By Ruth O’ Connor.
I love cycling. Whether it’s spinning into town or venturing off on long rides at the weekend, I love the freedom it brings, both financially and personally. One thing I don’t love, however, is how hard it can be to meet other female cyclists to go for a casual spin with.
Only 1 in 4 cyclists in Ireland are female. There are many reasons for this low level of participation but studiesconsistently show that intimidation and safety fears crop up as the most cited.
When I joined WEXBUG, I quickly realised that this was a common woe. I also came across many women who have bicycles but don’t use them.
I wondered if this is something we could address at WEXBUG.
When it comes to intimidation and aggression from other road users, building confidence on the bike is key. Having confidence means being assertive and taking up the space you have a right to, something women have historically been told not to do. Personally, I have found the best way to build confidence is to get out with a group and to keep it as non-competitive as possible.
To tackle the fear of safety issue, it’s a bit trickier. If you’re familiar with the work of WEXBUG, you’ll know that we are passionate about getting safe, segregated cycling infrastructure for Wexford. We also believe that driver education is crucial in enabling drivers to become more considerate road-users. These are long-term goals. But what about now? If women, statistically, don’t feel safe enough to cycle on our roads, do we expect them to wait until our goals have been achieved before enjoying cycling? What if we could encourage more people to venture out in the meantime and build confidence?
And so the Bike and Brunch Huns was born!
On Sunday, August 25th, 15 women met at Maudlintown Park at 9.30am. I had envisaged, perhaps, 5 people showing up. I was flabbergasted at the enthusiasm on the day and it proved, if anything, that there is an appetite for this kind of group.
There was a mix of experience levels – from the lycra-clad elite to those who literally picked their bike up from the shop the day before. Some were nervous of their fitness levels, some nervous of safety but mostly we were all just a bit giddy at the idea of a gang of women heading off on our bikes to get some grub!
The plan was to go for a short spin out to Karoo Café and back again. The route is along bike path or hard shoulder and, at 17KM in total, it is accessible to most.
We set off and everyone quickly realised there was no need to be worried. I stayed at the back to make sure no-one was left behind and then everyone went at a pace that felt comfortable. There were chats and laughter the whole way – not least because my sister got a puncture after 4KM. She managed to cycle the whole way from London to Barcelona last year without getting a puncture and then didn’t even make it to Drinagh without having to get the repair kit out (you’d wonder what that says about our roads .. ).
Once we arrived at Karoo, we feasted on delicious pastries, glorious breakfasts and coffees. And then we laughed some more! Some people scooted off early as they had longer cycles planned for the day while the rest of us made our way back to town with full bellies!
The general consensus was that this needs to be a regular event. One person commented that she was extremely nervous about getting back on the bike after years of it gathering dust and worried about holding up the group. Needless to say, she had a ball and is coming to the next meet-up. We hope to meet once a month, changing the route every now and then as people feel more confident. It’s a great opportunity for total newbies to gain confidence or for more seasoned cyclists to use it as a breakfast stop before or after their usual Sunday spin.
Our next Bike and Brunch Huns spin is Sunday September 21st – Details TBC
By Ruth O’ Connor.