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Oct 28, 2019

Get on track with women’s cycling

Fiona Bugler investigates the state of women’s cycling and explores opportunities for retailers to reach and engage with women

Cycling is a male dominated and from equal pay at the highest levels, to equal levels of participation, there’s a cycling gender gap.

Transport for London’s report from 2014 found that 20 per cent of men reported being regular cyclists, compared to eight per cent of women. At a professional level, the inequality between men and women is widely reported, with women’s pro teams not gaining sponsorship, for example, the announcement from One Pro Cycling that they would be unable to run a planned UCI Women’s team for the 2019 season due to lack of cash. On top of this there’s the perplexing question of the absence of a female Tour De France, particularly as endurance and longer distances are where women excel, as demonstrated by the recent outright win at the 2,500-mile Transcontinental Race by 24-year-old German cyclist Fiona Kolbinger.

Strava, the running and cycling tracking and social network app which sees athletes log 15 million activities a week, also reveals that women are running more than men, with a massive 66 per cent more uploads – 90 million uploads of running activity compared to men’s 50 million; but with cycling, the picture is almost a mirror image the other way round, with men accounting for 60 per cent more uploads (382 million compared to 234 million from women). In addition to the 2018 Strava figures, stats reveal that there are eight times more men cycling than women.

Female Groups

But things do seem to be changing. “Cycling is male dominated, but communities of women cyclists are growing,” says Philip Bingham, Managing Director of Velovixen (https://www.velovixen.com). “For decades men have dominated cycling, but as a brand and a community we’re seeing a passionate, enthusiastic group of women, willing to learn quick and share ideas, tips and knowledge, emerge. In Spring last year we set up a Facebook group, it quickly grew and we now have 4,000 active and engaged members.”

We Ride

It’s clear that many are seeing the potential and opportunity to grow women’s cycling. There’s a positive and proactive stance on cycling being taken by governing bodies. In 2013, off the back of 2012 Olympic enthusiasm, British Cycling launched its #WeRide strategy to get one million women cycling by 2020. By 2017 the campaign had influenced 723,000 women who weren’t cycling to get on their bikes. HSBC have backed British Cycling’s female only rides programme Breeze Ride, a brilliant initiative aimed at getting women started, with all women groups led by Breeze qualified group leaders, and with the message, #TogetherWeRide. In the 2017 report there were 150,000 female attendances at HSBC UK Breeze bike rides, and it continues to grow.

Don’t go Segment Chasing

So how do retailers and brands reach this growing market? Velovixen, which launched in 2012, understands what works for women, and what doesn’t. “Our community has shown us that women are far more pre-disposed to being open about what they need to learn, about asking questions, and they quickly put into action what they pick up. We’ve seen people go from absolute beginner to full blown skilled competitor in an ultra event in months,” Philip Bingham added.

Jenni Green, founder of women’s cycling club and hub, BIA Cylcing (https://biacycling.com), said: “Women quickly pick it all up. Being part of a group and working together is a big thing for women. It’s not all about heads-down chasing Strava segments. Our groups are relaxed with coffee and photo breaks. We’re launching a kids’ ride, where we get mums and kids to ride together.”

Offer Solutions for Real Women

As in many other realms, women will relate to women like them, real women tell the story – and address real-life problems. Recognising the need to make simple but vital tweaks to their female cycling products, Huub Design took on board advice from track cyclist Katie Archibald. When she started working with the brand she quickly pointed out the need for them to make changes to their chamois (the padding in shorts).

“After 30 years of cycling clothing designed for men, obvious things had been overlooked,” explains Head of Cycling Jacob Tipper. “In response to Katie’s insights, we immediately went to work to design the ideal chamois for women. Our biggest seller has been our own brand padded knickers. It’s a practical product that a woman can wear under jeans to get to and from work.”

Velovixen recognise who their customer is, as the image on their website shows ordinary women, of different ages, shapes and sizes modelling the best-selling pants!

Having a purpose

“Many of our customers are over 40. They’re women who’ve lived, been through things, and cycling can be transformative, the fulcrum around which improvements in life can rotate,” Bingham said. Green’s entire brand is based on this bigger purpose: “BIA is the Greek goddess of strength and power and raw energy. Cycling is an analogy in life. So often we think we ‘can’t’– but women are extremely capable, especially when we get together with other women of the same mindset.”

Growth areas

The growth in Sportives is helping to promote growth for women’s cycling. “The sportive market is continuing to grow and diversify, with the season getting longer and organisers offering events for an ever-growing spectrum of riders,” said Lorna Johnston, a British Cycling Sportive Blogger on the British Cycling Website. “Sportives, like the all-female Ride the Night in Windsor with around 3500 people, will help to get more women out on their bikes. There was such a buzz at the event, there was fairy lights and tutus, but it wasn’t an easy ride – 100Km to London and back through the night.”

Green spotted a gap in the market for female cyclists. As well as her cycling club in Maidstone, she runs female-only getaways in Devon and an online shop. “There’s been too much shrinking and pinking. When women go to bike shops they can be made to feel stupid in the same way they are at car mechanics. We expect to be explained to, not patronised or over-sold to.”

Barriers to overcome

Green and Bingham both agree that there are many obstacles for female cyclists, and these include a different attitude to road safety. Safety is a concern for both men and women and a UK Cycling poll in 2018 found that 57 per cent of the 2,024 who answered the survey were concerned with road safety. “Women are more sensitive to risk,” Bingham said.

“Women do feel more vulnerable on the roads,” added Green. “But, this an opportunity to grow off-road riding, on non-technical paths such as river, bridal and tow paths.” With safety in mind the growing indoor cycling market and at-home training apps such as Zwift and Peleton are well positioned for the new breed of female cyclists. At the elite end, Zwift Women’s Academy is an eight-week training programme with a pro contract on offer. And for the mass market, Peleton, the high growth at-home spin class has added stretching and yoga to the app, in recognition of women’s desire to do more than just cycle.

E-bikes have also grabbed the cycling market by storm, and technology is driving their popularity. “As well as being more inclusive allowing weaker riders to join stronger groups, we’re running out of space and need to find alternative, environmentally-friendly ways to travel,” Bingham said. “In the last five years we’ve seen big changes. Even the smallest brands now include a complete women’s range of clothing.”

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