British Cycling given £1 million to get more women riding their bikes

Grassroots initiative comes as Gerard Vroomen urges elite women's calendar should reflect male one

by Simon_MacMichael   January 6, 2011  

Female Cyclist, London. (copyright Simon MacMichael)JPG

British Cycling has announced a new project that aims to encourage 80,000 women to get back on their bikes, or take up cycling for the first time, thanks to nearly £1 million of National Lottery funding made available by Sport England.

The initiative, called The National Women’s Cycling Network, will enable women, whatever their age or ability, “to organise fun, recreational group bike rides for other women in their local area,” says the governing body.

As part of the project, during the next three years, 1,000 women will be trained as “cycling champions,” helping them develop skills to organise and lead group rides, with the programme also drawing on the success of the country’s top female cyclists.

The programme, one of 20 being supported by Sport England as part of its £10 million Active Women campaign aimed at closing the gap between the genders in sports participation, and will operate in every local authority area in England, with the ultimate aim of getting 20,000 women cycling at least once a week.

According to Sport England, one in eight women in England regularly participate in sport, compared to one in five men, and the gap is even more pronounced when it comes to women from disadvantaged communities, where fewer than one in ten women participate regularly.

Despite an increase in cycling generally over the past couple of years, it has also been found that the number of women cycling at least once a week has declined during that period.

Ian Drake, chief executive of British Cycling, commented: “We are delighted that Sport England has awarded us funding to roll out this ambitious project designed to get more women on their bikes.

“We have had significant success in increasing participation in cycling through Sky Ride, developed with our principal partner BSkyB, and we will take our experience in this area to launch a bespoke programme for women that will be delivered by women.

“Our female athletes are the best in the world and we want to use that as an inspiration to attract thousands more women to our sport,” he added.

According to Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price, “For many women with children or those managing a tight budget, sport – and time to themselves - can slip down the list of priorities.

“The projects we’re funding today have asked local women what is preventing them from getting involved and what sports interest them, before coming up with an offer that is appealing and accessible.”

Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson MP welcomed the announcement, saying: “We have many fantastic female athletes in this country, but not enough women participating at sport’s grassroots.

“More needs to be done to encourage women to participate in sport, particularly those from disadvantaged communities. The £10 million being invested by Sport England will give women the chance to try out new sports as part of a dedicated programme and hopefully keep them in sport in the future.”

Gail Emms, mixed pairs badminton silver medallist at Beijing also expressed her enthusiasm for the aim of encouraging more women to take part in sport regularly.

“As a new mum, I know only too well how difficult it can be to make time for yourself and to get out there and play sport,” she explained. “The projects receiving investment from Sport England today will make a big difference because they’ve really thought through the challenges women face in becoming regular sports participants.”

The announcement comes during a week when women’s participation in cycling at the elite end of the sport has also been a topic of discussion, with a lively debate on Twitter ensuing from comments made by Cervélo co-founder, Gerard Vroomen, that in order to boost women’s cycling, there should be “No ProTour [sic] race without women's race & No ProTour team without women's team.”

Like HTC-Columbia, Cervélo TestTeam ran a highly successful women’s squad alongside its men’s team, featuring riders such as Great Britain’s Emma Pooley, winner of the rainbow jersey in the time trial at the World Championships in Geelong last year.

Pooley, like a number of her team mates, will race this year for the women’s squad of Garmin-Cervélo, but not everyone is convinced that women are up to the rigours posed by some of cycling’s big races.

Photographer Graham Watson, who has covered more miles on cycling’s big races than most – albeit from the back of a motorbike as he snaps the action – tweeted, “sorry, I cannot see 80 women racing the cobblestones of Roubaix!,” to which Vroomen replied, “If I can do it, millions of women can!”

As road.cc’s own editor Tony points out, when he did the amateur version of Paris-Roubaix, there were plenty of women riding it – okay, they weren’t exactly smiling, but then again neither were the men, and they were more than up to the rigours of the cobbles.
 

5 user comments

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The funding is great but it will be a difficult job for any PR agency to break the perceptions of sport participation never mind getting more women cycling.

