During the first lockdown in the UK in 2020 the only exercise we were able to do outside was walking and cycling and so this meant a great many people got their rusty old bike out of the shed or splurged some cash that they couldn’t spend in non-essential shops on a new bike. The lack of traffic on the roads as everyone stayed at home was also a great boost for getting new people out on bikes. The great weather of spring 2020 also helped. Fast forward to the latter part of 2020 onwards when restrictions were eased, then tightened, then eased again, sounds exhausting and it was! But a very pleasing number of riders carried on this healthy hobby of ours.
Also excellent to see was the amount of women riders taking up riding, returning to riding or inspiring others to ride. Group rides were once again allowed and women riders around the country began to organise group rides without the strict rules of male dominated, predominantly road-based clubs. Pictures were posted on social media of smiling riders riding a huge assortment of bikes, wearing whatever they wanted rather than convention dictated “cycling” uniforms of lycra etc and it was so refreshing to see. Since then things have moved on quickly and many more groups have started and are now visiting other groups to share adventures out on the bike.
One such person who organises the Off Road Club is Nic C (she/her)…. And I contacted her to get a bit more background about the group and how things are going, this is what she had to say…
Who started the club, what’s the idea behind it?
We started the group because we wanted to find rad women to ride off road with. Our local bike shop, The Woods Cyclery, ran group rides but we wanted a women led space to build our confidence on two wheels. The initial idea was to run group rides but now, after realising how necessary the space is for women to build confidence, we have some exciting goals, beyond group rides, that we want to work towards.
Our mission is to build confidence and community on two wheels.
Our goals are
To provide practical support and encouragement for folks starting their own community-led, inclusive bike groups.
To link into a network of community-led cycling groups that work together in creating a new normal for non-competitive group rides.
What sort of rider turns up to your rides, where are you based, what sort of terrain/difficulty do you cater for?
We have all kinds of people show up to our rides. Women over 60, women under 20, women who haven’t ridden a bike for 3 years, women who are training for the Silk Road Mountain Bike Race. We extensively document our rides in order to show women who are yet to join that it is a safe, welcoming space. We have a blast getting to know women from all generations, backgrounds and walks of life. We had 3 generations join a ride once- that was pretty special.
The terrain in the New Forest is brilliant for beginners. Over 100 miles of New Forest signposted tracks and then a whole host of bridleways and single track for folks who want to go rogue. We know we are biased but we can’t think of a better place to try riding off road for the first time.
What would you say was the biggest hurdle to women taking up bike riding?
This is such an important conversation so thanks very much for asking the question. There are so many! However, instead of focusing on the systemic hurdles the patriarchy upholds, I believe it would be more productive for your male readership to learn what they can do to remove blockers to help women get into cycling.
Amplify women cycling content. See a video of a woman shredding? Share it and send it to your mate who you know would love riding but just needs a nudge.
Financially support women riders. Giving the gift of a (Gravel) bike to a loved one is probably the best gift of all time (we know we are biased). Buy your partner a puncture repair kit, a stem bag or a new water bottle. All of these material gestures are really solid ways to get anyone excited about riding.
Offer child care. So many women DM us to say they would love to join a ride but they can’t because they have to take care of children. Offering to take care of children so you can free a woman up to go on a spin is an incredible act of support to help get women riding.
Plan fun rides. A ‘go anywhere’ gravel bike opens up part of the countryside that some people never knew existed. Plan rides that demonstrate the beauty of the landscape, off road routes are the perfect tonic for someone who might be a bit nervy cycling with cars.
Given the massive potential market of women cyclists do you think the cycle industry is doing enough to attract new women riders?
Again, many thanks for asking this question.
I work in retail and one of the biggest questions I have is why aren’t brands thinking about women as literally 50% of the market. It just doesn’t make business sense to not think about women when you’re retailing. I can only speak about non-competitive cycling but bike shops that don’t stock women clothing lines, or have any women staff, are missing some really easy opportunities to sell more product.
There are bike shops doing excellent things. A friend of mine recently said she had the best time in Primera bike shop Poole when buying a saddle. The male shop assistant was incredibly aware of the needs of the female anatomy and took loads of time-sharing advice and recommending a woman specific saddle. More of this please.
In a recent poll on the UKgravelCo IG page the overwhelming vote was that women (and any beginner rider) feel reluctant to visit their local bike shop for fear of being patronised or intimidated. What message would you send to potential new riders who like the idea and look of riding but are unsure of where to start or ask advice & what can bike shops do to improve their image?
This is such a big question.
Diversify your teams. Hire women. Folks feel comfortable talking to people that look like them. Women will buy more from other women. The more diversity you have in your team, the broader your customer base will be.
Set up a mechanic internship for women. Women who learn to fix bikes will encourage more women to buy and ride bikes. Excellent allyship, diversify your customer base and higher bike sales. It really is a win win.
Consult your women customers. What do they want to see? What would make them feel more comfortable? As you have shown, social media makes gathering feedback so easy.
Saddle libraries. Women don’t hate riding, they hate being uncomfortable. Normalise talking about soft tissue and lean into the fact that women need specific saddles.
We have 3 guides on our instagram account that make it easy for people to find excellent riders to follow, women owned businesses and local community rides. Taking a look through them will help women to find mechanics and resources that will show even the most nervous of riders that this is a space for them!
How do you see the New Forest off road club evolving and If there is someone reading this now who wants to start their own group how should they go about it and what things should they look out for?
Just start it! We didn’t know what we were doing when we started and we are still working it out. You can do the same. We are proud to be a ramshackled group of folks who love being on two wheels and out in the forest. We have a patriarchy to shred and we need as many hands on deck as possible so just start it!
Some actual tips though:
Get a bunch of people you know together for a ride and go from there.
Start off small if you are nervous to begin with, even a 3 mile bike ride is still a group ride.
Take loads of photos of your rides. Be the best ally you can be and use your skills and expertise to facilitate a space where people who don’t look like you, come and gain confidence on two wheels. Next step is to take loads of photos of the people that are joining your rides and put them all over the internet so you can show the world that 1) cycling is great and 2) everyone wants to do it, they just need a gentle nudge.
As for how we see the group evolving, we want to continue facilitating women building confidence on two wheels. We have plans for mechanic sessions, bivvy camp outs, ride leadership skill training, allyship and coalition courses. We have high hopes that one day, there will be a women led group ride within an hour’s ride of everyone in the country. Everyone here knows that riding a bike is the best thing ever, we all need to work together to make sure everyone gets to know the joy that comes with being on two wheels.
How should riders get in touch with you to find out more?
Follow us on the gram and turn on notifications so you never miss a ride! ✌🏻
the New Forest off road club can be found on instagram here
Thanks Nic for taking the time to answer the questions, it’s really inspiring to see lots more riders out there having fun and fun is what it’s all about. Long may it continue.