Women only rides - why do we need more of them?

The Chester CTC Fabulous Ladies
Are women-only rides anti-inclusivity and seen as sexist as having a men-only ride? CTC's recent work with TfGM has offered us some insight into this question, and explains why we want help from members to start women-only rides as part of the range of club cycling on offer through member groups.

CTC has recently been working with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) on the 'Girls Go Better by Cycle' programme. The idea was to offer a range of rides and activities for women across Greater Manchester to coincide with International Women's Day.

Being a women’s only session was good for me being low in confidence. The two ladies giving the session were great, really friendly and they put me at ease."

During our session, women ... stated that having the guys around made them feel slightly intimidated or undermined. We provided a female mechanic and a female cycle training instructor."

Many of the activities attracted lots of women to come along and engage with cycling in many different ways. CTC's Anna Smith worked with local groups and organised several unusual and attractive activities, and we organised and ran a women's cycling forum to showcase some of the excellent work that women are doing around cycling.

A lot of the local activities were organised in and around Greater Manchester by the Breeze Champions, whose women-only rides and training are well-subscribed and prove that there is a demand for them.

There are a few CTC groups around Manchester that offer really good opportunities for women to take part in the club rides. They are supportive and welcoming, and this is great for inclusivity and encouraging ladies to come along and join in. But one woman's needs are different to another's, and there is a need to cater for this to encourage some of the less confident to take part.

Happily, more and more thought is going into this:

  • Pedal on Parliament's Sally Hinchcliff provides some excellent commentary on engaging women in cycling and looks at the sheer variety of types and needs out there in her blog for the Guardian.
  • Chester CTC's Sue Booth provides an excellent example with the Fabulous Ladies rides and some great insights on CTC's website into how it can be done, whilst recognising the dangers of stereotyping.
  • Since CTC's Suzanne Forup began encouraging and supporting ladies to set up new Belles on Bikes cycling groups in Scotland, many new ones have appeared and are thriving. They have produced a helpful guide to support the set-up of new groups.

However, one CTC club recently reported that they have no women taking part in their usual club runs and the feedback they have had suggests that:

"The rides are too long, too fast, and that there are not enough stops. Most of our members prefer long days in the saddle and we have no volunteers to organise a ladies ride. We have organised these in the past but none of the ladies have stayed with us as regular riders unfortunately .... Most tend to be happy riding only ten miles or so along our converted railway path."

The women-only rides we are proposing are not aimed at patronising women or ostracising men, but want to offer a genuine opportunity for those women who do feel intimidated or out of place in groups with male cyclists, to go out riding in a way they enjoy. The sheer success of some of these women-only rides speaks for itself.

Some ladies cried as it brought back pleasant memories of their youth times - they felt as though they could just forget all the troubles in the world and enjoy the present moment just floating by. They all said that they would do it again .... I don’t think we had anybody complain even the rain did not stop them taking part... they were like young girls laughing and having fun."

TfGM wants to encourage and support more opportunities for women to enjoy cycling and to expand and grow the numbers of ladies cycling groups.

For the CTC, we feel that nationally, a very important part of this is to provide regular sociable rides for women out and about in the lanes around where they live, and this sounds like a role for CTC member groups!

Why not try running a women's only ride once in a while? You need to be able to lead a ride, plan a good route with cafe stops, be friendly and welcoming, be prepared to go at the pace of the slowest rider or even provide some graded speed rides (slow and steady, medium paced and quick and slick) and to get some publicity out there in local places where women go -  If you are interested contact Jayne Rodgers and I can offer you some advice and guidance and provide some templates for forms and posters.