I work in an office that has full shower and changing facilities and still we've only got a small number that cycle commute and only two of us in all weathers. The perception experienced here is not wanting to "get sweaty" or "messing up the hair" which competing whilst wearing a helmet generally achieves.

The marketing and PR for women to ride Dutch style bikes at a graceful pace is amazingly powerful in this current media age, take the image used for the article for example. Glamorise being sweaty with messed up hair, wearing little make-up whilst being covered in road grime and looking like a human fly swatter and you'll be on to a winner!

PS: I'm well up for the Roubaix! Big Grin

I love my Secteur!

posted by HaloJ [21 posts]
6th January 2011 - 15:35

2 Likes

"Despite an increase in cycling generally over the past couple of years, it has also been found that the number of women cycling at least once a week has declined during that period."

Womens cycling declining in recent years? Where do they get their numbers from. It is total tosh to say this, anyone who is a regular cyclist will know that numbers of women cycling are increasing year on year both in terms of commuters and leisure cyclists. five years or so ago on a typical sunday run on our tandem my wife and i might see 2 or 3 female cyclists now its 15-20.
However, yes participation on a competitive level is still very low and needs to be encouraged.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
7th January 2011 - 0:35

1 Like

RANT ALERT!

The 'Women On Wheels' rides in Shrewsbury have apparently seen an increase in the number of women cycling and I hope the numbers continue to increase.

However, I don't see how trying to bring about an increase in leisure / commuting cycling by using sport is ever going to encourage more women to cycle. Those who like participating in cycle sport and want to compete can surely join a club and are proficient cyclists already. Those who do not care for lycra, SPDs or tri-bars won't ever be drawn to or galvanised by competitive cyclists imploring them to follow their example. Mikael Anderson has blogged about these issues more than once over at www.copenhagenize.com

I'm also tired of elite atheletes telling us all that school sport is An Unequivocably Good Thing and that reducing or competition in school undermines the Great British Way Of Life, our performance at the Olympics or anything else. For those to whom it comes naturally sport is great. After all, they get to win. Kudos. You're a role model! For a lot of others it is just something you get through and then for some it is a nightmare. A proper dreading the day, faking-illness-to-get-out-of-it form of torture. What those successful athletes don't get is how truly awful it is to be bad at sport and be ridiculed for it.

No, the way to get more people on bicycles is to help them get from A to B more easily. As has been discussed many times before, the biggest hurdle is road safety. Make the roads safer and more women will cycle.

As for Graham Watson's comments re women riding Paris-Roubaix, he just shows himself up to be the ignorant old fool he is. Judging by tweets, blogs and forums there are plenty of women racers who would love to have the opportunity to prove him wrong. He obviously hasn't seen much women's racing, including November's Koppenbergcross race that uses the famous climb (won by Helen Wyman).

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1963 posts]
7th January 2011 - 15:48

2 Likes

This seems to be very confused. Do they want women riding bikes, or do they want women taking up cycling as a sport?

If they are using top female cyclists to try to promote cycling as a means of transport to do your shopping then again we see a complete lack of understanding within the cycling community. Riding a bike is not a sport, and showing lycra-clad athletes doesn't make it appealing to anybody except those already "sportily inclined" who are the least of the problem.

posted by ozzage [4 posts]
8th January 2011 - 17:45

2 Likes

I think the aim is women riding bikes… which may then lead to more of them taking it up as a sport. The emphasis seems to be on organising women only mass participation rides. I suppose BC does have something of a track record (pardon the pun) it can point to on this through its involvment with the Sky Rides. No doubt it's all do to with them trying to find a role post 2012 when all that Olympic funding stops. Not sure they will be using athletes to front the programme and if they are, that's probably a mistake for the vast majority of people that ride a bike, it's transport or a leisure pursuit, but not a sport and any attempt to get more women, or men cycling should really reflect that if it is going to have any chance of success in connecting with potential new cyclists.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4141 posts]
8th January 2011 - 22:02

2 Likes