Women & Cycling: Six women discuss the challenges and the push for change...

Last summer we spoke with six women about the challenges they face and the push for change to get more women into cycling. To celebrate International Women's Day this year, we wanted to re-share their their stories and invite the London cycling community to think more about how we can continue to press forward and progress gender parity, both in cycling and beyond...



Ruth-Anna McQueen, Hackney Cycling Campaigner with a focus on family cycling

The first thing people say when I tell them we have three young children and no car is usually: “How do you do it?” I work as an obstetrician and gynaecologist and my husband is a teacher; our children are 6 years, 4 years, and 7 months’ old. But here’s the thing — cycling is honestly the only way we can manage two parents with busy jobs, and getting three children to school and nursery on time.       

Not only is it perfectly possible to manage in London without a car, in many dense urban areas it’s much easier and quicker to do day-to-day journeys by bike. The perceived difficulty often comes when you add in children, but luckily there are plenty of options available nowadays to suit all budgets, ages and family sizes. From the common rear-mounted bike seats to trailers, front seats, tag-alongs, various parent-child bike coupling mechanisms, family tandems, and the most expensive, but arguably easiest option of a cargobike (both ‘boxbike’ and ‘longtail’ designs are now widely available in the UK).     

I am passionate about opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of family cycling as a solution to so many of the problems we have both individually and on a societal level. Locally, I’ve teamed up with Carry Me Bikes to run a Family Cycling Project, funded by Cycling Grants London. We are loaning out free family cycling equipment to families, organising social group rides for families and ‘tots and cargobikes’ sessions with qualified cycling instructors for parents wanting to start cycling with their children.       

Concern about sharing road space with motor vehicles is the biggest concern of many parents I speak to, especially as children grow and start cycling independently. While this can be mitigated to an extent by using parks, off-road cycle routes and quieter roads where possible, it remains a significant barrier, which is why I’m also an active member of my local LCC group, campaigning for safe space for cycling on main roads too.

Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

The number of trips made by bike every day in London has increased by around 160,000 since 2007, but overall mode share is still only about 2%. Why is this figure not rising? And why are men far more likely to cycle than women in London? 18% of men are regular cyclists, compared to 9% of women.     

Cyclists are omnipresent on London roads but I really would like to see more women using their bikes to get around our city. For some, it is that perception of safety which affects whether they decide to take up cycling — which is why investment in safe routes is vital — both quieter routes and segregated Cycle Superhighways.     

When it comes to mode shift, the potential for safe cycling routes in outer London in particular is huge. If we could encourage many more people to make local trips by cycle, rather than car, the impact on health, air quality and wellbeing would be enormous.       

And if you want to try cycling — without splashing out lots of money — there is the bike hire scheme in parts of London, though interestingly, only a quarter of the scheme’s members are women.     

I have no doubt that over time we will see more Londoners and in particular more women across the capital using bikes. In the meantime, the London Assembly Transport Committee will continue to push in every way we can, for a friendlier cycling environment that works for everyone.

Nicola Hill, Operations Manager at The Bike Project

The Bike Project was set up in March 2013 to provide a solution to the lack of mobility faced by asylum seekers and refugees living in London. Put simply, when you’re receiving just £36.95 per week asylum support and a bus pass costs £21.20, you have little left to live on — so a bicycle can be a vital lifeline. More than 27,000 bikes are abandoned in London each year and over the past four years The Bike Project has collected, fixed up and donated over 2,700 of them.

Early on the majority of our beneficiaries were male and through speaking to women, we learned that many did not feel confident in their ability to ride the bikes that we offer. Women also tell us that they come from societies where women are not encouraged to cycle, or where doing so can be dangerous for them.  So learning to cycle through our Women’s Project is more than a practical necessity, it’s also a strong stance against deeply ingrained beliefs and cultural taboos.

Sarah, who is now our Lead Cycle Instructor,  came along as she wanted to get trained up to be able to teach other women to cycle, most for the very first time, in a female-only space.

Through participating in our lessons, women gain independence, get fit, save money and learn practical skills, which helps to improve physical and emotional wellbeing while getting to know their new city and each other in a fun, safe and welcoming environment.

