Pedalling for girls

It was a first, the other day, on the home run from a ride, to see a teenage girl – maybe fourteen – coming the other way along the busy main road riding a nice new racing bike.

It must have been new – no-ones white brake cables can dazzle you from quite so far away unless they are not long out of the showroom.

Ok, if you live in a city or town you might often see teenage girls on bikes. But in 6-7 years of riding this road regularly, i’ve never seen one – so I reckon it counts as anectodal evidence, albeit a bit thin verging on see-through.

Anyway, we exchanged greetings briefly as traffic roared between us and I thought “Blimey. Is she part of The Olympic Legacy?”

It would make sense and for lots of reason, I hope so. If I was 13 again right now, with a brother who showed promise on a bike and a dad who used to be a cyclist and was about to vicariously devote (split infinitie, I know but the alternatives seemed too clumsy) the next 17 years of his life supporting bro as he competed on road and track, I’d be saying “Oi, DAD!! What about me?!”

I would have watched our beautiful, committed, fast girl cyclists winning medals on TV – Lizzie Armistead, Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke, Dani King, Joanna Rowsell, Sarah Storey – and thought “Wow. Cycling looks good. Maybe I should try that. Need bike.”

When I was a teenager I played tennis and hockey for the school and loped reluctantly over Chosen Hill on cross country “runs” but none of it gave me the massive pleasure “kick” of cycling.

If I’d known then the wonderful zoned out bliss that comes from turning those pedals, the pleasantly warm humming of the leg muscles after a longer ride, the deep satisfaction of having ridden, got freshly showered and feeling mellow and engaged with all the boring minutae of life that needs to be done….well, I might have pleaded as only a pain-in-the-ass like me can plead, for a decent bike.

I hope girls now do ask for or save up for, and ride decent bikes. So many women I talk to, who haven’t been on a bicycle for years, have negative memories of one or two cycling experiences. They remember the uncomfortable saddles, struggling with hills, trailing behind the boyfriend of the time – or just feeling hot, inelegant and flustered. They either didn’t have gears, or didn’t know how to use them and were unable to enjoy the carefree “wheee” of a sensational downhill because they scared of the brakes failing.

My only childhood bike was a too-big, too heavy post-war black thing with three inch wood blocks on the pedals. I rode to hockey practice at school at weekends but my friend on her pale blue beautiful Raleigh girls bike (3 speed!!) would end up going ahead. End of short-lived cycling stint.

It’s a great shame because these women won’t try again. Did it. Didn’t like it. Moved on.

What girls need:

Inspiration and role models – look no further than the Olympian and Paralympian cyclists.

A decent bike – a hybrid, a tourer, a Victoria Pendleton with a basket on the front for tootling around town or a spiffy road racer.

Cycling tips and safety advice – read up or get on a “new cyclist” course to practice riding safely and know at least how to change an inner tube. Scratch that last bit if you have nice nails. A tenner for a taxi will be much less trouble than a puncture kit.

A helmet. Long hair flowing in the breeze feels nice but personally I always opt for some brain protection in the event of sudden misfortune. My worst crashes have involved tangles with wildlife rather than traffic eg riding through a brambly snicket one minute and next minute on ground with head against a rock and cracked helmet over left ear. I’m not even going to mention the bastard acorns. The memories are still too raw.

More girls joining cycling clubs or forming riding groups of their own. Cycling clubs have been boys-only “oh you’re a woman, fancy doing the teas for the 10 on Sunday?” for way too long.

Girls need to feel the joy and achievement of getting places powered by your own legs and having a giggle and a chat while you’re doing it.

Girls need to try racing. Schools and British Cycling are collaborating, butcould do more to encourage girls with starter sessions. There are loads of disciplines to try; time trials, road races, track cycling and to a lesser extent, mountainbike cross-country or downhill.

What girls don’t need:

Some macho bloke with them riding too fast, making the whole ride an ordeal. In this scenario, it’s only right and considerate for the gentleman to wear ankle weights.

A crap bike with jumpy gears and an ass-destroying saddle. Only boys go in for extreme pointy titanium saddles inflicting undescribably ass pain.It’s a style thing.

Some guy laughing at her desperate need to drop crunchingly into granny gear when she sees any kind of hill ahead.

Comical comments about the colour of her face after a decent workout. Its exercise. Flushing and sweating will happen. It’s not a bloody Jeremy Kyle sofa session.

So that’s why I’m hoping to see more evidence of The Legacy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a spin on my bike.


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Cycling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Pedalling for girls

  1. Chosen Hill in Gloucestershire?

  2. IsobelandCat says:

    Good post, Jan. in town I see very few girls in their early teens on bikes, but presumably they pick up the idea somewhere as late teens and early twenties see them out in droves. Maybe it’s a parental safety thing. My parents discouraged me from riding my bike when we moved from the depths of the country to a suburban environment with a dual carriageway close by. Boys on bikes is a rite of passage, especially for the more feral boy who will probably have a mate balanced somewhere, no helmet and will weave at speed through pedestrians on the pavement, jump into the road in front of buses, ignore lights and generally play with their lives and limbs as though immortal. I don’t think cities are great places for teens with hormones burning through. Girls on racing bikes are even lesser spotted. There has been a surge in pink Dutch bikes.
    Have you ever thought of being a Guide leader? GuidingUK is equally passionate about getting girls out and about. I am not one, but I wrote for their mag for quite a while and was seriously impressed about they do for teenage girls.

  3. janh1 says:

    Thanks Isobel – an interesting picture of London cycling. So you don’t see teenage girls on bikes much in London either? Hmm, work to be done there. Yes I saw a few of the “immortals” when we came up to London. Very different behaviour to the majority of cyclists in Cheltenham, who are pretty sensible.

    The Victoria Pendleton bikes seem to be selling well – they seem the closest to Dutch bikes.

    No, haven’t really got time for that commitment at the moment but I do feel passionately about girls getting on bikes and if i had time I’d just start a girls’ cycling club and get some of the Olympians to visit, arrange tasters of mountainbiking, track riding at Newport etc etc. Why should the boys have all the fun? 😉

    • Pseu says:

      Excellent post, Jan.

      Our local cycle group is very encouraging of women, but not many teenagers there… boys or girls.

      • janh1 says:

        Hi Pseu. That’s good about encouraging women but means there’s loads of work to be done in schools. Shouldn’t have thought it will be a problem with sponsorship and the will to organise it as the Olympian cycling girls are fantastic role models…

        The Legacy effect is definitely being felt in adults. A businessman I know and his wife have just bought bikes for the first time ever, intending to go out for weekend jaunts and get a little fitter. The guy in the shop where they bought them said he’s never had a summer like it for selling bikes! 😀

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