old girls ride their bikes very differently from 10 year old boys. Think back to your own childhood. I know I just ambled around on my bike and probably stopped to pick a few daisies and chat with the girls. While my older brother rode off jumps, did a few crazy things and spent hours riding. So when women like me take up riding in adulthood we can ride a bike enough to balance on the two wheels but really have no bike skills. This is a common theme that Tanya has identified and she offers a number of courses and workshops to, as she puts it – ‘liberate and empower’ women.

Her slogan “the benefits of cycling are life benefits” resonates with me and aligns nicely with my own catchcry – “Cycling has changed my life”.

I also like Tanya’s philosophy of aligning her cycle skills courses with local cafés. She’s even holding her ‘change a tyre’ session at a café. She recognises that this is somewhere women feel really comfortable and she wants women to associate cycling with another love for many – coffee. She even gives out coffee vouchers.

Tanya also told me about the great work other people are doing in the bike skills arena. Cycling Australia and the Amy Gillett Foundation are working together to introduce a nationally accredited course in bike skills which is for men, women and children. It’s called Austcycle and you can learn more about it here.

I was also fortunate enough to find a bike skills course that I completed earlier this year. It was run under the auspices of Cycling NSW with teachers Donna Meehan who runs a cycle skills business called Domestique in Sydney and Jenny Triggs who is a cycling coach and member of Southern Cross Club in Sutherland. It was an excellent weekend workshop with one day on the Dunc Grey Velodrome and the second day on a criterium track. I learnt a lot on those two days and increased my confidence. Look out for something similar in your area.

I have learnt most of my bike skills (although there’s still plenty to learn) from fellow riders. My partner Phillip has taught me a lot, as have many of the men and women I ride with from my bike club, LACC. Most of  the advice has been helpful and has certainly increased my skill and confidence level. So look out for group rides in your area as well.

I’d love to hear about other bike skills courses on offer. Comments also welcome.

One comment

  • Mountain bike specific, but hopefully also relevant – I’ve been teaching skills clinics for six years and have a business that runs bike skills sessions both group and individual training, catering for female only groups and mixed groups. Also myself and a friend are just kicking off a programme of social mountain bike rides in Sydney – again, female only groups will be catered for, with the first ride Saturday 15 October at Manly Dam (check out the ‘Social Rides’ link on our website). Plus, there is a great website http://www.silentrevolution.com.au set up to help support girls who cycle and build networks etc.