Inspiring riders: Alison Lewis #OneInAMillion

British Cycling #oneinamillion - Tess Agnew fitness blogger

Look anywhere in the media, at cycling events, on the roads, or at bike parks and races, and you’ll see the gender inequality still present in cycling. According to research from British Cycling, two-thirds of frequent cyclists in the UK are men. More than six in ten women (64%) cite lack of confidence riding on the roads, with a similar number claiming that infrastructure (63%) and driver behaviour (66%) doesn’t make them feel safe.

This makes me feel really lucky that I learnt to ride on the road at primary school, and that my Dad used to take me out on the roads as a kid. For me, cycling is transport first and foremost.

I ride my bike every day to get around, and then also for fun around that. Personally I can’t do much about poor cycling infrastructure, or dangerous driver behaviour, but I can ride the roads confidently which means I get to enjoy a whole side of life that those 64% of women don’t.

I get the cycle commute that gives me life daily, whether one mile or 20. It wakes me up, gets my heart pumping and gets me around Brighton and beyond way faster than the cars stuck at standstill ever will.

I get the weekend long rides, or the option to (and pleasure of) taking the scenic route instead of the train just because I can. That feeling of freedom when you’re on a bike – it’s magic, and more of us need to feel it!

British Cycling want to get one million more women cycling by 2020.

The women’s strategy was launched in 2013 when just 525,000 women were cycling regularly. One thing that’s made a huge impact is the organisation’s women-only rides, HSBC Breeze. More than 2,000 trained volunteer Breeze Champions lead women-only rides across the country.

In 2017-2018 over 51,000 places were filled on those rides – an increase of 8% on the previous year, making it one of the most successful years since the start of the programme. I’m excited to be doing my Breeze Champion training next month so I can help lead rides in my area. Which leads me to introduce you to a real-life #oneinamillion:

Introducing the biggest champion for women’s cycling I’ve ever met: Alison Lewis.

Alison Lewis #oneinamillion - British Cycling - Tess Agnew fitness blogger

For those of you not in the know, this woman is an absolute powerhouse for breaking down barriers and getting more women on bikes. She never stops.

Her journey started much like mine, during childhood, and she rides to keep fit and healthy, get out in the countryside and experience new places, but she got into coaching after a friend had an accident:

“After a friend came off her bike whilst out with me, and broke her collarbone about eight years ago, I started to learn how to help others with their cycling,” she said.
 
“First I put myself through the Bikeability Instructor qualification, then I became a coach with Preston Park Youth Cycling Club (PPYCC), and from there I became a Breeze Champion and took my coaching to higher levels. Then I put myself forward to be on the Committee of Brighton Mitre Cycle Club (BMCC) as their first ever Women’s Membership Secretary, and I’ve become rather obsessed with getting more women to cycle more, at all levels.”
Alison Lewis #oneinamillion - British Cycling - Tess Agnew fitness blogger

As well as being an inspiring, badass female cyclist not afraid to try her hand at anything new (current obsession: cyclocross, which she recently came 2nd overall in Vet 50), she leads rides, organises womens-specific coaching (I’ll blog the wicked women’s novice race we had last week soon),  and heads up the BMCC Women’s Facebook group, always giving up her time whether online or in person.

“When I joined Brighton Mitre Cycle Club five years ago, there were just four women in the club, and I couldn’t join the weekly club rides because I wasn’t fast enough,” she said.

“I was determined that my local cycle club should be more inclusive of me, and other women (as well as men) like me. So, I went to the AGM and persuaded the club to have me on the Committee as the first ever Women’s Membership Development Officer.

From there, I created fortnightly Sunday rides at accessible paces, a pool of female and male ride leaders for the Sunday rides, a separate women’s Facebook group, and then, when there were enough female members to have the numbers, Brighton Mitre Women’s activities, trips, coaching sessions, and socials.
 
There are now 46 female members of the club, which is 17% of the total club membership, higher than the national cycle club average of 10%.”
Brighton Mitre women - Alison Lewis - Tess Agnew fitness blogger

Don’t you think that’s amazing?

PS – if you’re a female cyclist in Brighton or surrounding, come and be part of our gang! New members get three months’ FREE and even then it’s only £20 a year to join…

 

When British Cycling launched its #OneInAMillion campaign last month the first person I knew I wanted to write about was Alison.

It’s women like her that inspire and enable more women to ride. She makes me want to ride my bike more, and try new types of cycling – I’m having a go at racing this year (let’s get the marathon out of the way first though, eh?), did my first time trial last year, and will 100% be getting on the cyclo-cross train next season!

Alison Lewis #oneinamillion - British Cycling - Tess Agnew fitness blogger

Not only that, she’s made me want to help others too, which is why I’ve finally signed up to become a Breeze Champion, so I can help her lead rides in our wonderful city.

“I’ve been a Breeze Champion since 2012,” she says. “I love the way Breeze rides encourage women to get on their bikes, find new routes (and cycling friendly cafes), make new friends, and improve their physical and mental health. It also feeds more ambitious women through to cycle clubs and becoming ‘cyclists’ rather than someone who rides a bike.
 
“I had to go to Southampton to do my training as a Breeze Champion. I’m delighted there’s a training course for Breeze Champions in Brighton on 30th March 2019, and looking forward to having more Champions near me to help offer a wider variety and number of Breeze rides locally. Demand for Breeze rides here is now much higher than I can cope with on my own.”

ICYMI, watch the video we made with Active Sussex and ThisGirlCan when I first met Alison on a Breeze ride in 2017:

So what can we do to get more women on bikes?

What are the barriers stopping more women cycling, and how can we overcome these? We might not be able to personally do anything about the infrastructure or bad driver behaviour but we can improve our own skills and confidence by getting along to women-only rides if that’s what we need to get started.
There’s much debate about whether women-only rides and events only serve to further segregate genders but for many, that judgement-free, inclusive and welcoming space is just what you need to feel comfortable enough to even turn up.
 
“Women get intimated by turning up for a group ride if there are no women there, and / or everyone is in tight Lycra on expensive looking bikes, talking technical bike talk,” Alison adds. “Having women only or female friendly group rides where the leaders are dressed in ‘normal’ clothes, on less sporty bikes, and chat to newcomers about less technical stuff like cafe stops and nice places to go on a bike helps with this.
 
“Also, many women (as well as men) don’t know the basics of how to ride their bike well and safely. Things like how to safely descend a hill, how to ride one handed and look behind, how to use the gears. This means cycling can feel wobbly or harder work than it need be. Women-only coaching sessions really help with this. 
I’ve seen so many increase their confidence as well as skills through being coached on the basics, it keeps me motivated to continue offering the coaching that I do. I never seem to run out of demand for it!”
For tips and advice on how to get into cycling visit British Cycling’s Women’s Hub or ThisGirlCan’s Cycling page
And if you’re in Brighton come and join BMCC and help us add to our female army 🙂
Follow: