Single sex events are the catalyst that many women need to gain the confidence to take their riding to the next level – but all too often we hear organisers complaining that they’ve hosted an event only to meet with limited uptake.
Kate Samways has found precisely the opposite. The owner of Samways Cycles bike shop has been cultivating a women’s community from the Derby based store over the past few years, hosting women's rides and more recently a series of sell-out track events at the Derby velodrome that have been making headlines in the local papers.
We spoke to her to find out how she’s managed to build such a successful women’s following – in store, on the road and on the track…
How has Samways Cycles managed to build up such a strong relationship with local women?
I came into the family business in its 84th year. I just looked around and couldn’t believe what a male environment it was. That was in 2013 and we've just gone from strength to strength really. We've developed a community, with women only ride outs, we're involved with Breeze, we've got an area in the store with a range of bikes, from mountain to road and track and leisure - we provide the whole package.
What have you done that other retailers should bear in mind?
We’ve just made the store beautiful to look at. We’ve spaced bikes out, we have wallpaper, it looks quite boutiquey. The shoes are on shelves, it’s uncluttered. And we’ve educated the men who work in the store, as well as having a lady who works on the shop floor. There’s no barriers, and there’s no such thing as a silly question. Cycling isn’t brain surgery, it’s for everybody. With women it’s all about trust and word of mouth, but if they don’t buy from us it’s not the end of the world – I just want to get them cycling, to be honest, and having fun. So my new events business - Samways - will be doing exactly that.
There’s no barriers, and there’s no such thing as a silly question.
Does the female friendly store put men off?
Not at all – men want their partners, want their wives, want their girlfriends, and want their daughters, to get into the sport that they’re so passionate about. We’re just opening up to everybody, trying to make cycling inclusive not exclusive. The store should be an environment where women and men feel comfortable.
How did these highly successful track events first come about?
We're lucky enough to have the velodrome in Derby and I was invited to one of the taster sessions with a local club... and unfortunately that had men in it.
I'm not anti-men at all, but for somebody who had only just started road cycling and was pretty scared of the whole situation, it wasn't great. I had somebody behind me saying “Come on Kate, faster, faster, quicker, quicker" – that knocked my confidence somewhat. British Cycling were organising women and girls rider development sessions, so I joined a few of those. I got my confidence back, and loved it – but they weren’t getting the numbers – maybe 15 or so at sessions. So I contacted the organiser… next thing I knew I was organising the session in a week’s time! I pulled out all the stops, because I knew there was a need for sessions like this, and got 48 women on the track for the afternoon. So I got the chance to do more sessions, and last month we had 50 riders on the track.
Between the major sessions, I’m also running sessions under the #ThisGirlCan premise – I call them the Early Bird sessions, and we had 16 of us on Valentine’s day, willing to get up at 5am to be on the track at 7am.
What is it that’s making the sessions so successful?
They’re growing through word of mouth – we’re encouraging women and building up a community, making the women believe and understand that it is accessible, guiding them through it, and supporting them all the way.
It’s really empowering to embrace your fears.
We have had women in tears on the track, because of fear, but determined to do it, and they’ve left the track smiling and come back for more. It’s really empowering to embrace your fears. And now there are regular frequent women, so it’s a social event too - and it’s a time for women to do something that’s totally for themselves, and something they never thought they could do and just feel good about themselves. They’re pushed out of comfort zone, and they succeed.
What’s next for the track sessions?
I really want to encourage women to try racing round the track, as well. I’m organising Samways Trackfest, with my new Samways events venture. It sounds pretty crazy, I can’t believe what I’m signing myself up to. There’s 22 women racing the track league at Derby now, I want to increase that. With women it purely is a lack of confidence. Women are just as competitive as men, if not more, why shouldn’t they be offered that avenue?
With women it purely is a lack of confidence. Women are just as competitive as men, if not more
The Trackfest will be on Easter Monday, and the races will be coach led, so women will be guided, hopefully that will give them the skills and confidence to do more. It’ll be for women of all ages, all levels of ability and experience. I'm also putting on some events for men within it to be inclusive.
You already had a women’s community ready and waiting for the track from the road rides led by Samways Cycles. How have you managed to make them such a success?
It’s all about communication - making it clear that the rides are for everyone, and ensuring women believe that. Once they know what the situation is, they relax, and their confidence grows – then they bring along friends.
With the road cycling we’re teaching women about hand signals and so on before we go out on ride outs, and how to ride in traffic, to stick your ground, don’t go into the curb. We repeat ride-outs - we go to same coffee shop, with some hills along the way. It's usually 20-30 miles - women know what to expect.
Do you think we’ll ever have a 50/50 gender split in cycling?
I do believe we will. It’s a long way to go, but we will get there. We have amazing role models on the track, in road and mountain bike – and they’re getting more coverage. It’s about women supporting other women, if we get behind the elite women who are phenomenal, things can only improve. Women should be offered the opportunities that men are, but we are finding our voices – and if we shout loud enough, we will be heard.