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.
About ten years ago, long before I had thought about taking up cycling, I used to go on a morning walk. It was a brisk walk but it was still just a walk. I had been doing the same thing for many years for exercise, but one day I decided to start jogging instead so that I was ‘getting more bang for my buck’. I figured, if I was going to exercise for 30 minutes every morning, then I should up the intensity to gain more in the short period of time.
Years later I realised that the same idea was behind interval training, but because the intervals are so hard you can’t sustain them over long periods of time. But they certainly give you more ‘bang for your buck’ and help you make real improvements in your fitness. I’ve recently started doing intervals as part of my ongoing training program on the bike and I’m seeing real results.
I prefer to do intervals when I’m on the stationery trainer in my garage because I can concentrate on metrics like my cadence, time, gear selection and heart rate. But I plan to do more of them out on the road as I get more practiced.
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).
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.
The subject of bicycle helmets seems to raise all sorts of issues. Should they be compulsory? Do they actually save riders from head injury? Well I’m not here to debate all that, but I thought it might be helpful to provide a few tips on buying the right helmet for female cyclists.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think helmets should be compulsory, just like I don’t think seatbelts should be in cars. My thoughts around this subject are more to do with the ‘nanny state’ idea than anything else. I believe that we should take personal responsibility for our own safety and those of our children. That’s not to say that I don’t wear a seatbelt or a helmet, but it should be my choice, not some faceless politicians.
But I’m a law abiding citizen and in the country in which I was born and choose to live bicycle helmets are compulsory, so I obey the law and wear one. Just to clarify one point, if helmets were not compulsory I would still choose to wear one while riding my road bike, particularly on the road but I would like to have the choice not to wear one when I’m undertaking a more leisurely style of riding and not riding on the road.
I work in a bike shop so sell helmets on a daily basis and I often get asked by my customers (both men and women) – How does it look? And I usually answer – Like a helmet! So anyone who thinks they look really good in a helmet is probably kidding themselves. They don’t look great but they serve a purpose.
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.
I read a great article in The Guardian online today about an Italian female cyclist named Alfonsina Strada who rode the 3,613 km Giro d’Italia way back in 1924. She’s the only woman who’s ever ridden one of the grand tours alongside the men. Here’s my abridged version of her story.
Alfonsina was born in northern Italy in the late 1800s and won her first bike race at the age of 13, winning a live pig. When she was 24 she married Luigi Strada, who give her a new racing bike as a wedding present. The couple moved to Milan, where Alfonsina rode on the velodrome and Luigi acted as her trainer.
Her ride in the Giro d’Italia came about through a disagreement between the organiser, Emilio Colombo and the top riders of the day. The riders refused to take part so Colombo offered places to whoever wanted to ride. Gazzetta dello Sport promised to pay their bills, their hotels and their food. It offered places for 90 riders and promised 600 chickens, 750 kg of other meat, 4,800 bananas and 720 eggs. But there would be no managers, no masseurs, no mechanics and no team cars.
Alfonsina entered as “Strada, Alfonsin.” The absence of a final “o” or “a” to her first name hid whether she was a man or a woman. She was accepted as number 72 and, assuming her to be a man, journalists began writing of Alfonsino. The truth emerged the day before the start and by then it was too late.
A couple of months ago I wrote about 2014 being a very big year for professional women’s cycling. One part of that big year is the Women’s Tour of Britain, a five stage women’s road race which starts tomorrow (7 May 2014) in the small township of Oundle in the east of England.
And I’m pleased to say it’s shaping up to be a bigger deal for the women’s pro peleton than many had expected.
It’s attracted all the major women’s teams and many of their top riders including multiple world champion Marianne Vos who will lead her Liv Giant squad. Australian riders include Shara Gillow, Nettie Edmondson and Australian champion Gracie Elvin riding for Orica-AIS; Chloe Hosking for Hitec Products; Tiffany Cromwell for Specialized-Lululemon; Amy Cure for Lotto-Belisol; and Peta Mullens as a late inclusion for Wiggle-Honda.
You can read more about the race in an excellent article written by Tim Renowden for The Roar, an online sports news site.
The Race Director Mick Bennett also predicts that it’s an important event for women’s cycling, he says in the Race Manual “Welcome to the 2014 Women’s Tour – the first edition of what we hope and believe will be a cycling event that sets new standards for the fair and equal treatment of women cyclists not only in Great Britain but the world.”
I’ve recently started working with a coach. It’s the first time I’ve used a coach and it’s come about because I’m involved with my cycling club’s women’s team. I don’t really consider myself to be a fully fledged member of the racing team but I decided as one of the key administrators of the team, I’d step up and try a bit more racing this year.
Stages Power Meter
Set a goal
So if you ‘re interested in stepping up and either developing your own training program or working with a coach you need to set yourself a goal. Without a specific goal you might as well just continue to be a keen recreational cyclist. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but if you’re serious about training you need to know where you are heading.
Don’t make it so easy that you’ll achieve it in the first month, make it a challenge. And make sure it’s specific like, “I’m going to research all the cycling clubs in my area, join up and try my first race by the middle of this year”. Or it could be that “I’m going to participate in a timed ride like the Amy Gillett Gran Fondo in September 2014”.
My main goal is to improve my time in my Club Championship Individual Time Trial in July. I have all the stats from my first two attempts so I’ll be able to easily measure if there’s an improvement.