Results from a recent Strava survey, and indeed the data collected during our own Total Women’s Cycling reader survey, show that the majority of women do much of their riding alone. For many women, that’s because they enjoy riding alone or because it’s more convenient. However, we’ve also come across comments from those who would like to cycle as part of a larger group, but feel nervous about the idea of joining a formal led ride.
- Reasons to join group rides:
- Miles go by quicker in a bunch
- Push yourself and your fitness if you ride with faster cyclists
- Have others to help out with mechanicals and teach you how to fix it yourself
- Enjoy a natter and broaden your social circle
- Copy the technique and skills of more experienced riders
Of course, if you’re choosing to cycle on your own because that’s your preference, then there’s no need to read on. However, group rides are a great way to develop your fitness, riding skills, mechanical skills (unless you’re a whizz already) and broaden your social circle. All that, and you’ll find the miles just rush by when you cycle in a group – so your Strava weekly totals will no doubt soar.
So – if it’s something that you’d like to do, but feel nervous about – here's why you don't need to worry...
Fear of not fitting in
We’re never happy when we hear comments from women who have been on group rides and felt alienated by fellow cyclists. In our book, that’s just not cycling etiquette and it’s not acceptable.
The good news is that though there are a small number of clubs and groups that don’t welcome women with open arms, they are a shrinking minority – most are keen to develop their women’s membership and will have a female secretary charged with that growth.
The best way to avoid the negative experience of choosing a backward thinking group is to do a little research. Most areas have multiple local clubs, so check out their websites and go for one that’s clearly supporting women.
Some such clubs and groups are fairly formal, and centre around a racing culture. However, if that's not for you, keep looking - other clubs are much more sportive and social orientated and there are also smaller organisations operating via Facebook groups and forums which usually put a greater focus on the social element.
The other option is to search out a women’s only group. For beginners, the most accessible option is to check out local British Cycling Breeze rides. Led by women, for women, it’s not likely you’ll come across any negativity here! There are many women’s cycling clubs, too – Kent Velo Girls for example happen to be the most popular cycling club among our readers.
Hopefully, this last piece of advice is not something you’ll need to put into action: if you are unlucky enough to meet with hostility – try not to be disheartened. There are other groups, other clubs – and it would be a terrible shame to allow a minority to stamp on your enthusiasm – so don’t let them!
Fear of looking inexperienced
Women's cycling is growing. For a mass growth to take place, there have to be lots of new joiners. Being a 'newbie' is something to be celebrated, not treated as a negative.
The role of a cycling club is to support and nurture cyclists of all levels. Therefore, if you're an inexperienced cyclist then you represent the perfect opportunity for a group of more experienced cyclists to work their magic.
Don't worry about looking like a newbie. As long as you're receptive to advice, there's nothing wrong with having a lot to learn.
Make sure you start off on the right foot, though - even if you can't change an inner tube, take a pump, tyre levers and a spare tube with you, and enough food and drink for a ride of the pre-determined length. The chances are someone will enjoy teaching you how to fix a flat - just be ready to follow instructions and don't expect them to do it for you!
Fear of getting dropped
Most clubs will run multiple club rides on one day, at different speeds - with a designated 'leader' charged with looking after everyone. It is a good idea to take any 'suggested average speeds' listed on club websites with a pinch of salt. Sometimes they're wildly exaggerated, other times wildly downgraded. It really depends on the terrain, so your best bet is to ask someone before you head off for their expected speed, and always go with a slower group if you're unsure.
No self-respecting group of club cyclists will drop a beginner on a ride in the middle of nowhere, on purpose. And no good ride leader will take long to realise their potential new joiner has fallen off the back of the train.
However, if you over-estimate your abilities and join a ride that is quite clearly too fast for you, you can expect that the fellow members might get a little bit impatient with you. Therefore, it's best to underestimate yourself and start with a beginner's or induction ride, until you're comfortable with the group and the format.
If you're really worried that you might end up losing contact with the group, tell the ride leader - and they'll keep an eye on you until you relax into the rhythm. And be vocal - if you're finding the pace too high, say so - cyclists are awesome, but they're not mind readers.
Fear of riding in a bunch
A group ride usually consists of two neat lines of cyclists, often with the group rotating so that everyone takes a turn on the front.
Riding in a group does involve several skills: sitting close enough to a wheel to draft (but far enough away to have enough room to move if need be), adjusting your speed as the pace changes without braking hard, cornering predictably and pointing out hazards. However, no one expects you to be born into the cycling world with an innate knowledge of these skills. A cycling club is there to teach you.
Therefore, all you need to do is turn up ready and willing to learn. Just make sure you make it clear on arrival that riding in a bunch is new to you, and if you feel nervous give more room to the wheel in front, as opposed to less.
If you're tempted to join a cycling club, take a look at this article to see some of the great women's only options around the country. That's only a selection, you can find more clubs on the British Cycling club finder. If you're after something a bit more informal, check out the Breeze rides for groups you can join.