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Today British Cycling has launched a new campaign called "One in a Million" to encourage more women (and girls) to cycle. It comes accompanied with an inspirational video which features loads of "normal" women and girls out on their bikes. I spotted a couple of very impressive younger cyclists - see if you can see Rhoda Jones who was the youngest person to ride from Lands End to John O'Groats last summer and Ruby Isaac who is one of the up and coming faces of junior cycling.
Getting more girls (and their mums) cycling is something we've been trying to support here at Cycle Sprog for years with lots of articles about how to start cycling with young children, as this is often something new mum's in particular feel nervous about. We've also done lots of bike and kit reviews featuring girls.
However, I've been cycling with my Sprogs for over a decade now and I have often felt like I'm one in a million for all the wrong reasons - the one crazy cyclist whilst everyone else is driving their Sprogs everywhere.
It's fabulous to see so many women and girls in the film enjoying their cycling as a leisure or sports activity. They're highlighting a huge range of the benefits of cycling - it's fun, it keeps you fit and happy. Cycling with friends, family or a local club is great for being social whilst cycling alone helps you find rare moments of solitude. It's a great activity that parents can enjoy with their kids, and hopefully continue as everyone gets older. But it does beg the question.....
The video showcases lots of different types of cycling as a sporting or leisure activity - mountain biking, road riding, cycle touring, indoor cycling, cyclocross, BMX, Whether it's riding round a local park or cycle touring in Bolivia, there's so many examples in this video to make me want to immediately leap on my bike and start pedalling.
Watching the video reminds me why I love cycling, and why I try and do as many different types of cycling as possible, whether I'm by my myself, with my Sprogs or with my friends at our local cycling club. Here's me being pipped to the finishing line by my eldest at our local sportive.
I find cycling gives us a common bond, and our rides together are becoming increasingly rare "mum and son" time as he gets older.
I really do hope that the video has the same enthusing effect on many, many more women and girls, especially those who haven't yet plucked up the courage to get out on a bike ride, or haven't done it for a long time. But why can't I help feeling something's missing......
There is a huge elephant in the room that the video fails to address. When you look at the film you'll see there isn't a single point at which someone is cycling near a moving vehicle. There are a few parked cars in the background, and that's it.
The cycling is being done at weekends and on holidays. It's cycling for enjoyment and for sport. It's cycling for those who have cars and can drive to a safe, traffic free environment (or are lucky enough to already live there).
It's not girls cycling to school. It's not families cycling to get the groceries, or going to a birthday party. It's not busy mothers cycling to drop one child at nursery and another at school before going onto work. It's not families on long distance cycle rides being close passed by caravans and having to take to social media to protest.
I copy (word for word) the introduction to British Cycling's article which accompanies the One in a Million video. I've highlighted in bold the bits that I think are particularly important:
Our latest research shows that two thirds of frequent cyclist in Britain are men (69%), compared to countries like Denmark where male cyclists account for 47% and female cyclists 53%.
There is also a vast disparity in confidence levels amongst women and men, with more than six in ten women (64%) saying they don’t feel confident riding their bike on the roads (26% higher than men) and a similar number claiming that infrastructure (63%) and driver behaviour (66%) does not make them feel safe (17% and 13% higher than men, respectively). If these barriers were removed, statistics indicate the true potential to grow women’s cycling - with 36% of women – equating to 9,720,000 - saying they would like to cycle more frequently.
In 2013 we launched our women’s strategy when just 525,000 women were cycling regularly - with the aim to boost this figure by 1 million, by 2020. The initiative, backed by Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, has helped to inspire over 800,000 women to take up cycling to date, however despite this progress, the stubborn gender disparity and dwindling confidence levels indicate there is much more to be done.
This is showing us that just telling women to get out there and enjoy it isn't the big picture solution. Organised rides, such a British Cycling's women only Breeze Rides have clearly had a big impact with so many women now riding because of them, but if we're going to normalise cycling for women then there needs to be a huge shift in how cycling is perceived and funded.
The British Cycling article refers to the statistics in Denmark. I'm lucky enough to have been to Denmark's capital Copenhagen for a work trip, and to cycle there. This is what it looks like:
I've also been lucky enough to cycle with my children in the centre of several European capital cities. Here's us in Amsterdam:
And in Dublin:
I've also been lucky enough to take my children to Portland, Oregon where the numbers of people commuting by bike increased to 7.2% in an 16 year period (the US national average is just 0.5%). Here's a photo just in case the common factor still isn't clear:
I know that quite a few Cycle Sprog readers live in London and can now do things like this:
— Ruth-Anna (@bikesandbabies) December 1, 2018
Wick Road cycle track construction continues. Fantastic that Hackney now has a main road safe enough for children to cycle on. It's better to make the streets the streets safer for everyone @mayorofhackney @hackney_cycling pic.twitter.com/WqC0xGCCnB
— Hackney Cyclist (@Hackneycyclist) November 3, 2018
So, whilst the British Cycling video is so inspirational and I really do hope it succeeds in getting more women and girls onto bikes, it mustn't divert attention from the need to hold our politicians accountable for providing safer cycling infrastructure.
We need to get to a position where mums who choose to cycle their children to school don't feel like one in a million for the wrong reasons. Where they aren't called "brave" or "foolish" or worse for cycling with their kids. Where they don't get trolled online or sworn at in front of their children. Where they don't end up retreating back into their cars with the other 999,999.
We need to get to a situation where everyone (regardless of gender, age and ability) has a chance to cycle whenever and wherever they want, just like those who wish to drive (and can afford to) currently can. We need investment in infrastructure so more families can choose to leave the car at home, or maybe even ditch it altogether.
This engagement with politicians and decision makers is very important at the moment, as some are starting to blame cycling infrastructure (and cyclists) for congestion and rising air pollution. As certain lobbying groups ramp up their complaints it's not infeasible that we're going to see less, not more, protected cycle paths over the coming years. This article by Carlton Reid explains in much more detail the current threats for anyone who wants more information.
It's so important that we all do as much as we can to campaign for safer places for everyone - regardless of gender, age and ability - to cycle. Sign petitions, write letters, take to social media, speak to your MPs and Councillors when they come knocking for your vote.
And of course it's equally important to continue to show cycling as a fun way to spend your time, so lets all continue to be out there cycling with our Sprogs, and showing what a brilliant and fun activity cycling can be!
I hope you've enjoyed reading this article. If you want to support me you can buy me a coffee here.
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