TandEm Women in Cycling – by WexBUG member, Clare Hartweig.

TandEm Women in Cycling is a ‘train the trainer’ programme to help women overcome barriers to cycling, organised by EIT Urban Mobility and Bycs. Applications for 2023 close soon, on 14th March.  

I was lucky enough to take part in the inaugural programme in 2022 so I thought I would share my experiences of this fantastic course.

When I heard about a brand new course that would select 10 women from all over Europe and help them to organise cycling initiatives for women in their communities, I thought my chances of getting through were slim to none. But I applied anyway, and to my shock I was one of the lucky few to be selected. 

In my application I talked about how I stopped riding my bike when I became a mother because I did not feel I could keep my child safe on a bike in Gorey. Unable to afford a car, and with very little public transport in the area, I felt my life was curtailed. This changed during the 2020 lockdown, when quiet roads gave me the confidence to cycle with my toddler in a seat on the back of my bike. 

I explained that cycling in a busy town like Gorey feels like cracking a secret code that few people know about – you can skip the traffic, park right outside your destination, and often get places faster than by car. As a busy working mother with lots of errands to do, cycling gives me great flexibility and predictable journey times. (The flip side is that when I’m late I can’t blame it on traffic!). But many women, myself included, are discouraged by the lack of safe cycling infrastructure in Gorey.

The course involved a series of online zoom sessions where I had the opportunity to communicate with other participants all over Europe, as well as guest speakers with experience organising cycling initiatives. 

In Early October I went on a weekend trip to Brussels as part of the course. It was wonderful to meet all the other course participants in person, to talk about our ideas and brainstorm different challenges. We visited two fantastic cycling related initiatives called Molem Bike and Fietsschool, and did a cycling tour of the city, among other activities. The weekend was such a fantastic learning experience that left me feeling motivated and inspired.

On a bike tour of Brussels (That’s me in the blue raincoat)

On returning home, I set about designing a short cycling course. First I carried out some informal research into women’s barriers to cycling in Gorey. As I expected, the main reason women told me they didn’t cycle was the lack of safe infrastructure and dominance of motor traffic on our roads. 

But another barrier arose in a few of the responses that I hadn’t considered: self-consciousness and a sense that cycling is “not for people like me.” This is why it’s important for cycling communities to be inclusive and welcoming, and show that cycling is just a fun and practical way to get around – regardless of age, gender, body size, race, sexuality, or other factors.

For my cycling sessions, I decided to recruit some of the mothers at my child’s primary school. I got a lovely group of women together and we spent our first session on the yard practicing cycling straight, and how to observe and signal for different types of turns. In the following sessions we went out on quiet roads, building up to cycling in the centre of the town. We stopped at several points to watch the movement of the traffic and chat about the safest ways to handle different scenarios. 

Trying out some unusual (but surprisingly effective!) teaching methods.

We also had time for refreshments and chats at each session. I found this very important because it allowed us to go beyond the technical aspects of how to stay safe on a bike, and try to address the specific social and cultural barriers to cycling that apply to women and mothers. 

I also had the opportunity to carry out some 1:1 cycling lessons with a woman who had never cycled before. It was a real privilege to teach her, using the techniques I had learned in Brussels. While I had helped my daughter ride her first bike, I found that teaching an adult to cycle is very different. There are more nerves at play, and falling off is not an option for adults. The moment my student took off was magic and I will never forget the smile on her face! 

To help the beginner cyclist learn to balance before pedaling, we lowered the bike seat and used it like a balance bike. 

Participating in this course was a wonderful experience that allowed me to make great connections and gave me lots of inspiration and ideas for the future. 

I hope by getting more women on two wheels, we can generate a bigger push to make Gorey a town where people of all ages and abilities are able to enjoy the fun and freedom of cycling.