Two percent

Gosh. Only two percent. That’s really not many. Bit of a shame really.

Just 2% of the female population cycle once a week compared with 6% of men.

Work to do for the promoters of cycling as a means of transport, of exhilarating recreation, of a fine and fitness-enhancing thing to do.

I cycle probably 4 times a week on average. Sometimes to work, most weekends plus mornings or evenings if I can grab the time.

Sad to hear too, that the number of women cycling only once a week has decreased in the last three years.

A shame really – and makes the organisation of  Cycletta, a 40k women-only spin off from the Sky Ride even more useful. Cyclette appears to be a big organised recreation ride for les girls.    (Plus the chance to burn off Victoria Pendleton… yeah in my dreams).

This article asks whether we really need recreational cycling to be split along gender lines?

Personally, I don’t see the harm.  Why not have fun, organised mixed rides, plus rides for the girls if that’s what it takes to demonstrate the great times you can have on a bike?  Guys have traditionally got together with mates or joined cycling clubs and gone out on Sunday runs. The friendships forged last a lifetime, as my brother would testify.

I went to a barbecue at his place populated by his old cycling mates and the air was full of matey joshings heavily tinged with nostalgia “remember that time on the track when Biggles crashed and had that three foot spike of wood sticking out of his thigh – and all he cared about was losing his contact lens because they were bloody expensive back then?”  There were similar stories about pedals, cranks dropping off, of hilarious encounters with ditches and canals, and many stories about heroic attempts to cycle after strenous drinking sessions.

They weren’t particularly pining for the days when they were young guns putting in 120 mile training rides down the Chepstow road, across the old Severn Bridge and back to Gloucester. No-one talked about the race successes, it was all about the disasters and the laughs they’d had.

Women’s view of cycling seems to be completely different. British Cycling reckon women are put off cycling by factors including safety concerns, lack of knowledge of routes and having no-one to cycle with. It’s reported that women are also put off by cat calls and mocking jeers from uncouth men.

I’m presuming these are women who are just starting out as cyclists because the confident cyclist has ways of dealing with smart-arse drivers – although the bin lorry driver who recklessly overtook me on a hill far too close and too fast and then pulled in to a halt 40 yards ahead, was just the kind of joker that you don’t need.

The women I know like to do things together, with a friend or in a group. These involve shopping, chocolate, wine, food but not pedalling.

I nearly always cycle alone, and it’s glorious. You please yourself when and where you go, turn off to explore when the fancy takes you, stop to take a pic if you like. Do intervals. Go up hills twice, just to prove you can – and no-one’s looking at their watch and wanting to head for home.

The only downside is the technical one – if you puncture, you puncture alone and that’s Nail Hell even if you have a gross of tyre levers. It’s off-putting to think about, so I don’t.

I have mountainbiked with friends, which is great too – and recently in training for a hilly, sponsored 40k, I went riding with a pal from work and her husband. They are experienced touring cyclists who rode the breadth of Wales for one holiday are are soon going to cycle Cornwall. Gulp!

I say ” trained” in the loosest sense. I struggled up a few local hills doing training of my own, then met them for a 30k ride which started by going vertically up Leckhampton Hill (ok it wasn’t Hardknott Pass but it was comparatively vertical) turning up a country lane which was steeper still and finally coming out somewhere on a trail where there were fabulous views and the air was noticeably thinner.

Once the initial challenge was out of the way, it was a perfect pleasure riding with them. We rode alongside each other in a companiable way when road conditions allowed, we took turns at the front, we admired things like the young fallow deer lying in the middle of a field, the poppies, skylarks and my pals’ bloke admired the particular hue of the real ale in front of him at the Daneway pub at Sapperton, which was the half way point. And of course, on the way home, reaching 38.4mph haring down Leckhampton Hill (there had to be some reward didn’t there?) was not a little thrilling!

A week later, the BHF cycle ride was amazing, including as it did, over a thousand men and women on bikes of every type. I was riding my mountainbike with rock-ard tyres for a change, but others were on tourers, racers, cycling with children, cycling on vintage-style Pashley’s with beautifully sculpted leather saddles.

The atmosphere was terrific. The sense of anticipation as we bunched together in a thick crocodile of stationery cyclists waiting for the organisers to let us go off in manageable groups;  the cycling through Chelters en masse, the first climb and then,  in the Cotswolds, the banter among groups of cyclists.

