Scrolling through Twitter the other night, I found a link to an article on the BBC website titled “What is stopping women from cycling?”
I’ll be brutally honest here. Though I am clearly a woman and I do cycle (lots), I often ignore articles like this when they appear in my feed because I get frustrated when they focus on the problems we face instead of empowering us to do things.
Let’s be clear….
I absolutely recognise some of the issues raised in the first few paragraphs of the article.
Yes, it’s intimidating cycling on main roads around England – although I hasten to add that I also find them intimidating when I’m on my bike with my husband in tow, so it’s not purely a female related issue (more a problem with the sheer number of vehicles on the roads these days and the fast pace of life we lead).
Yes, it can be difficult as a woman to venture into the great outdoors alone. We grow up learning the rules of safety against attack and rape and heading into the wilds on our own is against every one of those inbuilt rules.
The article raises some good and important points.
The thing that caused me to rant was how the article portrayed us women as such victims of today’s society that none of us dare to step onto our bikes for fear of accidents, harassment or looking fat.
How about celebrating the women who are cycling instead of moaning about the lack of participation?
I went walking (alone, yes it can be done safely) in the Peak District on a snowy January Saturday recently and passed a group of 3 women just setting out on their mountain bikes into the deep snow – it’s not uncommon to see small groups of female friends out mountain biking in the Peak District, whatever the weather.
Rachel Norman from Cafe Adventure in the Peak District has been running women’s mountain biking groups every other Wednesday evening for over a year (see my previous post about the inaugural ride). Come rain or shine, snow or ice, light or dark, there’s always a group heading out on their bikes with tales to tell afterwards.
Sandy Boyd of “GirlBikeVan” has been running women’s mountain bike rides for a similar amount of time, at various locations around the country – Yorkshire, the Lake District, Wales, to name but a few. These take place throughout the year and are always very well attended.
Hope Technology, manufacturers of bike parts, set up the Hopetech Women initiative a couple of years ago – arranging well attended group rides, bike maintenance training sessions and, last year, a women only mountain bike challenge (the Hopetech Women’s Enduro) which was so popular it’s being repeated in October 2018.
The number of female mountain bike guides in the UK may be lower than men, but it’s growing. Julia Hobson of Endless Trails MTB has had a hugely successful career to date guiding in the French Alps, Scotland, the Lake District and the Peak District.
So while the article did cover some important facts and interesting statistics, sadly the whole tone made me tune out and it was only on the second read (before writing this blog post) that I realised that any positive initiatives were mentioned (#thisgirlcan and the British Cycling Breeze guiding).
One comment was made about the need to tackle sexist attitudes, citing one male cyclist who told a woman to “keep pedalling, nearly there”. It was felt that “they wouldn’t have said it to another man, it’s so patronising and uncalled for”. Actually, they would – my husband (a strong cyclist) has been on the receiving end of that comment himself and takes it as friendly banter.
On the statistics, it said that in England, men travel an average of 86 miles/year by bike, compared to just 21 miles/year by women. I cycle at least 86 miles some months, so maybe the actual issue is that our society has very few people cycling full stop – and maybe that also leads to a lack of understanding about how intimidating roads can be while on a bike. Just a thought…
In the end though, what really wound me up about the article is my strong belief that it’s so important to empower women to get out there biking, walking, climbing, camping…whatever it is…and I felt that the negative tone meant that it had the opposite effect.
Instead, please help us to tell inspiring stories, pass on incredible images and create a world which gives us women the confidence to participate in sport and enjoy the freedom which comes from this.