Cycling clubs have a reputation as being competitive, unwelcoming and sometimes a bit scary – but that needn't be the case. Joining a club provides instant access to routes, riding skills and maintenance advice passed down from more experienced riders as well as a wide social network of people to eat cake with between rides.
With growing numbers of women getting in the saddle, thanks to initiatives like Breeze and Cycletta, a high proportion of cycling clubs now have specific women’s rides as part of their schedules. For many women, this is enough, and female membership is on the rise. However, for a growing number of us the idea of joining a women’s cycling club is far more inviting.
Most women's cycling clubs follow a similar model to traditional unisex clubs - a Saturday or Sunday ride, with one or two weekly jaunts too. Like unisex clubs, structures, leanings and attitudes vary greatly - some groups put a focus on fun, social rides whilst others promote racing and host specific training events.
Though a women's only cycling club isn't for everyone - being a part of a female cycling network has its benefits.
[part title="Friendship & Support"]
Speaking to the founders of women’s cycling groups, all of the ladies I spoke to held relationships between members as the most important element of the club.
Anne Chatterton, organiser of East Yorkshire’s Sunday Girls Road Club explained that club rides were about mixing riding with friendship and chat, saying: “I think what makes our ladies club different is the fact our rides are social occasions as well as rides."
“We focus more on the enjoyment of the ride and the satisfaction of a good ride with great friends than the speed we are travelling."
Sue Booth, founder of the Chester Fabulous Ladies, told me: “I think a women only environment is more supportive - women are more likely to come out with other women, as I think they feel very intimidated by a male dominated, usually racing orientated, club."
Sue won the North West CTC award for Volunteer of the Year in 2010 and added: “I usually come back on a Saturday morning with a really warm glow, happy feeling…I like meeting new people but also as faces become familiar they become more like friends."
Bee Gregorie, founding member of the 170 strong Kent Velo Girls told me: "The 'essence' of KVG is what makes it so special. If I could bottle it, it would be so valuable, people really care about each other, and look out for each other."
[part title="Same sex competition"]
There are a great many clubs that run without a competitive element, the focus being on enjoyment of riding alone. However, there are clubs that cater for women looking to gain speed and compete.
Riding with people who are stronger than you makes you stronger. However, when those people are men it's very easy to just let them go when the going gets tough under the argument the race isn’t fair, anyway. If the competition is female, that excuse is gone and the game is on.
Glynis Frances is the leader of TEAM GLOW women’s cycling network, based in Manchester and the North West – they’ve got 126 paid up investors, and 635 Facebook friends and followers. She explained: “As well as being totally supportive we also enjoy pushing each other to ride faster and harder - over half our members are on Strava."
TEAM GLOW offer graded rides, with A being for women looking for 15-25 miles at 10mph, and D more likely to be 50-70 miles at 15-18mph – they also enter events, from local sportives, to the Fred Whitton, and run a touring/training camp on Mallorca once a year – “so members can even feel like a pro".
Kent Velo Girls is another women’s club that provides a friendly environment for beginners, as well as training for competitive events. The club provides a development programme and skills based sessions with club coaches including group turbo sessions and training at the Cyclopark racetrack.
Bee told me: "For those wanting more challenging rides, competition is alive and kicking... but even on those rides, there is an inclusivity, and no riding so hard until someone is dropped."
She explained the distinct difference she's found between the women's only club, and mixed clubs, saying: "My experience of teaching women to ride safely in groups has been far more successful than any of the mixed groups that I have ridden with over the years, when testosterone inevitably results in someone racing off the front. The safe feeling a disciplined group ride gives, is one of the things that gives women the confidence to come along to club rides."
Lifestyles vary dramatically between women, of course – from the student with free time at strange hours, to the young professional with few free hours, to the mother who works around school hours. We’re all different, and most people, whether male of female need to fit their hobbies around their lives.
However, it’s not uncommon for women to feel pressure to be everywhere at once, and those with children need to organize their rides around the little ones.
Sue of Chester Fabulous Ladies explained: “I arrange a shorter Saturday morning ride because women either are or think they are busier than their male partners, they usually have to 'sort out the kids'."
To provide extra support for members (and non-members) who want to get their children riding, the Kent Velo Girls have also expanded to provide for ‘Kent Velo Kids’ by offering Go-Ride and Go-Race coaching, the British Cycling sessions tailored for juniors.
All the organisers I spoke to stressed that going along to your first club ride needn’t be intimidating, and that doing so would provide women with a great group of ladies to ride with.
Anne of Sunday Girls said: “I would really encourage ladies to try and join a cycling club. You can learn so much from other members. Your cycling will improve and you make new friends. It is also much safer to ride in a group and there is always someone to help with a puncture or two."
Bee's reaction was the same, and she explained: "To any woman considering joining a club, I'd say "Do it!". Women email me all the time saying that when they are fitter they might join, I always reply with a ‘join now’ answer, and let us help you get your fitness, and develop as a cyclist at the same time. It’s amazing how joining a group of like minded people, getting some club kit and actually riding regularly and having fun so you want to do it more, makes you feel like a real cyclist, and in no time at all you are riding like one too!"
Being nervous is ok, as well – Glynis of TEAM GLOW said: “If you are nervous it's because you are stepping out of your comfort zone and into new territories. So be nervous but also be pleased with yourself for taking on the challenge of doing something new and different."
She added: “Be kind to yourself and your bike – but be best prepared by wearing clothing right for cycling the distance, know your bike is working well, take comfort snacks so you know you’ll have enough energy."
[part title="Find a club"]
I spoke to women from a selection of clubs, each with different ride formats and focus’, and there are more across the UK.
The biggest clubs I found on my travels were:
Biking Belles – Chichester and District – Rides meet in Chichester, one challenging 35+ mile ride, and one novice friendly 25mile ride on Saturday, and a faster 35+ mile ride on Sunday
The Chester Fabulous Ladies – Part of the Chester CTC, the club has a focus on endurance and touring, they have weekend rides and a midweek ride.
TEAM GLOW- Based in Manchester and the North West, rides progress from ‘A’ groups – 15 to 25 miles at 10mph, to ‘D’ groups, 50-70mph at 15-18mph. The club are affiliated to the Cycling Time Trials Association, so ladies can sign up to events as a club member.
Kent Velo Girls – Formed in 2008, Kent Velo Girls have a busy calendar of rides, and offer something for everyone from beginner to the experienced. Rides are listed as Social, Easy, Endurance, Intermediate, or Advanced, and racing training is on offer, with Kent Velo Girls taking part in road racing and time trialling.
Minet Ladies Cycling Club – Meeting at the Hillingdon Cycling Circuit in Hayes, London, Minet Ladies offer coaching to help women develop their racing skills, and maintenance help on Friday afternoon, from 12pm – 4pm. Sessions are only £2.50 and they’ll even lend you a bike and helmet if you need one.
Sunday Girls Road Club – Sunday Girls aim to provide rides for the ladies of Hull and East Yorkshire, they cater for everyone from beginners to experienced riders. Saturday rides are 25-30 miles at 12-14mph, and Sunday rides are 40-70 miles and faster or hillier.
If you’re looking for a club, and these aren’t local – take a look at the British Cycling club finder and select your region.
Find out more about Michelle Arthurs Brennan, the author of this piece here.
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