How and why to put on bike rides aimed at women

Only around 20% of Cycling UK's members are female and women are hugely underrepresented in cycling as a whole. But they are also the group that have the most to gain from taking part in a fun, healthy and sociable activity. So, as part of our current celebration of women's cycling, we have put together a guide to encourage more women to take up riding a bike, whether they've never ridden before, are returning after a break or are experienced cyclists.

Why put on cycling activities specifically for women?

This is a large topic to cover but there is a range of issues that may limit the number of women compared to men who regularly cycle, whether that be for making utility trips by bike such as to the shops or workplace and/or for leisure and enjoyment. The reasons are complex and include, amongst others, cultural, social, physiological and psychological barriers, whether real or perceived. However, increasing numbers of women in the UK ARE active cyclists, demonstrating that with a little extra encouragement, many will take it up and continue riding for many years. For example, our Belles on Bikes initiative in Scotland has led to thousands of women participating in regular social cycling all around the country. 

But even amongst women who are committed cyclists already, female-oriented rides and events are extremely popular. They enjoy the camaraderie, the lack of pressure to perform, the chance to discuss topics such as saddle sores, families and friendship, as much as the technical or physical challenges, as well as not being in the minority for a change. So, we have put together a short guide to putting on rides for women so your group can cater for this growing market. 

Whilst not wishing to stereotype too much, men tend to be more interested in the technical aspects of cycling and are probably more confident when it comes to dealing with demanding traffic conditions or trails. Of course, much of this advice may also be useful for encouraging more male, transgender or non-binary people to enjoy cycling so use it as you see fit! 

How to organise a bike ride for women

Women's rides are not much different than men's rides in terms of general organisation but you may want to particularly consider the following areas, especially for women new or returning to cycling after a long break:

  • Bike fit and weight are of paramount importance to women - be aware that many bikes are relatively heavy for women to ride, they may have components that are too big, for example brakes that are hard to reach, cranks that are too long and so on.
  • Women can also suffer from saddle discomfort more often than men due to saddles that are in the wrong position and/or badly shaped for a woman's anatomy so may need this checking quite early on.
  • Depending on the ability level you are aiming at, you may want to plan in some time at the start to check bike road worthiness and fit, clothing suitability, tools and spares carried and so on (although as a ride leader, you are not responsible for ensuring riders are suitably equipped but a little guidance beforehand is a great idea, especially if the ride is aimed at beginners).  We have a lot of resources for ride leaders and event organisers on our Support for Cycling Groups page.  
  • Clothing is also vital to get right. The wrong number of layers below - either too many or too few - can make even regular cyclists wince in agony! Just a pair of padded shorts may not be enough to provide comfort when sitting on a saddle for extended periods. Provide plenty of chances to stop and readjust saddles, clothing or just body position, especially near the start of the ride.
  • Lycra, helmets and hi-viz are all seen as barriers to cycling by many women. Cycling UK's policy is to promote freedom of choice when it comes to cycle clothing. If somebody wants to cycle in 'normal' clothing and wear full make-up, that's up to them, as long as it's safe. As an experienced rider, you might show by example how stylish cycle clothing can make a ride more enjoyable. 
  • Hygiene is often more of an issue for women than men. Men might not mind having to 'go' behind a bush but many women dislike this idea, for various reasons (bare flesh and nettles for one!). Women are likely to appreciate a starting venue with toilet facilities available - this is also definitely something to consider during the ride, too: plan in a quick coffee or tea stop after about an hour or two, and you will likely have a very happy bunch of riders! Obviously off-road this may not always be possible - in which case a bush might have to do - but proper facilities will be appreciated where available. 
  • Women value the opportunity to chat to each other during a ride, perhaps as much as any physical or technical challenge, so build in plenty of chances to do this, whether before, during or after the ride. Take time to enjoy the view, share ideas with each other, celebrate climbing that hill or just stuff down a chunk of cake.
  • Our recent off-road report, Rides of Way, identified that in a recent survey, women were more likely than men to rank enjoying nature as a top motivation for riding off-road. This indicates that women are generally more interested in appealing scenery than conquering cols or tricky descents when cycling. They are also more likely to dislike motorised traffic so avoiding busy roads will likely be a factor in enticing more women out on a bike ride. 
  • They may be less competitive than men (although many are very competitive!) but the majority will prefer to encourage and support each other - that is, after all, presumably WHY they have opted for a female-only or majority female ride. 
  • Women still tend to have the majority of family responsibilities in the UK, whether that is caring for younger or older family members or having other time commitments. Therefore they are less likely to want to be out riding all day or may find it harder to make time for this so offer a shorter option or a choice of start/finish times and locations.
  • Lack of confidence is also an issue for some female cyclists so information on where they can learn better road skills or off-road techniques could be useful. Try not to patronise those with a lack of knowledge but encourage them to resolve issues themselves: show them how to fix a puncture, for example, rather than just doing it yourself.
  • Confidence (or lack of it) can also be in relation to miles and speed. Sue Booth, founder of Chester Fabulous Ladies says: “I would say that is the foremost reason women do not join a cycling group, followed by family commitments and then clothing. Women frequently say they do not think they will keep up and, even if they have been out and then missed a few months, although nothing else has changed their confidence can take an almighty drop.”
  • If this is the case, make sure that riders know before and at the start that nobody will be dropped or left behind. If necessary, appoint a sweeper to ensure riders at the back are not on their own all the time.
  • For the reasons stated above, a female ride leader, where available, is preferable for a female-specific ride or group.

Finally, try and find out what barriers, if any, exist for particular groups of women. Our Community Clubs project has successfully established cycling groups for women from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds by tackling issues specific to them, whether that be a lack of suitable machines or religious constraints. 

We have plenty of other advice and guidance for organising a cycling group ride on our Support for Cycling Groups page, which includes our Ride Leader Handbook.