Cyclists would come alongside to pass the time of day and we’d swap experiences – a lot of them had done it before – some many times. There was always someone to chat to, unless you’d taken off to swoop downhill and let momentum carry you up the next rise – a special joy of the Cotswolds!

Kath and I found that the distraction technique of  conversation worked well when the gradient was increasing.

“I dunno…you women manage to keep chatting, even on the hills!” one guy qupped. He was puffing considerably on his racing bike with his saddle too low.

“It’s genetic,” I told him, feeling much more comfortable on my mountainbike but thinking perhaps it’s not quite time for my racer yet…

On a much more horrible hill later, the chatting had to stop and the only sound was of muffled grunts, groans and pantings plus those who had packed walking their bikes by the verge yet the spirit of support was still evident as people stopped at the top to wait for their slower companions.

The lunchstop was a similar story of strangers chatting and comparing notes. That kind of ride didn’t need to be women only. I like the company of men and women. It’s the best mix and if you find yourself riding with someone much fitter, you can always offer them some ankle weights to increase the quality of their workout and make things a little more even.

Having said that, if there was the chance to take part in a “women only” fun ride, I know several pals at work who’d probably give cycling a go for the first time in years.

It undoubtedly involve much laughing and chatting and I don’t think anyone would object to stocking up for the trip with the finest form of energy food – chocolate!

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About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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11 Responses to Two percent

  1. cb says:

    another thing that is underappreciated is how much stuff you can carry on a bike. That top bar is surprisingly strong, and even heavier stuff can be balanced on the handlebars. there’s really no excuse for requesting home delivery of that new washing machine or sofa.

  2. I am in the 98%. I keep thinking I should get the bike out of the garage but I know that it has something wrong with the gears/chain so I leave it there.

    I have always wanted a wicker basket on the front to carry things in though 😀

    • janh1 says:

      Yes! Me too! I want a sit up and beg bike with a chainguard and mudguard that I can ride wearing a *dress*!!

      But in the meantime, Sophie, get your bike to the nearest Evans Cycles and say “sort this out for me please?” I’m sure they will. You don’t have to get your hands dirty when the techie boys love it so.

      • I’ve had it 18 years and its never been right. It did go in for a service about 7 years ago before a summer of cycling but started going ‘funny’ again shortly afterwards. Now its all rusty.

        I’ve been looking on eBay instead. There’s always somebody who has bought a bike in a fit of madness and cycled twice before realising it was a big mistake.

  3. IsobelandCat says:

    ‘Go up hills twice, just to prove you can’ but I don’t think I can.

    Must admit I find these stats surprising. Here in London I see lots of women on bikes every day. As you know I’m a fair weather, short distance cyclist, but I do enjoy it. I don’t take the bike if it means I have nowhere to leave helmet and day-glo waistcoat during the day. And I have no idea how to fix a puncture.

    Maybe I can practise the sofa carrying, but then how do you get it through the front door and up the two flights of stairs to the flat?

  4. janh1 says:

    I can’t either without much teeth-gritting accompanied, sometimes by muttered cursings but these days I’m too busy counting backwards to curse.

    I’m glad you enjoy it Isobel, because you must know what I mean, even if I express it badly. I saw a lady who must have been in her mid-seventies, freewheeling quite fast down Bayshill Road outside the Ladies College in Chelters a couple of days ago. She was on a mountainbike with a Tesco bag on the handlebars. She wore an ancient kind of helmet – not quite Bronze Age but definitely 20 years old and I thought “bloody excellent – I want to be like her when I’m that age.”

  5. IsobelandCat says:

    I miss reading but I find I make up rhymes and poems when I’m on my bike, and though still rather a wuss, I am a great deal braver than I was twelve months ago.

    Next time you are in London hie thee to SE5 and Edwardes bike shop. You’ll never want to go to Evans again.

  6. IsobelandCat says:

    Or Bob’s Bikes if it’s a quick fix you need and a cuddle with the black Labrador belonging to the garage next door.

  7. janh1 says:

    I’ll go for the quick fix and Labrador cuddle any day 🙂

  8. IsobelandCat says:

    My local Freecycle always has ads offering and asking for bikes.

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