Cycling events take place all over the country, organised by a variety of companies, cycling clubs and individuals. With women who cycle a fast growing audience, there are more and more events designed to cater for those who want to ride in a same sex peloton on the weekend.
Many events companies are businesses hosting a series of events all over the country. However, we were lucky enough to interview two women who launched their own company ‘2 Wheels and a Piece of Cake’, on a self-proclaimed shoe string budget with a lot of passion (and home baking).
"We have to do everything on a shoestring, as there is no real money to be made in bike events and sportives, unless you start to get serious numbers, and we want to keep our events friendly, small and manageable." - Britta Bayman
Britta Bayman and Emma Roberts host two multi-distance events a year: the 'Belles of Belvoir' in June for women only and the 'Belvoir Blast' in September for ‘lads and lasses’. Unsurprisingly, both are based in Belvoir near Nottingham, and starting at 24 miles (maxing out at 100) the rides are suitable for cyclists on any sort of bike, in any sort of clothing.
The pair – Britta at the time a seasoned touring cyclist but new to road riding, and Emma, a mountain biker who discovered the road when training for a charity ride – met in the school playground where they both dropped off their children.
Emma's journey into the road cycling world, which encouraged family touring rider Britta to fall further in love with the discipline, is a tale in itself.
The 41-year-old told us: “My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and we lost my Dad after a long battle with a brain tumour. My sister, in an attempt to 'do something positive' and to regain some of her previous fitness suggested signing up for a charity ride from London to Brussels, via Amsterdam. We trained together each weekend, getting up early and leaving our young children at home with the Dads, and soon realised what fantastic opportunities for road biking were on our doorstep."
"It was the perfect activity to find some space to deal with and recover from the stresses of the previous couple of years"
She added: "It was the perfect activity to find some space to deal with and recover from the stresses of the previous couple of years – the best therapy we could ask for -and we raised over £7000 for our two charities in the process. After the charity ride, we carried on riding together, and then we started dragging Britta along with us. Then Britta and I started dragging along everyone else."
Britta, 46 and mum of two, was just as hooked as her new friend – she told us: “[Through road cycling] I discovered roads, villages and hills that I have since come to love. I loved the fact that I could ride so easily from my house, in practically all weathers and certainly all seasons. It [cycling] is so sociable and challenging, easy to do alone and great in a group. I sometime cycle with a couple that are in their 70’s, who regularly cycle 50 to 80 miles, 3 times a week – what an inspiration."
"We noticed that the atmosphere was generally quite serious and competitive, and male dominated."
Whilst exploring their new found love, the pair embarked on several sportives. Though they enjoyed their experiences, they noticed that events didn’t always feel geared for or welcoming to women. Emma explained: “We noticed that the atmosphere was generally quite serious and competitive, and male dominated. Some of them were certainly not designed to make newcomers to the sport feel welcome. As we cycled along on one of our long training rides, we got chatting about how we would do things differently – make more of an 'event' than just a 'bike ride'. One day, we decided that we should stop just talking about it and get on and do it!"
When planning their own events, they set about making them more appealing to women – providing real, home made food and baking, hot drinks - including green teas, post ride massages, paper goody bags with thoughtful gifts, and a light lunch from a vintage trailer along with careful decoration of their HQ.
"Proper toilets are essential, and ideally we’d like a feed station that is not in the boot of someone’s car!"
Britta told us: “I think women generally appreciate the nicer things in life. Proper toilets are essential, and ideally we’d like a feed station that is not in the boot of someone’s car... I have been to a few very big sportives and the post ride meal is often in a huge leisure centre sports hall – complete with a sweaty smell and echoes but devoid of any atmosphere. Not a place that you’d want to hang around in for long after the ride and actually a bit of an anti-climax. Obviously it is challenging for organisers of larger events to keep the personal touch, but there are definitely things that could be done to help."
The pair are also keen to ensure that women don’t need to worry about way-marking or mechanical issues – something that both say are common concerns potential riders voice to them before signing up. Emma told us: “The main question that I get from women who are just starting out riding is ‘what happens if I get a puncture?’ Our events have a dedicated bike mechanic roving around the course, so there is no need to worry about that at all during our ride."
The mum of three can appreciate these worries, having had similar misgivings when she first started cycling: “I remember having what I think are probably the standard concerns about getting lost, or getting a mechanical failure" she says, adding: “I think women generally have less confidence about just grabbing a bike and setting off on a ride. In my experience, they tend to think a bit more about the 'what ifs' and get put off before they have even given themselves chance to get to the good bits."
Clearly the dedication the women are putting into quietening such fears is working, because the pair have already seen a 40 per cent female sign up rate to their ‘Belvoir Blast’ mixed sex ride in September.
- Putting on an event:
- 6 to 2 months to go: 1 day a week spent on the event
- 2 to 0 months to go: 2 days a week spent on the event
- Final week: 4 days of work
- 4 hours: time taken to drive the course to note all junctions
- 100 hours: preparation of 200 goody bags
- Saturday before the event: prepare the hall, put up signs and feed stations
- Sunday of the event: checking signs from 4.30am, putting up last minute decorations and signs
Organising the events takes a lot of work, but the women still find time to organise smaller group rides for those preparing to go the distance – Britta says: “A lot of women like the idea and even have a bike somewhere in the garage, but for years they have often done little more than a 5 mile pootle with the kids along a canal track. They don’t know where to begin. Both last year and this year, we put on several ‘Belles social rides’ – they’re open to anyone on any bike... no one is too slow. The first ride this year was a flatish 12 miler and despite the grey evening, the ladies loved it - it opened their eyes to roads they had not been down before and a sociable form of exercise. They were chuffed with the distance, and said had we told them that was what we were going to of, they wouldn’t have turned up, as it seemed unachievable."
She adds: “This is exactly what we were trying to achieve - give them the confidence that they can do more than they think they can, a sense of liberation, and me time... and some of them might sign up our 24 mile ‘Belles of Belvoir.'"
The idea of liberation and ‘me time’ is something that a lot of full-time and working mums get from cycling – and it’s something Emma identifies with. She told us: “[When I first started cycling] I wasn’t used to making much time for myself. Initially, I did question how I would find the time to train, but I found that the cycling quickly started to take priority over the chores."
She adds: "My children are slightly older now [4, 6 and 8], but I still enjoy the freedom of escaping and spending quality time with friends whilst getting some great fresh air and exercise. I have a group of up to 10 friends that I ride regularly with during the week – our favourite thing is testing the cakes at a new tea stop."
Speaking of the rewards she takes from the events – she said: “I love seeing such a diverse range of women all enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a bike and getting the satisfaction, at whatever level, of completing an event."
Interested in riding one of the events? Rides vary from 24 to 100 miles and you can find out more here.
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