As kids we all loved cycling, but fast forward 20 years and few women still ride a bike. We see packs of men in Lycra everywhere but women are a minority in cycling clubs and on the roads.
Eltham GP Lisa Bendtsen, an enthusiastic cyclist, is concerned about the lack of women riders.
“I spend quite a bit of my time encouraging people to exercise. Women are surprisingly resistant to the idea of riding.”
Lisa believes that issues such as safety, Lycra clothing, confidence and not having someone to ride with deter women from getting on their bikes.
“The good thing about cycling is that you can do it up to when you are very, very old. From a longevity point of view, it’s a really good thing because it’s low impact.”
She says riding reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity, helps mental wellbeing, cardio-vascular fitness and boosts vitamin D levels. Safety issues are often the biggest obstacles for women. “Women by nature are more risk adverse than men.”
If there was better driver education and a metre buffer between cars and cyclists, it would encourage more women onto the roads, Lisa says.
Less technical speak
Lisa’s daughter Katrina, who works at the Melbourne Bicycle Centre in Clifton Hill, finds women customers are often put off by male assistants being too technical.
Both Lisa and Katrina are members of the Hawthorn Cycling Club, which supports women by offering trial memberships, skills sessions, female coaches, social rides and racing. Other clubs with good female participation include St Kilda, Brunswick, Blackburn and Warragul.
A late convert to cycling, Tina McCarthy is making up for lost time. When Tina realised that she was putting on weight, she decided to take out her old bike from the shed. She had no one to ride with so she started Wheel Women, which now has 200 riders.
Tina offers organised rides and skills programs such as how to change a tyre or navigate traffic in the city. The rides are kept really sociable and short at the start.
Women want experience and participation but not too much competition, Tina says. “We need to take away the pressure to achieve and be the hero on the bike.”
Short trips ideal
Marilyn Johnson, a cycling safety researcher at Monash University, would like to see more women riding to the shops or picking up children from school.
Short trips on a bike are often quicker than using a car, she points out. But she says we need to improve local infrastructure and provide more bike-parking facilities.
“We have a very strong sporting cycling culture and the proportion of people on bikes are mainly males in Lycra. We need to change that.”
Get ready to ride
- Choose a decent bike.
- Get a professional “bike fit”.
- Find a friend or group to ride with.
- Start with small goals, around 20-30 minutes.
- Plan your route.
- Learn to change a tyre or opt for RACV Bike Assist.
RACV supports cycling
RACV is involved in the Street Scene primary school road safety program and Melbourne Bike Share for short trips across inner Melbourne. It supports cyclists with Bike Assist.