By Pan Pan Fan
Part 1: A disparity in numbers: Where my girls at?
What can an investment banker, free lance poet, aspiring chef, CEO, and nutritionist all have in common? Well, if they’re lucky enough, the bike! One of the many quirks about falling in love with the sport of cycling has been the wide spectrum of people I’ve met along the way: this includes an American near Windsor Castle, a Londoner in San Francisco, a lost and confused Parisian in Richmond Park, and a New Yorker near Crystal Palace. On the bike, it doesn’t matter what degrees you have, what title sits next to your name, or how much money you bring home; all that matters is whether you can pedal forward, whether you have some sense of road rules and cycling “etiquette”, and whether you’re free Saturday morning to leave your family for five hours and go on a chain-gang with ten of your friends, only to return muddied and exhausted.
I’m proud to say that I have been participating in competitive cycling for several years, and every season has brought me new friendships, exciting places, hard lessons, and wonderful memories. One of the questions that pop into my mind on Sunday group rides and race weekends remains: “Where my girls at?”
While I am impressed with the increasing participants in the women’s race scene, the sport of cycling is still lagging behind other sports such as running. In 2011, a total of 26,907 participants finished the US Boston Marathon. 15,445 were male and 11,462 were female, women representing nearly 43% of the total participants (Holla at my girl Katherine Switzer for making this possible for women by “illegally” entering and finishing in 1967, when the event was closed to women. It wasn’t until 1972, five years after Switzer’s dramatic finish, that the Boston Marathon officially allowed women to enter). Women’s cycling, however, has not received the same amount of attention nor nearly the same amount of participation though women have been participating in cycling races almost a decade before marathons. Now, this begs the questions, “Why is the women’s cycling scene lagging behind other endurance sports?” and “Who would ever choose to run a marathon over a bike race?”
In preparing for this piece, I’ve been pondering possible solutions to the above questions. I will admit that in the past, I’ve purposefully avoided a few particularly *aggressive* male dominated group rides where the weekend warriors came out with full armor and were spiritually/emotionally/psychologically offended that a girl could be pulling the pack, let alone dropping them on a hill. It was my experience as head coach of New York University’s co-ed team in 2010 that helped me understand this seemingly odd disparity: women need more support in beginning a very intimidating, high maintenance sport, but once we gain confidence, we are just as determined, strong and disciplined as our male cycling counterparts. In economics terms, women, much of it being internal pressures and fears, often face a higher start-up cost than men do in this sport.
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Part 2: Breaking Barriers and Lowering the Start-up Costs
On Wednesday morning, April 4, 2012, I had the pleasure of attending the Cycletta Press Release Ride and Lunch in Richmond Park. Cycletta, supported by its Ambassador Olympic Medalist Victoria Pendleton, was launched in 2011 by Participate Sport Ltd to offer a series of women’s only rides.
Since its recent launch, over 2,000 women of all ages and abilities have participated in the Cycletta rides. My take on the idea behind Cycletta is the following: since women face this higher start-up cost in cycling, let’s try to lower that. Let’s try to make it less intimidating for women (ex: the fear of being dropped and left alone on a male-dominated group ride, where the other riders are much more experienced) by offering a safely managed ride of varying distance with only other women. This allows women to find inspiration and advice in and from other women. By offering this ride to women of all abilities, more experienced women are able to share their knowledge to new riders in a safe environment. Further, each new rider gets to experience a beautiful, new route through England that they would not have seen otherwise.
Due to its success last year, Cycletta has expanded its 2012 calendar to include six new venues across England and has increased its distance options to cater toward diverse abilities. Along with last year’s routes, these new routes will include Bedfordshire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, and Cheshire. As a newcomer to England, I highly recommend anyone else who is unfamiliar with the country to explore the beautiful open roads with wonderful company!
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My Wednesday morning ride with the other girls reminded me of all the reasons why I began cycling in the first place: simply, you meet new people in new places you wouldn’t otherwise. I laughed with Rose, discussed Jazz and Clarinet concerts with Helen, talked about London dating with fellow American Julie, and finally got to meet some fellow London racers (the lovely Mule Bar Girls) in a non-race setting. Our light spin was followed by a wonderful lunch sponsored by our Cycletta representatives in Richmond. There, we told our own cycling stories, and each of us left feeling like we’ve made close connections to other riders in the area.
After the event, I thought fondly about my first bike ride as I rode back to my flat from Richmond. It was in November, 2006, and I showed up on a team group ride wearing trainers, an oversized sweatshirt, and mesh shorts. For the 60 mile ride, I brought 1 bottle of water with me, no food, and no money for water/food. I was dropped after a mile, and I made it about thirty miles before the inevitable hunger pains. It was the lovely company of another female rider and a University Professor who guided pushed me the rest of the way back. We’ve remained close friends ever since. I cherish those memories, I owe some of them to the bike, but mostly, I owe them to the people who gave me the support and opportunity to love the bike instead of being terrified of it. I am very impressed with Cycletta’s mission in doing this for other women, and I can only hope that more women will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. If so, they’ll realize that a whole new world with wonderful people have been here all along, waiting to meet them.
For more information, please visit: www.cycletta.co.uk.