We are super proud of Jen for being nominated for the 2018 Cycling UK’s list of top 100 women who are inspiring and giving confidence to other women to get out and ride bikes.

The list this year focused on those women who are ‘breaking the mold’. Those women who inspire and encourage others to cycle, despite the gender gap and those who refuse to be intimidated by it. There are some very big names on the list including Anna GlowinskiAneela McKenna, Karen Darke, Rachel Walker and Rickie Cotter. There are also names of grassroots women who are out there running the mechanics classes, guiding or leading rides, going into schools to talk to girls and overall giving confidence to others. There are also thousands of other women all over the world who deserve to be on this list!

The names were released at the start of Cycling UK’s month-long Women’s Festival of Cycling, marking 100 years since women were given the right to vote. It kicked off with an event aptly named ‘From Bloomers to Baggies and Beyond’ bring together the 100 women on the list together with special guests. The theme was of cycle liberation from the suffragettes to the present day. Jen attended the event which started with a fantastically warm, open and honest talk by Aneela Mckenna, co-partner of Go Where Scotland, a mountain bike guide and the first black and ethnic minority woman to have gained an MTB leader award. She moved everyone in the room with her words, and set the scene for the day, one of cooperation, resilience, optimism and passionate debate. Anna Glowinski, lifelong awesome cyclist and presenter of the Cycle Show also gave a heart-warming talk and presented the women from the list with a rosette and card.

Aneela talked about how bikes were a strong symbol of liberation for the women 100 years ago. Prior to this they were expected to stay indoors and travel by carriage, horseback or foot at a leisurely pace, and most likely supervised. With the introduction of accessible bicycles in the late 19th Century, the opportunity opened for women to have a mode of transport and to be independent. Clothing was an issue until the drop bar and bloomers came into play. Brave were those first women who dared to ride out in bloomers!

The bike provided a new opportunity to carry the wave of the suffragette movement, quite literally women could ride into the next village and pass on the word. The bicycle was a symbol of freedom. A symbol of independence. Not much has changed, as most women today ride a bike for this very purpose.

Susan B. Anthony (Suffragette)

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by me on a wheel……. the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”

Unfortunately, there is still a gender gap in cycling down to grassroots level and this was a large part of the discussion at the event on Saturday. Speaker and researcher Tiffany Lam gave a fascinating talk about how prejudice runs deep in at the planning level and language used in a bias towards men. She called for more female planners, more involvement at a base level to design cycle ways and new housing developments with more equality. But there are many reasons why women are less likely to ride than men.

Jen speaks from her experience in the shop and hosting ladies only rides for the last 4 years:

“I have spoken to lots of different women of all ages to ask what the hurdles are. I am a mother myself and I work full time, I know the difficulties. A big factor is time, we have to work, get the kids to get to school, make tea, sort uniforms, cubs and brownie run etc. Finding time to slot in a ride between all this is difficult. For mothers we also have the guilt that comes with leaving the kids, not doing a task that needs to be done and prioritising ourselves. This doesn’t come easily.

Confidence is another factor which I have seen play out at all ages and all styles of riding. Confidence runs all on many levels. Women might not be confident in their appearance, this can be the clothes they are wearing, they may worry whether they will fit in, will they look too fat? They are not sure what to wear. They also lack confidence in bike maintenance, they might not ride too far for fear of a puncture or a mechanical.

They might not be confident to actually sit on a bike as it might have been years, they might be fearful of joining a group, what if I can’t keep up? “I will hold you back”.

They worry about their fitness, will I make it?! Can I ride that far?

Their ability, will the trail be too difficult?

Many women are intimidated to start riding in a group of men.

Walking into a bike shop to start the process off can be very intimidating and women might not even get that far.

There are many more reasons specific to each of us, but these ones are common themes that I have come across.

I’d like to change this.

To tackle this, we already hold ladies only maintenance classes to try to boost confidence to change a puncture, to know when your bike needs fixing. We also hold ladies only rides, for all abilities off road.

We have a facebook group where women can meet and arrange a ride together. Ladies only rides do have a strong sense of support. All the ladies are there to have fun, to support each other, to encourage and inspire confidence to each and everyone of the women on the ride, regardless of what they are riding, wearing or what age they are. We have had a range of women on our rides from 11 years to 70 years, they seem to have equally enjoyed them!”

One of the anecdotes at the event on Saturday described a woman who was too nervous to ride from her own house, so she drove a few miles away then started the ride from there. With some encouragement she one day started from her house. Yes, curtains twitched, and people talked. But within a few weeks her female neighbours started riding their bikes. If one woman sees another woman on a bike, it gives permission, acceptance. Let’s get more women on bikes, let’s keep the cycle liberation rolling until equality is reached. This particular speaker wore a hijab, there may be elements of religion and cultural differences, but the gender gap continues to transcend these. There is still a way to go, both in this country and around the world.

Research shows that men are three times more likely to get out on their bikes, and will likely do four times as many miles. Jen is incredibly passionate about equality and spreading confidence in women and girls by facilitating a safe space to ride though Ride Bikes, whether women are joining for their first ride or their 100th, no one gets left behind.

She was “blown away” by the nomination to the list and hopes it sends the message to more women and girls that whatever your fitness, background, age you can still come out and ride a bike. Jen is also an ambassador for Wonderful Wild Women, a community born in South Lakes but is quickly making it’s mark around the world. Find Wonderful Wild Women on social media, or on the website to join in rides, but also wild swims, walks, runs and many other activities getting us outside.

Jen says:

“I would love it if this provided an opportunity to reach more women wanting to give cycling a go and provide the inspiration to do so. My hope is that you give yourself permission. Permission to have quality time to yourself, you deserve it and will be happier, healthier and make great friends along the ride.

Call the shop, look us up on facebook, send me an email, pop in, have a chat, let’s chat about what is possible. It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear. Come on your own, bring a friend, bring your mum. You will be able to do it and you won’t hold anyone up!

Strip away all of the anxieties and it’s the simple act of riding a bike that is important, the freedom and the liberation it can give you. For 20 minutes, for a couple of hours, whatever, let’s give it a go.”

Next ride is on Monday 6th August at 5.30pm around Torver and Coniston. The ride will last 2 hours or so and is suitable for all ages and all off road bikes, ebikes, cross bikes, mountain bikes. Very gentle pace on cycle paths. Email jen@ridebikes.co.uk or call 01229 585025 to book a place. Places are limited so you must reserve a place. The ride is a free event.

To find out more:

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Facebook: Wonderful Wild Women

Website: www.ridebikes.co.uk

Website: www.wonderfulwildwomen.co.uk