How to: Run bike rides for women

Supportive rides with space to talk are encouraging to female cyclists

How to: Run bike rides for women

Women are hugely underrepresented in cycling, but activities aimed at female cyclists are a great way to get more women on their bikes. Julie Rand, Cycling UK’s volunteer communications officer, explains how to host successful events

Only around 20% of Cycling UK’s members are female, and women make up about a quarter of cyclists 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.

Hosting events aimed specifically at female cyclists is a great way to encourage more women to get on a bike. So we have put together a short guide to putting on rides for women so your group can cater for this growing market.

Why put on cycling activities for women?

This is a large topic to cover. There are a range of issues that may limit the number of women compared to men who regularly cycle, whether that be for making utility trips to the shops or work or for leisure and enjoyment. The reasons are complex and include, among 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 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.

Even among women who are already committed cyclists, though, 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 soreness, families and friendship, as much as the technical or physical challenges, as well as not being in the minority for a change.

While 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. However, much of this advice may also be useful for encouraging more male, transgender or non-binary people to enjoy cycling, too, so use it as you see fit!

How to organise a bike ride for women

Women’s rides are not much different from men’s 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, and 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 or badly shaped for a woman's anatomy, so this may need checking quite early on.
  • Depending on the ability level you are aiming at, you might want to plan in some time at the start to check road worthiness and fit, clothing suitability, tools and spares carried and so on; 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; you might want to contact all participants prior to the ride with a basic list of what they should bring with them. We have a lot of resources for ride leaders and event organisers on our Support for Cycling Groups pages.
  • It’s also vital to get clothing right. Layering is the best way to deal with changeable weather conditions. But 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 in the 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 the right cycle clothing can make a ride more enjoyable.
  • ‘Comfort breaks’ are 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. This is also something to consider during the ride, too: plan in a 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. Again, making it clear prior to the ride what’s available will help participants plan their own behaviour.
  • 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 enjoy a slice of cake.
  • Our 2017 off-road report, Rides of Way, found that 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.
  • While many women are very competitive, a lot aren’t as competitive as their male counterparts, preferring 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 relate to miles and speed. Sue Booth, founder of Chester Fabulous Ladies, says: “I would say that is the foremost reason women choose not to join a cycling group, followed by family commitments and then clothing. Women frequently say they don’t 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 possible, providing rides of differing lengths and abilities is very helpful.
  • 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.
  • A female ride leader, where available, is preferable for a female-specific ride or group.

Finally, try to 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. Cycling UK also runs a Facebook group for women, where you can get advice, support and chat.

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