Do you remember the feeling of riding a bike as a child? The sense of freedom and adventure, of feeling the wind in your hair as you raced down a hill. The independence and self-reliance it brought, meaning you no longer had to depend on an adult to drive you somewhere. But between those carefree days of childhood and adulthood – which comes with an ever-growing list of responsibilities – almost half of women (49%) get off their bikes.[i]
The figures paint a depressing picture. Just 12 per cent of women have cycled at least twice in the past 28 days – almost half that of men (22%)[ii]. Lack of safety, time pressures, not feeling confident in their ability to ride a bike and not owning a bike are some of the reasons stopping women from cycling.[iii]
Unfortunately, the gender gap in cycling is nothing new. Throughout history women have faced barriers preventing them from participating. In the 1890s cycling as a leisure pursuit began to take off and people were fascinated with the new two-wheeled ‘freedom machines’. For women, the bicycle helped to broaden their horizons and offered some independence from the oppression they faced at home and in wider society. But it wasn’t easy; Victorian clothing, with long, heavy skirts and corsets were not ideal cycle wear and if that were not bad enough it wasn’t uncommon for women to be shouted at in the street, pelted with bricks or labelled promiscuous just for riding a bike – when presumably she should have been at home looking after the children.
Thankfully today we don’t have to dodge flying bricks in the street, but women remain far less likely to get on a bike than men. That’s why, alongside Raleigh, we are making it our mission to break down barriers and provide practical advice, support and encouragement. We want to inspire women and girls to experience the contagious joy of cycling, rediscover a childhood sense of adventure and feel mentally and physically stronger.
We’re being helped by four courageous women who have made it their mission to get on a bike – their fears reflect those above – from safety and lack of time to it’s something that we never did – all of them are determined to break the barriers.
Midlife is a pressure cooker for many women, who find themselves juggling care responsibility for teenage children and elderly parents, bearing much of the responsibility for looking after the house, alongside managing demanding careers. Some women are left with as little as 35 minutes to themselves each day.[iv] Liana’s mission is to take back some time for herself and accomplish a 10-mile bike ride.
Our research shows 48 per cent of girls say their mum encourages them to be active.[v] It’s more than developing a healthy body. Spending time moving provides a valuable opportunity for mums and daughters to discover the joy, fun and wellbeing benefits of exercise together. That is Laura’s mission. She’s returning to sport after 10 years, looking to combat the effects of a sedentary job and spend time with her nine-year-old daughter, Flick. Shareenah wants to be a role model of her daughter and incorporate everyday rides into her life.
Gender stereotypes can start as young as five years old and can lead to girls lacking self-belief in their abilities to be active. Harinie can count on her fingers the number of times she’s ridden a bike since it wasn’t seen to be an important skill for girls to learn in her homeland of Sri Lanka. She lacks experience in the saddle and would love to be able to just get on a bicycle and not feel anxious on a family bike ride. She wants to break that cycle.
Over the last 140 years the humble bicycle has had a positive impact on the lives of women. It’s brought independence and freedom – even if that’s just an hour away from the humdrum of everyday life. All four of our women are overcoming their own barriers to get back on a bike and complete their missions. Now, we want to empower more women to take their seat in the saddle. What will your mission be?
[i] Raleigh 2022
[ii] Sport England Active Lives Nov 20-21
[iii] Raleigh 2022
[iv] Aviva 2019
[v] Women in Sport 2018