Three years and one week ago, I was attending a talk about social media, and how we as business people could utilise it better. For me at the time, it was very relevant because I was working as a public relations consultant and the woman delivering the talk was of the same profession. One thing that she said really resonated with me, “I write a personal blog……………” and a thought jumped into my head. If I’m so interested in women’s cycling, why not start a blog about it.
A week later – 13 August 2011, Women Who Cycle was born. At the time I was very committed to the idea but I hadn’t really thought past my first few blog posts and the basic structure of my site. I looked at other people’s blogs and saw that many of them had been going for years and wondered how they sustained it. I also looked at many blogs that had been started and abandoned down the track, some very fleetingly, and others that hung on for a few years and then petered out.
I’m writing this post while flying home from a three week holiday in Peru. Part of the tour my friend and I took was three days of bike riding, as well as a day of rafting and hiking the Inka trail.
During the tour we were well looked after by a number of guides including a guide just for our bike riding section. He was definitely over qualified for the job – Jose-Luis was the national champion of Peru in cross country mountain bike five years ago. He now prefers ride downhill so I dubbed him the loco hombre.
Our first day began at an archaeological site called Tipon near Cusco (where we stayed overnight) which is a Inka site with well preserved terraces high up on a hill that were used for farming. After we’d had a good look around including a short hike up a hill for the view we got ready for our bike debut.
The bikes were entry level hardtail mountain bike. Pretty basic but they did the trick. Our first ride was straight down the big hill which included a couple of switchbacks. We took it pretty easier to get used to the bikes and conditions but in no time we were at the bottom.
A couple of weeks ago I was doing some research for an article I’m writing about cycling clubs that support women for Bicycling Australia magazine, and I came across a Brisbane cycling club that’s attracting lots of women to its ranks, and working hard to support them.
Kangaroo Point Cycling Club (KPCC) which might sound like it has a semi-rural bush setting is in fact based in Brisbane’s inner suburbs and has been around since 1905. It currently has over 200 members and about a quarter of them are women.
I had a chat via email with Club Co-Captain Alix Everton about the great work she and other women (and men) are doing at KPCC.
Q: Do you run any female only rides or other activities for female riders?
Yes, we have our very popular Women Only Weekdays – rides run by women, for women, with ‘no boys allowed’. These rides are always kept at a social pace where nobody gets left behind, so that all experience and ability levels are catered for. Since we started running these rides nearly a year ago, we have developed a consistent core group of ladies who turn up, and have new women coming along to try it out nearly every week. This ride helps our club to reduce barriers to female participation by providing a welcoming, non-threatening, non-competitive cycling environment.
I recently met the dynamic Donnamaree Cosgrove who together with her husband Kerry owns and runs bike retail store Bikeline in Toowoomba Queensland. Donnamaree mentioned to me that her store had run a women’s successful bike/body skills program last year so I asked her to fill me in on how it worked.
Q: What was the inspiration behind running the course?
A: We already have a strong women’s group the Bikeline WOW (Women On Wheels) Team. Over the years the groups cycling ability has got stronger and we began to notice that we were not catering for the newcomers as well as we once did so we brainstormed some ideas with the staff (two of whom are female). One of our female staff at the time was also a Yoga instructor so the Yoga/stretching component was her idea. Our Body Geometry Fit (Specialized’s bike fit methodology) guy proposed the fit component, the mechanic suggested basic mechanic skills, and of course cycling skills was a no brainer so from that concoction of ingredients, we created “Your Body, Your Bike”.
Q: Who were you targeting?
A: Women in general, but specifically beginners.
Q: How many attended? How long did it run for?
A: 12 women attended and it ran for eight weeks.
Q: Are the participants now regular customers?
A: Absolutely – all now ride Specialized and all are our best ambassadors (Bikeline is Specialized concept store).
Last week Cycling Australia (CA) released the results of a some research they conducted last year with female cyclists in Australia. They surveyed two groups – Cycling Australia members, and non-members who were active riders. The results were not really surprising for me, because as one of the 2,400 respondents I think I have a reasonable handle on the women’s road cycling scene in Australia. However I think the research is great for bike industry and anyone working with female road cyclists, plus it provides a benchmark for future research.
You can read the full report from Cycling Australia here. It’s not overly long but if you want a quick summary, here’s my take:
The top three challenges to riding for the majority of respondents is feeling unsafe on the road, work commitments and lack of time.
