Okay, so there are barriers to women’s cycling – meet people who are tearing those down
In theory, it sounds great. Get on your bike, cycle to the shops or on the school run, enjoy the great outdoors, get healthier.
And it looks good: freewheeling along a country lane, pretty wicker basket filled with flowers on the handlebars, rosy cheeks, golden locks flowing in the breeze, birds tweeting.
Everyone knows cycling brings a string of physical and mental benefits – from getting the heart pumping, helping lose weight and even keeping skin fresh and healthy. It’s cheaper than the gym, doesn’t cost the earth in pollution and, thanks to new cycle routes which steer bikes away from traffic, is getting safer.
All good then. Except for the great big rusty old nail that punctures cycling’s tyre for so many women . . . helmet hair.
Worse, the horror of having to wear unforgiving tight lycra, garish high-visibility jackets and arriving at work sweaty and puffed-out then realising your smart work clothes and high heels are in the house.
All that plus the problem of heading out to enjoy a peaceful cycle trail only to get a puncture miles from home, with no earthly idea what to do next.
According to British Cycling, these are just some of the reasons why many women give the idea of going for a ride a bodyswerve.
The organisation, which has just announced plans to get one million more women cycling by 2020, says while many want to cycle, worries over things like time restraints, a dislike of bloke-ish cycling gear and a lack of knowledge about basic maintenance put them off.
Fears over road safety were top of women’s concerns, while others worried that pedal power would give them thunder thighs – and some simply didn’t want to cycle alone.
All quite understandable but, says the organiser of Heels on Wheels, a city event geared towards helping women cyclists get on their bikes, quite easy to steer around with planning, confidence and a decent bike.
“You don’t have to wear hi-vis vests and lycra to cycle,” says Tracy Griffen, a director of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, in which Heels on Wheels features. “There’s nothing to stop you wearing a skirt and heels as long as you’re comfortable. Buy a good waterproof – there are companies now that are doing cycling clothes for women that are really nice.
“Helmet hair isn’t great, but give yourself enough time and it’s possible to get to work, tidy yourself up and do the hair.”
The golden rule for women – and men – taking up cycling is to buy a decent bike.
“And there are simple maintenance courses – you just need to know how to repair a puncture and check the brakes, most people can handle that,” she adds.
“The benefits are it keeps you fit, you end up with a nice bum and nice legs and it’s a good thing to do at weekends.”
Some companies have latched on to rising demand for cycling gear that doesn’t scream Tour de France. London-based Caz Nicklin started Cyclechic.co.uk after scouring shops for a cycle helmet that didn’t make her look like Bradley Wiggins’ sister, and today the website has floral helmets, ones with bows, others that just look like hats, pretty waterproof capes and colourful panniers. While Ana Nichoola sells crochet-style cycling gloves, peplum cycle dresses and jersey tops with multi-coloured stars.
According to Kim Harding, whose blog Edinburgh Cycling Chic captures images of cycling chaps in smart camel coats and shiny shoes to women in floaty dresses and funky shoes, designer coats and colourful scarves, plenty cyclists cope without the trauma of lycra and a bad hair day.
“You really don’t have to wear lycra to cycle,” he points out. “And it’s a shame if people are put off by something like that. Besides, I imagine it’s actually a lot easier to cycle in high heels than walk in them.”
Regular cyclist Sandra Scally, co-founder of predominantly women cycle club Hervelo, says there has definitely been an increase in women who, like her, both commute by bike and ride for pleasure.
“Employers need to cater for that and provide showers and lockers to make it easier for them,” she says. “But one of my friends cycles in beautiful skirts and fantastic clothes.”
The club has helped many women who haven’t cycled since they were schoolgirls rebuild vital confidence – another area that research suggests holds women back.
Sheila McLeod, 35, who cycles around 20 miles a day between Dalmeny and the city centre, appreciates would-be cyclists’ concerns for safety. “There are routes I’d use in the daytime that I’d avoid at night – you just find alternatives. If I’m going somewhere that’s dark and quiet, I look at how I can get to a well-lit road if I need to.”
n Heels on Wheels ladies day of cycling will be at the Meadows on Saturday, 22 June. It is part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. For general cycling information, visit www.cyclingscotland.org.
YOU spend precious money going to the gym to sit, lashing with sweat, on a bike that goes nowhere while watching EastEnders on a tiny screen.
Perhaps getting the bike
out could be healthier not just for our body, but our wallet too – and help the environment.
Cycling can burn up around 350 calories an hour – twice that if you’re really hammering – helping shed pounds.
It keeps the heart healthy – one study showed people who cycle 20 miles a week are half as likely to have
heart problems as non-cyclists.
Cycling outdoors aids your sleep. And scientists at Stanford University found it helps protect the skin, increased circulation delivers oxygen and nutrients to skin cells more effectively and flushes out toxins.
Physical activity helps our digestion, making visits to the loo a much less stressful affair.
And cycling boosts blood flow and oxygen to the brain, firing and regenerating receptors.
Moderate exercise also makes immune cells fitter when it comes to fighting infection.
Some studies have also suggested that women who cycle reduce their chances of breast cancer by 34 per cent.
HOW TO TAKE TO TWO WHEELS
IF you’re finding your wheels for the first time since childhood, seek out a bike club that offers a beginners’ section. Predominantly women’s cycle group Hervelo (www.hervelo.co.uk) has a ‘Rusties’ group aimed at cyclists who are getting back in the saddle, while Edinburgh RC (www.edinburghrc.co.uk) has recreational rides for all abilities.
Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative and the Bike Station run regular do-it-yourself bike maintenance classes.
Check out the best routes for your journey using www.cyclestreets.net, which works out distance, the best route and highlights busy stretches of road to avoid.
Edinburgh’s InnerTube cycle map (http://innertubemap.com) is a guide to the city’s bike routes.
Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk) has Bike Belles, a guide for women cyclists, with advice on cycling with children, while pregnant and a shop selling fun accessories to customise your bike.