An Image(s) Problem

After deciding that 2018 will be the year in which I get into road racing, I have been making use of the British Cycling online training plans. These are great. They are free to download. The include lots of detail. They have links to all the sessions in handy one-page print outs. They make you feel like you are being coached by experts. Wonderful.

After six weeks in which this went pretty well, it went a bit to pot. I got a cold. I had to take a couple of weeks off. My focus slipped somewhat.

Nevermind. Onwards and upwards. I am now getting my focus back.

Part of my refocusing involved deciding whether to continue with the 8-week pre-season training plan which I have been following, or switch to a different plan. The reasons are dull so I won’t go into them, but I decided to switch to the in-season training plan.

But something else struck me while I was looking at the various training plans on the British Cycling website. The images on the pages describing the training plans.

There are just so many men.

The impression that I was left with was that the vast majority of the images on the training plan pages were of men.

British Cycling has had something of a tough time in the press in recent years for a number of reasons. The issue of sexism has been somewhat overshadowed by the issue of doping (or not doping). However, Nicole Cooke’s comments of ‘a sport run by men, for men’ are echoed by Jess Varnish and others.

I do believe that British Cycling is trying to move forward. I believe that they have made big moves towards promoting cycling for women as well as men.

But, I believe that there is still a very long way to go. I think there is still a massive shift in image to be made by British Cycling. In my opinion, one of the ways they need to consider their image is by considering their images. I decided to consider the training plan images for them:

British Cycling Training Plans

Plan NameImages
8-Week Sofa to 50kFemale
12-Week ImproverMale
12-Week Off Season Base BuilderFemale
8-Week Pre-Season PlanMale
In Season Training PlanMale
Improvers Modular PlanMale
6-Week Panic PlanMale

There are also discipline specific plans available on the website:

Discipline Specific Plans

Plan NameImages
Cyclo-CrossFemale (I think!)
Hill ClimbingMale
Time TrialFemale
Sprint TrainingMale

So it does seem that there are an awful lot of images of men.

From here, I started looking at the Race Smart video clips on the British Cycling website. These are also really helpful, free resources. They are short videos covering lots of aspects of bike racing. If you are just starting out at road racing, they are well worth watching. I watched them all and I picked up all sorts of tips in doing so. But I was also left with the lingering impression that they did not really apply to me. One of the groups of riders shown in several of the videos does include two or three women. But other than that, it is men all the way:

Race Smart Videos

Race Smart Clip NameFront PictureMale PresentersFemale PresentersNotes
What is Race Smart?Male51
How to get into Road RacingMale10No images of women at all in this video
How to Check Your Bike is Race ReadyNone10
How to Pack Your Kit Bag for a RaceMale10
How to Communicate With Signals in a BunchMale10One brief image of 2 women
How to Cope With ContactMale10
How to Corner in a BunchMale 102 women in one bunch
How to DescendMale10No women in video
How to Corner in a Line of RidersMale102 women are seen for about 5 seconds
How to Ride Through and OffMale10A couple of women in a bunch. One clear shot of a female rider
How to Choose the Right Time to AttackMale10
How to Eat and Drink in a RaceMale10No women in video
How to Position Yourself for a SprintMale 10No women in video
How to Hold Your Position in a BunchMale102 women in a bunch
How to SprintMale10No women in video
How to Set up a BreakawayMale10
How to Chase Down a BreakawayMale and female102 women in a bunch
How to Race in a BunchMale102 women in a bunch
How to Race in Strong WindsMale10No women in video
How to Move up in a BunchMale102 women in a bunch
The R-WordMale101

What really irritated me about the lack of images of women in these videos is when the videos were made. According to the website, they were published towards the end of 2014. Yet British Cycling launched its Women’s Strategy in 2013.

As I said, the videos are very helpful. But I am not sure that they will encourage more women to have a go at racing. As someone who is getting into road racing this year, they actually put me off a bit. This was not just due to the lack of female images. In all the videos, the riders look like pros. The speed and ferocity in the videos makes me a little nervous. The mention of looking after your £5000 bike also makes me wonder if I really should be entering at all – I have a decent bike, but I do not have a £5000 bike.

