EARLIER this month, Cycling Ireland launched their new Women in Sport campaign.
After research undertaken by the sport’s governing body revealed that the biggest factors limiting female participation in cycling were a lack of confidence and a perception of exclusivity within the sport, the campaign aims to encourage more women to take up cycling with the tagline ‘IT’S NOT A RACE’ declaring that there is much more to cycling than being competitive.
While women’s numbers are growing steadily, they make up just 20 percent of Cycling Ireland’s membership at the moment. Just like their male counterparts however, most of these members do not race.
Instead, their focus is on leisure cycling and group rides with friends and club members.
“The campaign is all about communicating the different cycling opportunities that are available,” says Elaine Cahill, Cycling Ireland’s Women in Sport Officer.
“Cycling doesn’t always have to be a race, you don’t have to be head-to-toe in lycra or have to have the fastest and best bike. I hope the title ‘It’s not a race’ resonates with a lot of women and encourages them to choose the bike as a mode of transport when possible, try a new discipline within cycling or perhaps even learn to cycle if they haven’t already.”
Over the past few years Cycling Ireland have run a number of similar female-orientated campaigns and programmes such as Women on Wheels and Bike Like Me. They have also run female only coaching courses, online training sessions and workshops which focus on learning the various skills and techniques involved in cycling while meeting new people along the way.
More women have taken up cycling through these initiatives and some have become advocates for the new ‘IT’S NOT A RACE’ campaign this year in an effort to encourage more women to take up cycling.
“The Cycling Ireland online training programmes in 2020 introduced me to a whole new female cycling community and inspired me to start thinking about how I could reach out to girls that I knew wanted to cycle and create a local female cycling community,” says 53-year-old advocate Deirdre Quinn.
Although she began riding a bike for transport in her youth, Deirdre first joined a cycling club at the age tender age of 48 after completing a charity spin for Cycle Against Suicide with her brother and meeting other women cyclists along the way.
“In my youth, it was a necessity to cycle because we lived a mile from our town but, over time, I enjoyed more and more the experience of being on a bike and exploring the countryside around home or further afield.
“I started to cycle for pleasure, fresh air and exercise. I joined a cycling club at 48 because I wanted to cycle regularly, and I thought that it would be safer and more fun to cycle with other people. I have cycled with my local club Carn Wheelers now for the past five years and enjoyed many club rides and sportives with them.”
Deirdre enjoyed being part of the club so much that she has since encouraged more women to pedal with her, helping set up the club’s first ladies group last year.
“With the support of the Carn Wheelers Club committee, I gathered together a few members and we set out to encourage some females that we knew were interested but hadn’t made the leap into joining a club.
“Over the summer of 2021, I set up a ladies group in the club and recruited nine new club members. We enjoyed a great summer of Friday night group rides. We held a workshop on bike maintenance and group cycling etiquette and participated in our club sportive together with a lot of fun and laughter along the way.”
The biggest growth in cycling over the past decade has been in the leisure or sportive side of the sport, with organised sportives, leisure rides and charity events held all over the country every weekend.
These leisure events are a great way to see the country at your own pace and meet new people. With distances ranging from short family spins of less than 20km to the longer more arduous treks like the renowned Ring of Kerry or Wicklow 200 rides, there is something on the Cycling Ireland leisure calendar to cater for everyone from the beginner to the more seasoned rider.
“I take any opportunity I can to cycle now,” says Deirdre. “Whether it’s the club spin on a Sunday or a social spin with a coffee stop during the week with some of the ladies.
“Cycling has benefitted me enormously, both physically and mentally. I love spending time outdoors and it’s a great way to keep myself fit doing something that I love. I love meeting people and I enjoy the conversation and craic from cycling with other people. I have met some great people through cycling and some of them are now my closest friends.
“My favourite thing about cycling is that it enables me to combine exercise with being outdoors and being sociable.
“My most memorable cycling highlight was the first time I completed the Skoda Tour de Connemara in 2017. That was my first major sportive and I loved the atmosphere, camaraderie, scenery and the challenge of completing the 80km route with my friend and meeting other cyclists along the route, while battling the headwind on the scenic Inagh Valley together.”
‘IT’S NOT A RACE’ encourages women to get out on their bikes, whether that starts in the local housing estate, park, trail, BMX track, forest or road. The aim is simply to get cycling and to enjoy the benefits of a healthy outdoor pastime with friends or family.
Cycling Ireland are more than willing to help women form their own cycling groups and clubs and have plenty of information and online training plans for prospective members.
“I would encourage any females who may be interested in cycling to go for it,” says Deirdre of taking those first few pedal strokes. “Don’t be put off by the gear and the gadgets. As long as your bike is roadworthy and you can cycle safely, get on your bike and discover if you enjoy it before investing in special cycle clothing or equipment.
“I know it can be daunting at first, especially if you haven’t cycled much before, but there are lots of cyclists who will support you and give you really helpful advice to build your confidence. Find out if there are any cycle groups in your area and talk to them about how to get started.
“Some clubs may be running beginner programmes and these would be a great way to meet new people who are starting at a similar level. It’s a good idea to get your bike serviced before you start and local bike shops are a great source of information about local clubs, events, or contacts to get you started in whatever type of cycling you’re interested in.”