Cycling 'not just for middle aged men in lycra'

Thursday, May 09, 2019

In 2017/2018, 2,785 people across Northern Ireland were asked if they had access to a bicycle, as part of research carried out by the Department for Infrastructure.

About a third said they owned one. Of those, 39% were men, and 24% were women.

Of those who had cycled in the previous four weeks, 69% were men, compared to just 31% who were women.

The findings tally with other research carried out across the UK.

In June last year, walking and cycling charity Sustrans revealed that almost three quarters of women living in seven major UK cities - including Belfast - never use a bike for local journeys.

The data revealed that the ratio of female to male bike riders in Belfast is about 1:3.

So why aren't more women taking it up?

You get a different answer depending on who you talk to.

Some women have said it's a confidence issue, while others cite road safety and a lack of suitable infrastructure.

"The main factor putting women off is safety," says Anne Madden, of Sustrans' Northern Ireland wing.

"Women tend to take less risks for various reasons, and that could explain why there is this gap."

Since last autumn, Sustrans has been holding courses in Belfast for women wanting to get involved in cycling, or back into cycling.

"A couple of other surveys that we have done show people citing the erratic behaviour of drivers, too much traffic on the roads, the lack of consistent cycle lanes," says Ms Madden.

Ms Young, a member of Apollo Cycling team in Lurgan, County Armagh, suggests it's more than that.

The sport, she says, may suffer from a problem of perception.

"There are two different types of cyclists," she says. "People who cycle on their own, recreationally, and there are people who cycle in clubs.

"With the clubs, there's this perception of the 'Middle Aged Men in Lycra'.

"I don't want to feed that stereotype, but there is that out there, that we all go out and clog up the roads, and it's a certain type of person that does it.

"But there are so many benefits to cycling within a club - safety, and friendship and fun."

Whatever the reasons, the statistics are stark.

Cycling Ulster, the provincial governing body, has more than 6,900 members - 5,587 of whom are male.

Moves are afoot to shake the statistics up, and get more women on their bikes.

Evelyn Donnelly, from the Foyle Cycling Club in Derry, was the only woman in the club when she joined about 11 years ago.

It had upwards of about 100 members at the time.

"I didn't even stop to think about it. I just wanted to cycle," she recalls.

"I was doing triathlons at the time, and needed help. I started going out with the club on a Sunday and I never realised that I was the only girl, I never thought about it and just mixed in.

"It was just like that in those days. You just didn't see women cycling. When you were watching the Tour de France, it was mostly men."

One day Ms Donnelly sat up and took notice of the considerable gender imbalance, and she decided it was time to do something about it.

"I thought: 'I need to start getting girls into this club.' And I started doing a big advertising drive on Facebook, and I had the help of the Foyle club, the boys did come out and help me with the coaching."

The club now has about 20 female members, Ms Donnelly says.

Cycling Ulster just launched their Women on Wheels programme aimed at getting more women into the sport, with 16 clubs involved.

The clubs will be given training and advice on how to retain and actively encourage more women into club activities, and also how to boost the number of female coaches.

"Cycling is for everybody. It's not just for Middle Aged Men in Lycra," says Ms Young, who's on the Cycling Ulster Women's Commission, and is the driving force behind Women on Wheels.

"There are quite a few women in our clubs already. It's not a massive number, but we're quite active and we're open for other people to come and join us."



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