The Future of Women's Cycling
This Friday (8th March) is international women's day! So to celebrate we'd like to imagine where we think women's cycling is heading, but first a little history:
In the 1890's the bicycle became a symbol of freedom as the women's rights and cycling movements collided. Since then many incredible women have done amazing things on bikes. Look up Beryl Burton, Alfonsina Strada, Marguerite Wilson, Connie Carpenter-Phinney or Jeannie Longo. From a quick glance over the bio of any of these women you'll quickly learn that women have be present and smashing the cycling game for a long time.
So why has cycling ended up being perceived as a male dominated sport. The media coverage is populated by skinny men in lycra and local clubs are filled with men who are often guilty of mistaking a Sunday spin for a Tour de France stage. However, recently things have started to shift. From HSBC's 1 in a million campaign to the success of the women's specific bike brand Liv, women's cycling is on the rise! So what's next in the world of women's cycling both for the pro-peloton and at an amateur level?
Equal pay - Why not? Professional female athlete put just as much effort and time into training and racing as their male counterparts. Unequal pay to the same degree would not be tolerated in any other profession outside of professional sport so why are athletes forced to.
More sponsorship - On the topic of money we hope to see a rise in sponsors signing up to support female-only or mixed teams. A few sponsors are already started to pick up on this with Polish-based shoe retailer, CCC, picking up both the CCC men's team and CCC-Liv women's team for the 2019 season. However, earlier this year the DROPS women's team were left fighting for funds as their title sponsor pulled out at the end of a successful 2018 season making their 2019 season uncertain. The team was forced to take to social media and luckily raised the funds from 200 generous supporters online.
More equal race distances and stage races - Just this week news broke that a women's race had to be paused as the peloton caught up with the men's race. It was believed that a 10 minute gap between the races would be enough but this soon turned out to be wrong. This kind of occurrence is unfortunate for the female racers as the stopping and restarting can give riders who were struggling an enormous advantage as they are able to take a break in a race that normally would not have slowed down for anyone. Despite the annoyances of this event what it does prove though is that the women given the rights chances can perform just as well as the men. In sports such as ultra-running women often come head to head with their male competitors for the top spots with women often pipping the men to the line. Imagine what women could achieve if they could train and compete in events that equaled in distance and elevation to the men's. Alternatively in some instances the men's races should be shortened to equal the women's. Shorter more aggressive racing can be much more exciting to watch and will attract a wider audience than the die hard cycling fans that glue themselves to the sofa to watch the monotonous 21 stages and 3,500km of the Tour de France.
Better media coverage - If you tell someone you do bicycle racing the first thing they will ask is probably something like; "Oh, are you gonna do the Tour de France one day?", and if you are a women this is particularly annoying since no such race exists for women...yet. However, the reason for this is that it is probably the most visible cycling event aside from the Olympics. Men's cycling and track cycling is also pretty easy to come by if you look out for it. EuroSport is particularly good for watching most the the men's road season including the Classics and Grand Tours. Women's cycling is not so easy to come by. Few races offer full women's race coverage and even when they do, in the UK at least, it is often hidden away on the internet with poor or non existent commentary.
Goodbye podium girls - Both men's and women's races seem to think that after hours of tough suffering and battling out on the road the perfect ending is to get up on a podium and be flanked by some perfectly preened podium girls. Why? Because tradition that's why! Thankfully in some races this is now starting to change. Organisers are bringing in local children or inspirational people to replace the outdated podium girls. A much more suitable alternative for modern day racing.
More clubs welcoming women - In UoNCC we are proud to say we welcome both male and female riders of all abilities and do our best to make sure everyone feels included. From running beginners rides with a strict no drop policy to hosting women's rides at the pace of the slowest rider. We encourage women to give racing a go and have a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the local racing scene. We also promote local women's only events such as training sessions and bike maintenance teaching. In the future we think all clubs should be welcoming women like this. Who knows this may even encourage more men to bite the bullet and give it a go to, women aren't the only ones who can feel intimidated.
More women's cat 4 only or GoRide racing - Race schedules that include women often lump them all together in an lovely E/1/2/3/4 race. This level of racing can be intimidating to even experienced riders so imagine what it feels like to jump right in as a newbie. By introducing cat 4 only races or even some GoRide introductory races you can help more women gain the confidence and skills they need to have to have an enjoyable race career.
Equal prize money - This issue is particularly apparent in time trials and hill climb events where male and female riders ride identical distances yet the prize money is often considerably lower for women. One argument is that the women's fields are often smaller therefore there is less competition. However, the level of competition within the women's races are often just as high and with such small prize funds on offer there is little incentive for larger numbers to compete. Not only would equal prize funds address another inequality in cycling but it may also encourage better turn out at races.
Bike shops better educated to help women - Going to a bike shop whether to looking to buy or visiting the workshop can be a daunting task. Traditionally bike shops can be very elitist and make some one just getting to grips with the sport feel a little unwelcome. Many shops are now turning this on it's head. Bike shop staff are trained to be far more welcoming and enthusiastic towards all abilities of cyclist coming through their doors. Not only does this allow more women to get the right kit for their purpose it also empowers them to learn more about basic bike maintenance. By running additional workshops and having welcoming ambassadors to represent them customers can create happy and long lasting relationships with their local bike shops.
Less women's specific bikes and more women's specific bikes - Now this last point is a little conflicting but hear me out. While some brands, like Liv and Canyon, are championing bikes made specifically for women others like Specialized are moving away from this and back towards the "unisex" models. These "unisex" models instead focus on fitting the finishing kit to the individual. We believe that both these movements are great for women's cycling! After all we are all different shapes and sizes and this divide in the brands simply means more choice in geometry for us. Our advice would be when you are looking for a new bike try as many brands and models as possible and don't be afraid to chop and change between different finishing kits. There's a bike for everyone somewhere!
What do you think? Do you agree with our predictions? Have we missed anything? Get involved in the comments below.
Happy International Women's Day from UoNCC, here's to the future of women's cycling!