Before setting up Cycle Like a Girl, I knew very little about cycling other than how to pedal. What I did know, was that I felt out of place in bike shops, lacked the confidence to ride on roads and was too nervous to make connections with the cycling community. As a non-driver, cycling was my only option for commuting to work, getting to shops and socialising. I was continually put off asking for advice in shops as they were invariably male-dominated, and I felt intensely patronised or downright stupid for asking how to use my gears. I also knew that I was not alone. Talking to other friends who were bike owners, their bikes were often left un-ridden with similar fears to my own. Like me, they wanted to use their bikes more, both as a sustainable method of transport and as a way of keeping fit, but it felt difficult due to an endless list of both visible and invisible barriers.
I eventually felt compelled to set up the group not because I was obsessed with cycling, but because it was my only transport option, and the most sustainable one at that. Luckily, my best friend knew a lot more about bikes, and joined me in setting up the group. She told me about women-centred groups like Velociposse, who run social rides and support women to ride competitively. We also knew that our local council also had a fair amount on offer for cyclists, with an increasing investment in Active Travel through the expansion of cycle paths and city bike hire schemes. Against the backdrop of Covid, we also notice an increased interest in cycling. It felt like the right time to set something up where we saw a massive gap in our local area and knew there would be interest.
Over one year in to running Cycle Like a Girl and I am still surprised every time we run a group ride or event and people show up keen to learn more. Whilst we understood there to be a need for a women-centred space for cycling in the local community, we did not think it would be as simple as providing a regular space for everyone to turn up and cycle. It has also been fantastic to have backing and recognition from others in the local community, further emphasising the need for local initiatives to address a range of social and environmental issues. We have worked with a local café to host a bike maintenance event, partnered with a local shopping centre to provide a safe space to practice bike handling skills and donated money from our events to a local cycling-focused charities.
At its heart, Cycle Like a Girl has always been a lot more than about cycling. We are a group that aims to bring like-minded people together and make positive steps towards representation in cycling and mitigating the impact of climate change through championing sustainable transport. One year in, we still have several goals for the group and areas that we would like to branch into, but we feel confident that community-led groups like ours are the future.
Never forget that your biggest asset as an initiative is your local community. We have always felt overwhelmed by the support of our little group, most of whom were strangers before we started. The women who ride with us every week are more than just ‘members’- they the very people that shape our activity. They have countless stories to tell about their cycling experiences, whether that’s cycling to Land’s End to John O’Groats with limited bike packing experience or buying an electric bike as a retirement gift, there is so much to learn from the people who make up our community. They have also been a massive support in facilitating the group, with one of our members giving up their time for free to teach bike skills and maintenance. We have also received support from local cafes and venues letting us use their spaces for free to host events. Initially, this was a massive surprise to us, but just emphasised just how much our local area want to support community initiatives.
However, as a new organisation which was set up in the middle of a global pandemic, funding has certainly been a challenge and it has been difficult to even know where to start with securing funding as a community-based project. We are very fortunate that we have been able to put some of our own money into the organisation, but this is not ideal especially when we know that pots of money exist within councils and big companies to support initiatives like ours. We have been unable to cover expenses like wider advertising within the community and group ride insurance but hope that this will come. We have recently registered as a Community Interest Company, which we recommend reading up on, to allow us to start bidding for funding, but we know that this status won’t guarantee anything.
When we started Cycle Like a Girl, we knew that our core mission was to empower others to use their bikes more regularly and to feel confident whilst out on roads. Whilst we believe we have achieved this; we always feel like there is so much more we could do to raise our profile and encourage others to join. For example, we are a person of colour led group, and we want to do more to engage with the local community and council to fully show representation in cycling. We also understand that there are many barriers to cycling, including mental, physical and economic, that we feel we could be doing more to address. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed when running a community organisation to feel like you could be doing more, but I think that it’s an important reminder that you will not solve all the issues, many systemic, that you set out to address. Having a ‘small’ impact on your local community is more than could have been achieved if you didn’t make the leap to set up a group in the first place. Action can inspire action, and we should have faith in the power of collective good that there are others around the world making also making that same ‘small’ impact on their local communities.
Feedback from new riders and workshop participants.