International Women's Day 2021: Interview with Welsh and British Cycling

Posted - March 8, 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we spoke to Georgina from Welsh Cycling and Craig from British Cycling about getting more women on bikes, Breeze Rides and what we can all do to encourage more women to fall in love with cycling.

Can you introduce yourselves? 

My name is Georgina Harper, I manage the development department of Welsh Cycling, this includes everything from club development through to recreation, including the HSBC UK Breeze programme in Wales. The aspiration of the department is to get more people cycling more often, and programmes like HSBC UK Breeze are key to helping us encourage a growth in women’s cycling. 

My name is Craig Myers, I’m the Recreation Manager at British Cycling and my role is enabling recreational cycling programmes through the Let's Ride website that make it easier for people from all backgrounds to cycle and cycle more often.  

In 2013, British Cycling announced that they wanted to get 1 million more women onto bikes by 2020, last year you achieved that. What went into making that happen? 

Craig: Working alongside a fantastic and ever-growing network of organisers, coaches, volunteers and clubs, British Cycling and the cycling community have worked meticulously to ensure cycling is an appealing option for women, whatever their age, ability or aims on a bike. The strategy focused on creating opportunities to ride and race, developing a pathway that keeps women engaged, getting more women running and governing the sport and increasing female membership. 

For those that don’t know, what is the HSBC UK Breeze initiative, and what impact has that had on getting more women into cycling? 

Craig: HSBC UK Breeze is a nationwide network of female volunteers running friendly and accessible women-only bike rides. All of the rides are free and provide a range of options for women wanting to ride: from those just coming back to activity after years away through to anyone seeking a bit more of a challenge and perhaps pushing their boundaries in great company. 

The programme has welcomed over 275,000 women to its women-only rides, with annual participation growing year-on-year. In 2019, that figure was 59,796. 

To look up HSBC UK Breeze rides in your local area, visit:  

Georgina: In Wales, the HSBC UK Breeze Network has been running since 2014. The programme has had some amazing impacts. Back at the outset in 2014, our membership was only 14% women, but since then it has increased year on year and we are now closer to 20% (still some way to go for gender parity, but we are getting there).  It has also hugely increased our numbers of female volunteers, with HSBC UK Breeze champions all around Wales that share our passion to get more women cycling. 

Why do you think it’s important to have women-only initiatives like the HSBC UK Breeze rides? 

Georgina: At the outset of the programme in Wales, we did quite a bit of research on the barriers to female participation, and it became clear that many women wanted a ‘female-only’ opportunity to get out cycling and that this led ride approach would encourage more women to dust off their bikes and get involved. At the time, many of our clubs were quite male dominated so the HSBC UK Breeze programme created a different opportunity for women to get involved.  Since then, the growth in women’s cycling has been huge – not only through Breeze rides, but we have clubs across Wales that have a strong female membership and a growing number of women taking part in events.  

Many people, women included find it hard to get into cycling, what advice would you give to those who want to get on a bike (or back on their bike) but aren’t sure how to go about it? 

Craig: Cycling can be off-putting due to the perception that you need loads of gear or should be really fit already. That’s just not true and there are plenty of other cycling myths out there that we are passionate about busting.

Once you have a bike, have checked it over (a bike shop can do this for you) and are ready to go, why not join a group or club so that you can explore your local area while meeting new people? 

If you want to head out alone at first, see if there are any risk-assessed routes nearby or traffic-free spaces that you can ride here.

Collectively, as an industry, and indeed on a wider infrastructure level, what do you think we could all do to make cycling more inclusive and get more people riding bikes? 

Georgina: We know the perception of safety is a very real barrier to women getting on their bikes, so the continued development of traffic-free routes and better infrastructure for bikes is so important to encouraging women and young people to ride more. 

Craig: Aside from infrastructure, we know programmes like HSBC UK Breeze help encourage women to ride more and are key to helping you to really embed a healthy new habit. It’s also just really refreshing and reassuring to see women out riding – whatever bike they may be on and however quickly they may be travelling. The phrase ‘be the change you want to see’ definitely applies to cycling, so seeing more women commuting to work by bicycle for example is hugely empowering to coax regular drivers out of their cars.  

Georgina: With women’s bikes and clothing the choice is improving, but it is still pretty common to find a shelf of men’s kit and just a handful of choice for women. That’s something the cycle industry needs to tackle and is a massive opportunity for business growth. 

There are some amazing Breeze Champions and ride leaders within British Cycling, are there any stories that stand out in your mind, or any Champions that have gone above in beyond in helping to get more women cycling? 

Craig: From saving someone’s life through to breaking down cultural barriers, cycling has been the instigator in so much positive change. There are so many brilliant stories; here are just a few of them.

Georgina: We have so many stories of amazing women in Wales and will be featuring some of these on our website over IWD and the days beyond. We have champions that have led over 100 rides and many who go out of their way to encourage others to get involved. We have also know of champions that whilst Wales has been in lockdown, have been supporting the Covid vaccination effort. Tune into the Welsh Cycling social media and website to hear more. 

Looking at the number of incredible female athletes within all the cycling disciplines, what initiatives does British Cycling have to support women who race, especially when it comes to encouraging young women to pursue professional careers? 

Craig: Absolutely, it’s great to see so many women making their mark in cycle sport. In terms of road racing at least, we set up a women’s road racing workgroup in 2018 as a subgroup of our Road Commission to help with improving women’s competitive road racing. The first thing the group did was to go out to female licence holders with a survey to gather their feedback and opinions, as well as recommendations for women’s road racing.  

One of the biggest outcomes of the workgroup and the survey so far has been the introduction of women’s event classifications to bring them in line with the men’s offer. British Cycling has continuously acknowledged that – as is also the case with most other sports – there is unfortunately an historic gender gap within cycling that we need to work hard to close. This is by no means an overnight process, but progress is being made.

What can businesses like ours do to help not only to encourage, but to help keep women cycling? 

Craig: Simply having this conversation and awareness is a great start. We all have a role to play in encouraging more women to get involved so thinking internally about what can be done is really positive. 

Going back to that point on visibility, it’s important to show women riding bikes – and having lots of fun doing it. But this should be across all types of cycling and in any sort of scenario, ideally not limited to what’s available on stock photography libraries. Women want to see real women. 

The cycling industry is small but incredibly friendly and we try to do all we can to signpost to opportunities for anyone to ride. This is also where businesses can help, by reaching out to their customers with resources that will help them beyond what that company is trying to sell. It’s about enriching our communities with the tools they need to change their lifestyle or take on a challenge, rather than having a singular focus. 

Georgina: As a retailer, ensuring women’s equipment and clothing has an equal priority. Focusing on ambassadors that will encourage others to get involved. But also working with organisations like British or Welsh Cycling.

How are British Cycling celebrating International Women’s Day 2021? 

Craig: British Cycling is encouraging everyone to share a #ChooseToChallenge pledge, highlighting how you will make your mark on women’s cycling. From tackling inequality in the sport to making sure that women’s adventures by bike are celebrated and well represented, there is plenty that can be done.

Georgina: Welsh Cycling have a week long plan of communications around IWD, with stories covering the women that are behind the sport in Wales, and also the elite riders.  Unfortunately, Covid 19 restrictions mean that rides can’t happen this year, so we’ll be focusing on telling the stories of these amazing women that are changing the world of cycling.

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