WHY do so few women cycle compared to men? They are estimated to make just over a quarter of all cycle journeys in the UK, marginally ahead of the US but way behind Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, where it’s 50:50 or above.
Although there has been a surge in the popularity of cycling since recent British successes in the Olympics, you are still far more likely to see a group of men out on a Sunday morning ride than women.
Safety concerns, busy roads, weather and discomfort are among the oft-quoted reasons.
“I think a lot of us just don’t feel comfortable on the roads, even though statistics show that cycling has low accident rates,” suggests Ellen Lee, who commutes by bike between Oxford and Eynsham all year round.
Another bar might be the macho image of cycling: for example, the derision in which many hold the “MAMIL” (middle aged man in Lycra), or the focus on racing bikes and gear in most bike shops.
But here in Oxford there’s a group of women cyclists bucking the trend and who care little for tight shorts or racing off at the lights.
“We are likely to be thinking more about where we’ll stop for coffee and cake than how far or fast we are going,” says Ellen, who co-founded Isis Cyclists eight years ago with Amanda Wrigley; Isis now have over 350 members. “We organise regular short, women-only bike rides with the aim of getting non-cyclists back on their bikes,” says Ellen. “We also organise social rides with male friends and partners.
“It’s a very friendly and welcoming group and, as well as being good exercise, and it’s a great way to meet new people.”
Rides vary from a slow five or six-mile exploration of cycle lanes and quiet roads inside the ring road, to a 30-mile trip out into the countryside. The group’s slow ride in November from the city centre to North Hinksey was led by Karen Wolff:
“Isis Cyclists has been a weekly fixture in my life for the last eight years. Through it I have discovered wonderful cycle routes, both in the countryside and short cuts through the city; kept fit; enjoyed some yummy refreshments; met interesting people of all ages and nationalities – and it’s free!”
“I discovered Isis in April 2013, and it fits my needs perfectly, with its combination of manageable distances and real companionship,” says Liz Masterman. “As a ride leader, I love planning routes for others to enjoy – and it’s really rewarding when the scenery and (equally important) the weather live up to expectation.”
Age and fitness are no barrier to joining Isis Cyclists, as Jan Archer discovered: “New to Oxford, newly retired, newly recovered from a cancer operation and treatment, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a supportive group of women … if anyone is in doubt about getting back on her bike again or worrying about whether shed be ‘good enough’ and able to keep up – just come, and I’m sure you’ll have a great time and meet a wonderful group of people.”
The next slow ride is ideal for newcomers and uses cycle paths and quiet roads to visit the farmer’s market at Sandford on Thames on Saturday, December 3.
* To find out more about this and other Isis rides email email@example.com