Cycling has long been a male dominated sport with only a few women blazing the trail in the sport. The likes of Beryl Burton frequently had to prove themselves by racing men, and frequently beating them. My own mother used to race until the 1970’s and joined the peloton of men. Olympic gold medallist Laura Trott said that even ten years ago when she got into track cycling, “When I first started out in cycling if there were two girls there that was successful but now if there are 20 girls there it’s just unbelievable. The growth of the sport is just incredible.”
Recently a stereotype has emerged of the Mamil – the middle aged man in lycra – that has been rather off putting to women who want to enjoy cycling themselves. Since 2012 when the women’s Team GB cycling team did very well at the Olympic track events, there has been a surge of interest in cycling among women, though it is apparent that they don’t always like attending the testosterone fuelled sportives and competing on Strava.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Laura Trott said that you don’t have to join a peloton of Mamils to enjoy cycling! She suggested, “A Breeze ride organised by British Cycling which is women only, or any other female bike club is a great way to start off. It’s just to give women that confidence because it always feels a much more friendly environment when it’s just the girls there.”
Breeze rides are all women’s cycling events. Though there are ‘Breeze Challenges’ out there where you can ride anything up to 50km the focus on most rides is on enjoyment and the social side. Where men’s events can’t hide the competitiveness, this doesn’t always appeal to women.
The British Cycling sponsored Breeze website says, “We’ve spoken to lots of women and done our research to understand the reasons why women are discouraged from cycling, which include lack of time, confidence and feeling safe riding a bike. We’re trying to provide as many cycling opportunities as we can in a nurturing and friendly environment.”
The Breeze events are organised by volunteers nationwide and you can find a ride near you here. There are three types of event you can attend – firstly, Ride Social is a fun and friendly ride through the area around where you live. There are three levels of Guided Rides that take you on routes that can be challenging but are focused on fun and enjoyment, as well as showing you some of the nicer places to ride near you. The third type of event is the Big Bike Events that are women only events similar to men’s sportives only without the testosterone! You can also train to be a volunteer ride leader too.
This isn’t to say that you don’t have to be competitive. Without the stars of this world there just wouldn’t be the interest in the sport that there is today. If you want to compete there are still great opportunities out there. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, World Champion team pursuit rider Elinor Barker said, “I also started 10 years ago and I was the only girl in my age group so if I wanted to race I had to race the boys. But now if I go down to my local club they have their own entire racing league.”