An ambitious plan to try to get a million more women riding bikes by 2020 was announced in the UK today.
The strategy, spearheaded by British Cycling (BC) the sport’s national governing body, aims to get more women involved in racing or recreational riding such as cycling to work or taking part in mass participation events, volunteering and also on to the BC board.
Britain now boasts a rich stream of top female cyclists including Becky James and Jess Varnish who joined Culture Secretary Maria Miller at the central London launch.
James, a double world champion, said: “ I think it has a lot to do with the kit and how women look on the bike and not wanting to put lycra on – but it does not have to be like that.
“You do not have to go in and be like us at elite level. You have got to start somewhere and just do it for fun.”
Varnish said: “If we can realise this ambition it will go a long way to refreshing cycling’s image so it is not seen as a sport only for men in lycra.”
BC admits the strategy will take time, campaigning and effort to take hold in a world where 30% of women say dangerous roads and the difficulty of safe cycling is a key barrier to them taking part.
Women having nobody to go with, a lack of time or knowledge about cycling equipment are other barriers.
The campaign will also try to reach out to women who have never fixed a puncture before in an effort to address the fact that membership is 85% male, BC said.
Traffic-free mass participation events such as Sky Ride and Breeze are seen as other ways to try to tackle the key challenges to getting women on their bikes.
Trying to make women part of the fabric of the community by recruiting more female coaches, volunteers and officials in to the sport is another plank of the strategy.
It will also see BC’s leadership become “more representative to recruit three board members as soon as possible,” a spokesman said.
Coaching sessions will be part of a grassroots focus to try to get women in to the sport and there was a pledge to attempt to influence more organisers to put on women’s events to run alongside men’s races.
There is also the power of role models.
British Cycling has four reigning world titles held by its female cyclists and athletes such as Dame Sarah Storey, Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke, Shanaze Reade have all helped to put British cycling on the map.
Describing the strategy as “exceedingly ambitious” deserving of “huge applause” Ms Miller said: “Such an ambitious approach is welcome as it is a going to encourage people to lead more active lives and to get involved in sport.”
BC board advisor Kristie Moore said: “I think what British Cycling is now doing is really nailing its flag to the mast. We are saying this is really significant. There is a demand and this is a huge opportunity.”