I’m really lucky that I learnt to ride my bike on the road at primary school. I did my Cycling Proficiency in year six and my Dad would take me out on the road on the weekends, putting the skills to practice and building my confidence (there’s only so many cones you can dodge in the playground before you just have to get out and do the real thing).
But that’s not the case for all girls.
Recent research from British Cycling shows that two-thirds of frequent cyclists in the UK are men, with more than six in ten women (64%) cite lack of confidence riding on the roads. This is something that British Cycling are working to change, and programmes like HSBC Breeze are doing a great job in getting more adult women to ride their bikes (check out Alison’s story here), but to create a new generation of female cyclists, we need to start in the playground like I did.
Closing the gender gap from the ground up
On that note, let me introduce Lucy Dance, my next #OneInAMillion superstar. Longstanding Bike It Officer at sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, she’s on a crusade to close the gender gap in cycling from the ground up – visiting schools to encourage children, young people and families to ride their bikes.
If ever there was a champion for cycling as a mode of transport, Lucy is it.
Often found carting the weight of a small house around on her bike to different schools, panniers stuffed with bike locks, refreshments, accessories, laptop, paperwork, helmets – you name it, she’s lugging it around on the back of her bike. For Lucy, cycling is a mode of transport first and foremost, and is something she’s loved since she was a child.
Her mission is to make it accessible for the hundreds of children she works with across Brighton, and I’m proud to help her with a small part of that.
“Most of my work is in primary schools and I’ve noticed that girls tend to stop cycling as they get to the last year or two of primary school,” she says.
“I’ve run bike clubs and girls only sessions to give the girls space to ride, increase their confidence and explore what can keep them riding a bike as they transition to secondary school.”
Building confidence with Girls Bike Clubs
I work with Lucy and another bike trainer / awesome racer Amy to run one of these after-school bike clubs for girls at Blatchington Mill High School in Hove. It’s a new club that’s doing well and it’s hopefully one of many across the county.
This project gives me all the feels. I just love seeing the progression of the girls in skills and confidence, and the smiles on their faces as they grow each week. Last week I taught a girl to do a moving mount (where you push the pedal down, scoot along and throw your leg over whilst moving), and the squeal of delight in her voice when she did it for the first time made my heart sing. #proud.
“I’m passionate about getting more girls cycling,” says Lucy. “At one school, over 95% of the students who cycled were boys so I ran a focus group with some girls to find out why they didn’t ride to school. I found that the girls felt under confident and some didn’t have the skills and equipment to ride.
“One girl said she rides to school with some boys but as soon as she gets to the bike shed the boys won’t talk to her anymore. She said if she wasn’t so confident she would have given up cycling to school altogether.
(Can you imagine how sad that would’ve been? To give up something you love because of the way you thought others perceived you? This is why we need more bike clubs like the one we run at Blatch.)
Great to see so many of students at our first all girls cycling group! @sustrans @SustransSE @FitBits_ pic.twitter.com/gXE9QsXloR
— Blatchington Mill (@BlatchMill) October 18, 2018
“We decided to set up a girls’ bike club to increase their confidence and skills on a bike to try and readdress this balance.” Lucy adds.
“The club started with very mixed abilities of riders as some of the girls had never ridden on two wheels before. The girls can now all ride and have been attending weekly playground sessions where they’re learning skills and practicing their riding and their confidence has really developed.
“We have plans to take them out on bike rides when they’re ready in the spring and summer.”
Breaking down barriers
British Cycling’s research shows lack of confidence as one of the main barriers to getting more women to ride, but that’s not the only reason for the teenage girls we’re working with at Blatch.
“One of the main barriers for the girls in the bike club is that the girls don’t own bikes,” adds Lucy. “We were really lucky to be donated some bikes from a charity for the girls to use. Another big barrier is that the girls don’t want to be seen on a bike by other students at school as they don’t feel confident enough yet.
“So we’ve addressed this by having the bike club on a hidden playground and we’ll be moving to a more visible spot once all the girls are feeling more confident.
“Other barriers can be not wanting to wear a helmet (but parents/carers have other ideas), not liking to get sweaty, body image, how to carry all their school stuff on a bike and safety on the roads,” she adds.
Well we’ve all been there with the body image issues – I know I certainly did, at school. Read more about my body confidence issues as a teenager. Something that Lucy thinks will help (and something I wish I’d had more of at school), is talking openly about these fears with others:
“I think the first step to overcoming these barriers is having conversations, realising we’re not alone as others are experiencing the same barriers, and then exploring options that work for each person.
“For confidence on the bike this could include looking at routes on smaller roads and through parks, lending out some panniers, looking at shower and locker options, getting some training or joining a bike club.”
It’s because of Lucy that I’m involved with great projects like the Blatch school bike club, and the more I get to know her the more I realise that her love for the wheels is so similar to mine…
“My cycle commute changed my life”
“I loved cycling as a child and remember going on adventures with my Dad and brother,” Lucy says. “We’d pack our roller boots and cycle down to the river. Like a lot of girls I didn’t cycle as much in my teens or early 20s but when I got a bike on the Cycle to Work Scheme I started cycling an eight mile round trip to work with a friend which kept me motivated.
It really changed my life as I got fitter and stronger, I ate and slept better and it was my best bit of the day. I then started cycling with the Bike Train and loved cycling in a group with music as a bit of a protest about the poor cycling infrastructure.
“Riding my bike makes me feel amazing. I love the feeling of pedalling and powering my own movement.
“I also love cycling down hills, standing up with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. I often make my best decisions when I’m on my bike and I feel a lot more positive.”
Cycling is really good for my physical and mental health. I’m also passionate about reducing my carbon footprint and really believe in the saying ‘changing the world, one bike at a time’.”
“I don’t really call myself a cyclist – I just have little adventures every day”
Some people are ‘cyclists’, and some people are just people who ride bikes. I think the difference between places like the UK and the Netherlands is that over there, the infrastructure and education is great – everyone just rides bikes from a very young age.
In the UK, we ride bikes as children, but then lose it as we grow into adults. We look at cycling as a sport, or activity to do rather than for it to become part of our every day transport and lifestyle.
“I’m an A to B bike rider and don’t really call myself a cyclist, I just ride my bike and have little adventures every day,” says Lucy. “I would really like to ride the Downs Link from Guildford to Shoreham and I’ve got a bit of an urge to try mountain biking on the Downs.
“I’d love to join a beginners women’s mountain bike club, and I would really love to take a group of girls on a bike camp. We’d cycle to our camp spot, cook dinner over the fire and explore the local area to increase confidence and develop a sense of adventure in the girls.”
Ahhhh, sounds just PERFECT, don’t you think? These are the kind of adventures that ignite that sense of fun and freedom that cycling brings to me. We need more people like Lucy in our schools inspiring and enabling more young girls and boys to get on their bikes and change the way we live as adults.
I hope you can all agree how much of a #oneinamillion Lucy is, and how much she does to get more girls (and boys) cycling here in our wonderful city. Follow Lucy on Twitter, and find out more about the great work that Sustrans do on their website, including looking after the National Cycle Network, over 16,000 miles of traffic-free, signed routes for cycling, walking and exploring outdoors.