Women in Club Cycling
What Is ‘Club Cycling’?
To me ‘club cycling’ is about road cycling clubs, since that is what I personally do. These clubs are usually affiliated to British Cycling, usually have lycra club kit and usually head out on the roads in groups on a Saturday or Sunday morning. There are actually as many different types of club as there are riders, but for the purposes of this article, it’s the British Cycling affiliated clubs I’m talking about.
There is a lot more to some of these clubs than the traditional ‘club run’. They might also be involved in cyclocross, track riding, youth development, mountain biking, coaching, racing, sportives, triathlon and more.
The Negative Side of Club Cycling
I have written before about my not so great experiences with – and views of – cycling clubs. I have also had negative encounters with club riders when I have been out on my own. A recent outstanding one was being passed on the cycle path across the Forth Road Bridge by a club group who swarmed past either side of me and my heavy panniers, yelling ‘get out of the way’.
And then there is the small matter of being female.
Cycling remains male dominated in all areas, and road clubs can be particularly male environments. Watch the British Cycling ‘Join a Cycling Club’ video. There are a couple of women in there, but you have to look quite hard to find them.
The Positive Side of Club Cycling
Things are changing. My negative experience was around fifteen years ago.
I do ride with a club myself and I thoroughly enjoy it. I have met some fantastic friends, been shown incredible routes and developed my own skills. It was my experience with the club which inspired me to train as a cycle coach and set up my own coaching business, Active Cycle Coaching. Through racing and through coaching I have also come across so many incredibly friendly and supportive clubs. I would recommend giving club cycling a go to anyone who has ever thought about it.
There are clubs around the country (and the world) which are working really hard to support and encourage more women to join. There are clubs which are incredibly supportive and welcoming to all new members, male or female. You just need to find the right club for you.
Women In Club Cycling
Unless a club is a ‘women’s club’, chances are it will be male dominated no matter how much development work they are doing. That should not be a barrier. After all, the only way to change the numbers of women in club cycling is for more women to join.
Many women report that they would like to join a club, but they feel too intimidated to try. To overcome this we need to give women the confidence to believe that they can do it. To do this clubs need to be honest about what they offer and what they expect. They also need to shout about all the wonderful things they are doing to encourage more women.
We need some open and honest information, followed by a leap of faith.
What Do Clubs Offer and What Do You Want?
Each club is unique and has its own ethos. It is also worth noting that they are organised and run by volunteers, and these people give up huge amounts of their time in doing so. Beyond the club committee, clubs are filled with individuals who bring their own personality and outlook to club activities. As the individuals involved in running and riding with a club change over time, so the club ethos can change.
Each rider is also unique. Being a woman who is thinking about joining a club does not mean that you are looking for the same experience as the next woman who is thinking about joining a club. Are you looking for women-only or mixed rides? Do you want to race? Are you looking for sociability or focused training or both? What you are looking for changes which club is likely to be the best fit for you.
You can find out about British Cycling (BC) affiliated clubs on the BC Club Finder page. Each listing gives some (very) basic information and often a link to the club’s website or Facebook page. However, it can also be very hard to tell how friendly and inclusive (or otherwise) a club is going to be until you turn up for a club run. I am definitely not the only rider who has had a negative experience with a club which has put them off ever trying again.
The best way to find a friendly and welcoming club which offers what you are looking for, is by recommendation. But to get a recommendation you need to know who to ask.
There are lots of fantastic Facebook pages where you can find this kind of information. The Velovixen Women’s Cycling Chat page is great for this In Scotland we have the Scotland’s Women Cyclists page which is also fantastic. The trouble is the pages are very active, so questions regularly drop off the bottom of the feed and can be hard to find.
I have a suggestion to make.
Over the coming months, I would like to gather information about clubs around the country which are encouraging and supporting more women to join. That information will then be published here as a kind of directory of welcoming clubs. There will be an emphasis on what clubs are doing to support and encourage women, because this is what I am particularly passionate about. However I am hoping the information might equally be of use to men who are uncertain about trying club riding.
I would love to set off around the country trying out cycle clubs and reporting back. Sadly work, time and family are not going to permit this.
In order to do this I need to rely on club members taking the time to put together information and send it to me. From asking the question on the Facebook pages above it seems that there is definitely an appetite for producing and reading this. I am very grateful to already have so many offers from people to write about their experience.
My other hope for this ‘directory’ of recommended clubs, is that it will allow clubs to be very open and honest about what they expect from new riders. For example, if your club rides average 16mph for 50 miles, say so clearly. That way potential new members can decide whether they are ready for that experience yet or not. Having riders in a group who struggle throughout the ride or who constantly push the pace, is no fun for anyone.
What I am absolutely not going to do is publish negative ‘reviews’ of clubs. I am only interested in publishing the many positive experiences women have had in club cycling.
I Need Your Help (Please!)
If you are a women who is involved with a cycle club and you love your club and would like it included, please download the document below, complete if for your club and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org along with some photos. You do not need to be a confident writer to take part, I will send you a question sheet and am more than happy to turn bullet points into an article. A a courtesy, please tell the committee of your club that you are doing this and run the sheet by them before you send it in. There will only be one page for each club.
If you are reading this as a woman who has thought about joining a club but felt too intimidated to do so, I really hope that getting this information to you will help to encourage you.
But…you are still going to have to take a leap of faith. Be honest with yourself about your ability on the bike. Chances are you are faster and fitter and more skilled than you think. Chances are it will still feel just a bit scary to head out for your first club run, no matter how friendly and supportive you have been told they are.
Sometimes, we just need to put on our big girl pants and give it a go!