I’m a member of Cycling NSW’s Women’s Commission which I joined earlier this year. By way of background, the Women’s Commission (like a committee) works “across the sport of cycling in NSW to ensure the development of policies and initiatives which promote participation amongst women and girls of all ages into the sport and recreation of cycling”.
I must admit that I wasn’t sure if volunteering for this role would be a complete waste of time and we’d just sit around ‘shooting the breeze’, but I’m pleased to report that the focus is on action and getting events happening. Here’s a brief summary of the main initiatives for 2016.
If you take up riding in your 30s or 40s as many of us do, one area you need to focus on if you want to advance, is to learn some bike skills. As children most of us rode a bike, but the majority of us were not formally taught, so we didn’t have the chance to learn any bike skills and this particularly applies to women.
In my experience in meeting many female cyclists, women tend to approach cycling quite differently to men. Although many of us rode bikes as kids we usually did a few laps around the neighbourhood and didn’t jump off gutters, perform wheel stands or other daredevil acts like our male counterparts.
The good news is that it’s easy to improve your bike skills. Here’s a few tips on how to improve your skills in areas like cornering, pedalling, safe braking, descending, climbing, riding in a bunch and more.
The women of KPCC
Joining a cycling club is a great way to meet other cyclists and to step up from being a ‘Sunday’ recreational cyclist to that next level. Traditionally they have been primarily focused on racing rather than just riding but they are beginning to reinvent themselves as the popularity of cycling grows to accommodate riders who don’t necessarily want to race, and to welcome women who have not always been attracted to clubs.
When you join a cycling club in Australia you are actually signing up as a member of Cycling Australia which gives you a number of other benefits including public liability and personal accident insurance. On the Cycling Australia website under membership you can search cycling clubs in your area within a 5 km, 10 km, 25 km or 100 km radius, giving you a good shortlist depending on how far afield you are willing to go.
Once you have a shortlist you need to decide what your priorities are to find out what each club can offer you. You could consider criteria like location, whether skills training is offered, what training rides are available, the number of female members and the support given to female riders, racing opportunities for women, and of course what social activities are included.
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.
Cyclocross is a relatively new event on the Australian cycling calendar but it’s actually been around in other countries for many years.
Some describe it as a combination of mountain biking, road cycling and criterium racing into one challenging event. Most races last for 30 minutes to an hour on a closed, twisty circuit of 2.5 to 3.5 km. The course surfaces consist of pavement, grass, dirt and sand peppered with obstacles, such as steps and barriers. Participants must conquer these by rapidly dismounting and carrying their bikes while running, then remounting on the fly. Aerobic endurance, bike handling skills and even tyre pressure are key factors in achieving victory. The messy conditions brought on by variable winter weather often make for a slippery mudfest, as documented in countless images like this one.
Special bicycles used for cross racing draw on characteristics of other cycling sports. Like road bikes, cross bikes are lightweight with drop handlebars and skinny tyres. But, as with mountain bikes, the tires are knobby for traction to grind up hills, the frames are stronger, and cantilever brakes are standard issue. (The UCI recently sanctioned disc brakes.) The bottom bracket, fork and seat stay clearance are more generous to contend with muck and debris on the course. Not everyone who participates in the sport has a dedicated cross bike, but those who get into the sport, will usually buy a dedicated bike.
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.
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.
Eight year old, Ava Giramondo is a member of the youth development squad of my cycling club Lidcombe-Auburn Cycle Club (LACC) and she recently presented to her Year 2 class at PLC Sydney, her reasons for selecting cycling as the best sport. When I read it, it seemed to me that Ava’s reasons were not dissimilar to many female cyclists. I particuarly like the bit about how she and her friends don’t have to hang out with the boys! Enjoy….
Here’s Ava’s presentation:
Good morning/afternoon 2c.
In my opinion cycling is the best sport. The type of cycling I’m going to talk to you about is bike racing. It can be enjoyed by both young and old. There are two types of racing you can participate in; road racing and track racing at a velodrome.
Here are three reasons why in my view cycling is the best sport.
The LACC Women’s team and junior Pixies.
I’m particularly happy this week to tell you about a new women’s race team and development squad being launched by my own cycling club – Lidcombe-Auburn Cycle Club (LACC). The new squad is under the leadership of cycling coach and LACC member Donna Meehan and I’m lucky enough to be the Team Manager.
Donna who has taken on the role of Directeur Sportif (or team director) describes it as a milestone event for the cycling club.
To officially launch the team, an event was held at The Quad Café at Sydney Olympic Park last Friday night.
Donna said of the new team and development squad, “LACC has been around for more than 90 years and this is the first time there’s been a women’s race team formed.
- Austin Flyers Women’s Cycling
I was lucky enough to spend the month of July in beautiful France and part of that trip was following the Tour de France from Stage 6 until the end. One of the great things about the Tour de France is the camaraderie that exists amongst all the cycling fans waiting by the side of the road each day.
That’s how I found out about the Austin Flyers which is a women’s only cycling club based in Austin, Texas in the USA. Jessica who is a member of the club came up to me and asked if she could have her photograph taken with our inflatable kangaroo, Daisy and of course I said yes. I noticed that Jessica was wearing a T-shirt with the club name on the front and asked her about it. That resulted in us exchanging details and me contacting her when I got home to write this blog post. So with Jessica’s help I posed some questions to club president Kate Sherwin and here’s her responses: