British Cycling has said that its aim, announced a year ago, of getting 1 million more women cycling by 2020 is overturning the gender imbalance in cycling and bringing about a change in its culture.
In an update on that strategy issued today, the national governing body says that over the past 12 months it has seen an increase in the number of women riding both recreational and sporting events.
It also welcomed new events on the elite side of the sport such as next month’s inaugural Women’s Tour, which will attract the world’s top female riders to the UK, and La Course, the one-day race that will take part in Paris on the same day as the finale of the 101st edition of the Tour de France in July.
Bob Howden, British Cycling’s president, said: “2014 is a really exciting year for women’s cycling with the Women’s Tour, Britain’s first ever UCI level stage-race for women, and the huge increase we’re seeing in racing opportunities for women.
“It truly feels like momentum is now building and we’re starting to successfully tackle the historical gender imbalance. This work is transforming the culture and driving structural change across the sport.
"We currently have world’s most successful women’s track team and a world champion in downhill mountain biking, a European champion in cyclo-cross and leading contenders in road and BMX so the sport an elite level has never been in better health.
“We are working hard to ensure that the avenues to participation are as clear and open as possible for all women looking to get into cycling, whether as a recreational cyclist, a competitor or a commuter,” he added.
British Cycling also said that it welcomed moves to provide equal prize money for men’s and women’s races, as the global governing body has done in the events its stages such as this month’s UCI BMX Supercross event in Manchester.
The organisation has recently appointed two women to senior posts, Marian Lauder and Alex Russell, and Howden said: “I’m thrilled that we have appointed two female directors to our Board as part of a selection process entirely driven by merit.
“The need to have more women at all levels of our sport is a key part of the ambition we outlined in our strategy last year. This marks the start of a hugely exciting chapter for British Cycling and Marian and Alex’s key specific expertise will be invaluable as we move forward.
“Our recreational programmes – such as Breeze – are continuing to define success at the grassroots level of the sport,” he went on.
“British Cycling’s recent success has been established on the principle of inspiration to participation and nowhere is this now more evident that with women’s cycling,” he concluded.
The governing body cited some figures in support of the success of its strategy, including that more than one in three participants on a Sky Ride event are women, that four in ten people taking part in its recreational events are female, and that it has seen 17 per cent growth in the number of women holding racing licences over the past 12 months.
Its Breeze women-only events have attracted 18,000 participants, with 800 people now leading them throughout the UK, and four in ten participants in its youth-focused Go Ride programme are female.
This year has also seen British Cycling’s first National Youth Forum, which had 12 representatives – seven of them female.
When it outlined its strategy in March 2013, British Cycling made it clear that the million additional women it wanted to get onto bike would not just be people who bought a bike, rode it once or twice, then left it in the garden shed.
It defined a “new” cyclist as someone who would:
be a regular (once a month) or frequent (once a week) cyclist
be cycling more now than last year and have been influenced by British Cycling programmes to cycle more.
It said it would achieve that by:
Building on the success of traffic free, mass participation events, Sky Ride, and British Cycling’s female led rides, Breeze, to encourage more women to take up recreation cycling with other women, their partners, families and friends
Continuing to campaign for safer roads for all cyclists to help overcome the safety concerns that 30% of women identify as the main barrier to taking up cycling
Setting up entry-level racing opportunities for women to compete at key facilities across the country, including establishing ‘get into cycle sport’ coaching sessions
Working to influence more event organisers to put on women’s events to run alongside men’s races
Establishing a National Youth Form with equal male and female representation to feed into British Cycling’s work to inspire young people to take up the sport
Recruiting more female coaches, volunteers and officials into the sport to ensure more women are influencing and running the sport at the grassroots
Working to ensure that British Cycling’s board is more representative with plans to recruit three Board members as soon as possible
Embedding our strategy in all of British Cycling’s work and outputs including ensuring that our website, membership offer and branding is appealing to women
Looking at how we can better promote our free expert advice, cycling routes and Social Cycling Groups network to demonstrate how easy it is to get involved.
The overarching aim of encourage more women to get riding also means overcoming some of the barriers that prevent them to do so – for example, the launch of Breeze rides in 2011 came after British Cycling commissioned research which found that many women wanted to cycle, but were worried about safety, lack of route knowledge, or having no-one to ride with.
Some can also be deterred by the perception that cycling isn’t for them – as we reported last week, Stockton Council withdrew a flyer for the Stockton Sportive after being accused of pitching the event at an exclusively male audience.
Recently, British Cycling announced a Kick Start Your Ride partnership with the Football Association that will see Breeze rides coincide with major women’s football matches, including England internationals, with free admission to the game for participants.
It’s not just the at governing body level that initiatives are taking place to get more women riding. As previously reported on road.cc, the coming weeks will see Trek hold Ladies’ evenings in Glasgow (29 April), Coventry (30 April), Milton Keynes (1 May), and Chester (7 May).
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.