I feel that I should also say that there are many images of women on the British Cycling website. I think that the organisation has started to look at this. But the pace of change needs to be upped. The sections of the website that I looked at left me feeling “but what does any of that have to do with me?” I am a British Cycling member. I am a cyclist. I am a qualified coach. I am racing this year. I am a Breeze Champion. It should have everything to do with me.

I suppose an argument could be made that cycling is still heavily male dominated. This inevitably means that British Cycling’s membership is still heavily male dominated. So perhaps the images on the British Cycling website should be male dominated in order to reflect their membership?

Personally, I do not think that this argument is acceptable. To me it comes back to clearing the snow from footpaths. I believe that, if you want to see change, you have to live that change. You have to behave as if that change has already happened. You have to show equal images of men and women cycling in all its forms if you ever want to see equal numbers of men and women cycling in all its forms.

And the thing is, there are now far more women cycling than in the past. British Cycling has done some great work with the Breeze programme. There are far more women racing than in the past. This weekend I was on a coaching course on which five of the six participants were women. The sport is changing. Yet British Cycling, through this section of its website, does not yet appear to be reflecting reality through its images, much less reflecting an aspiration.

Interestingly, I just passed this post to Mr Mummysgoneacycle for an opinion. He asked how many images there were in those pages of men or women who were not white. This is a very good question and it is not one I can answer because it was not what I focused on. I have to say that I certainly have a distinct impression of images of white men throughout. Perhaps I should look again. My impression could be wrong.

Over to you, British Cycling.

10 Replies to “An Image(s) Problem”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. As a female getting more and more into a cycling lifestyle I can honestly say I feel no real connection with British Cycling. Why? because I’m not a white male looking to race.

  2. British Cycling has a awful long way to go regarding many issues around equality. When I worked there ‘Breeze’ was openly referred to by some as ‘bitches on bikes’, Others aren’t interested if pinning a number on your back is not involved. And look at the sections of the sport that are not supported as they do not attract Olympic funding. My only reason for remaining a member is that it is a good source of insurance and legal protection. Finally creating a library of female images would cost money, so better to keep recycling what they already have.

  3. sad isn’t it… and its reflected in all forms of cycling, not just racing. It saddens me how few girls I see cycling to school compared to boys… we need to understand the causes and fix them, and then things like the (unacceptable) bias you point out above will start coming into focus…

  4. I hope you’ve copied this to BC. My guess is it’s probably cock-up rather than conspiracy, but they need to be pointed out. Historically it is a male dominated sport and so the people in stock images and available to make videos will be more likely to be men, so unless someone really thinks proactively while they work on it it’ll probably reflect what is rather than what should be.
    Cock-up may not be as bad as conspiracy, but it’s still a bit rubbish. On the plus side, I think things are better than the pitiful attitudes on display in Cooke’s “Breakaway” so a nudge from you will probably do some good rather than the BC reactionaries battening down the hatches.

    1. I have tagged British cycling on twitter. I totally agree with you, I don’t think it is in any way a conspiracy. I think it just comes from a failure to fully think things through and a failure to fully understand the impact that such things can have.

  5. There is no reason to force women to sport. Most women prefer to ride a bike recreationally, is it bad? In my opinion, no training is needed for anyone. If men like to train, they will. If women prefer to ride a bike with a basket and flowers, there is nothing wrong with it. We are different and it is beautiful.

    1. I totally agree that there are many forms of cycling and all are valid. I am all for people riding bikes in whatever way they choose. However, there are a significant number of women, myself included, who want to race and want to train to race.

    2. I don’t think that’s the issue here. I think it’s if you *are* a woman wanting to take up cycle sport then BC are scoring a “must do better”.
      People in general are different, rather than women to men. I don’t like to train, and don’t. I like leisurely trundles. That’s nothing to do with me being a bloke.

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