Unsurprisingly the issue of safety was high on the agenda and a deterrent for women not riding as often as they would, if they felt safer. 55 per cent of respondents said they don’t have access to safe on-road facilities. Many also said that if they had access to safer bike lanes and off-road pathways they would ride more often.
There’s been a lot of media space devoted to the issue of bike riders using the roads of late, so I thought I’d put my ‘two bobs worth’ forward.
You’ll note that I haven’t called this blog post ‘Cars v Bikes’ because I really don’t think that’s what it’s about. From my observation many drivers (and by no means all drivers) think that they are entitled to use the roads exclusively and that cyclists should vacate ‘their’ roads or at least pull over and let them pass.
As a road cyclist I think I’m pretty considerate. I do most of my riding early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic, I choose not to ride on major roads except where they can’t be avoided, I obey the road rules, I use front and rear lights early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and I travel at a speed where I rarely hold up a driver for more than a few seconds.
And yet, nearly every time I ride my bike I encounter an aggressive driver who either takes my right of way at a roundabout, comes up very fast behind me and then overtakes in a dangerous manner, and occasionally I’ve been beeped at, or yelled at by impatient people.
Like many road cyclists I ride early in the morning to avoid traffic and to get a 20 km plus ride in before I have to get to work. This means that at quite a few times during the year I leave home in the dark. One thing that constantly amazes me is that I see other cyclists riding around with inadequate or even no lights on their bikes. They are also often decked out in dark clothing on dark bikes. I’m not sure if they are trying to be really ‘cool’ or are just plain stupid.
Many cyclists do not realise that it’s actually illegal to ride a bike at night without lights. In the state of NSW (and many other places) where I live if you ride at night you must have a steady or flashing white light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres and a flashing or steady red light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the rear of the bike. I also take night to mean 5 am when it’s still quite dark at certain times of the year.
I use lights pretty much all the time when I’m riding alone. When it’s dark I use the front light on a steady beam so I can see where I’m going, because even if you are on familiar roads and paths there can be obstacles like sticks, rubbish and rocks that can be a big hazard. When it gets lighter and I can see where I’m going I change my light to a flashing pattern so that other road users can see me. I always use my rear light on a flashing pattern and I nearly always have it on, except when I’m riding in a group and it’s fully light.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a cycling evangelist. That doesn’t mean I give regular sermons about cycling but through this blog, my job and other social occasions I love the opportunity to share my love for cycling with others, particularly women. So here’s 10 reasons why you should think about cycling. They are in no particular order (just the order they jumped into my head). The initial list took me about five minutes to write so you can see that I’m completely enthusiastic about this subject.
Please note that I haven’t called this point ‘weight loss’ because that’s not what it’s all about. Fitness is a key benefit of cycling. I’m in my forties and I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. I also weigh more than I did before I started cycling five years ago, but I’m actually leaner as a result of all those hours on the bike.
2. Café visits
This is one of my favourite benefits. All the road cyclists that I know go to the café after a ride. This means you get to have a good chat and you get to eat yummy food because you’ve just ‘pre-burnt’ your calories. I don’t actually drink coffee (because I hate the taste of it) but I don’t let that stop me being part of the café culture. Hot chocolate doesn’t look that different!
I first heard about the Adelaide-based women only cycling club, The Skinny Lattes a couple of years ago but it wasn’t until now that I made contact. I previously profiled a women’s only club based in Austin, Texas in the US, a country where I’m sure there are plenty of women’s only clubs. However, The Skinny Lattes is the only one I’m aware of in Australia (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that). I recently caught up with Belinda Bramley who is the Club Secretary and one of the founding members.
When was the Skinny Lattes formed?
The Skinny Lattes Cycling Club was formed in 2002 by three girlfriends Felicity Laing, Lynette Collins and Belinda Bramley who recognised a need for a women’s specific cycling group.
How many members do you have? How do you join?
Currently we have 90 members. We don’t search for members – they find us. You contact the club via the website, and then we chat with potential new members and if we sound like the right club you join via the Cycling Australia Website.
When I first started riding about five years ago, I was terrified at the idea of riding in a group of people. Every time someone rode close to me I’d move as far away as a could, but over time I’ve grown used to riding in closer proximity to others. In fact, I’ve noticed that the more experienced the other riders are, the closer they are likely to ride beside you, and on the whole this is pretty safe.
So I thought it would be useful to share a few things I’ve learned. This is not a definitive guide and I’m sure there are others both in Australia and around the world who do it differently but these tips will help get you going.