The Bike Project runs two training sessions per week (Mondays in Croydon, Wednesdays in Wapping). Contact info@thebikeproject.co.uk to refer a woman for lessons or if you are a female NSI-qualified instructor and would like to teach.

Jools Walker, author of Back in the Frame and founder of VéloCityGirl

I recently spoke at the Women and Cycling Conference in Bradford. When large ‘conferences’ like this happen, two of the big topics often discussed are gender inequality in cycling and building (or improving) high(er) quality infrastructure when it comes to encouraging more women to ride. Don’t get me wrong, of course these are important topics that should always be covered (still, we work towards the day when working towards solving these are a thing of the past), but in among this, we need to talk more about the topics that intersect these — such as the lack of representation and diversity within the cycling industry. Just as in everyday life, not all women are the same.     

The conference theme was to ‘inspire more women to cycle more often, to more places’ — and one of my strongest beliefs in how to do this is to share the stories of women and groups that are never ‘normally’ represented in mainstream cycling. Everyday women are extraordinary women, and the importance of celebrating this and seeing someone ‘just like you’ can be the key to getting more young girls and women on a bike. I’ve learned in my seven years of being back on the saddle the power of seeing someone you can identify with, and totally believe this is something that should never be underestimated.

Amy Foster, Southwark Healthy Schools Champion, chair of the Dulwich and Herne Hill Safe Routes to School forum and Vice Chair of the LCC board of trustees

I talk to lots of families who tell me that the roads around their schools are not safe enough for their children, and that they don’t see the pavements outside their schools as safe. Considering that the biggest killer of children aged 10-18 in the UK is road traffic incidents, parental fears around road safety are not unfounded.     

If it isn’t safe for children to get to school independently, parents’ lives end up revolving around school pick-up and drop-off times, adding to stress levels in already busy lives.       

Schools need to do all they can to work with their communities to make their local areas safer for cycling. I work supporting schools in Southwark; we have a fantastic school travel team, a supportive LCC borough group and a council that is looking to develop its cycling infrastructure. As chair of the Safe Routes forum we are pushing for new zebra crossings and a lower speed limit that will make big differences for the families in our network.     

We also look to replicate great work happening elsewhere in London, such as ‘Healthy School Streets’ where the road outside the school gate is closed during the school run, encouraging families to choose to walk, cycle or scoot to school, reducing road danger for the kids and cutting air pollution from idling cars at the school gates.       

We are more fortunate than many schools in London. We have a fantastic traffic-free cycling route passing within a few metres of our school, which many of our families use. However, it is terrifying that a ‘healthy’ school run remains a matter of luck and we must do all we can to work together to ensure safe, connected cycle routes exist across the capital.

Amy is also a Southwark Healthy Schools Champion and chair of the Dulwich and Herne Hill Safe Routes to School forum.

Lucy Garner, Wiggle High5 Professional Racer 

You live in the Netherlands, what do you think of riding around London?

It’s certainly extremely busy, but you can see that there is obviously progress. There are substantial bike lanes now, which I’ve only briefly sampled — I didn’t expect them to be that big and wide, that’s a major improvement.

Do you think having events like the Women’s Tour in London will inspire more women to cycle?

Yes, I think it definitely helps having women’s races, just to show the general public what women’s cycling is about and how we race. We put on really aggressive racing, and having the Women’s Tour come to London on the last day is really important and shows how much it’s growing and how much bigger it’s becoming.

Why do you think women are under-represented in professional cycling?

Several reasons. But I’ve been cycling for over 10 years and it’s progressed so much in that time. I’m in a really fortunate place to be a professional female cyclist now — and like a lot of the women in the peloton, we’re not having to work alongside cycling commitments. That’s important, because it raises the whole level of cycling, and women’s professional sport generally, as we can just concentrate on our cycling.

How can we encourage more women to get into sport cycling?

I started cycling because it was such a social sport, there are so many clubs and group rides you don’t have to go out on your own. I have so many more friends now! A lot of people think of cycling as being just for men, but there’s loads of bikes and kits which look great for women, and they’re attractive, interesting designs too. 

Wiggle.com are sponsors of the Wiggle High5 professional cycling team which competes on the Women’s Tour and other professional races.

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This article was originally published in the Autum 2017 issue of the London Cyclist