Launch of the Women's Festival of Cycling 2019

Wow - what an honour!! I’ve been named one of the 100 Women in Cycling 2019 and as a result got invited to the launch of the Cycling UK’s “Women’s Festival of Cycling” at the House of Commons! I’m still pinching myself, and I’d like to thank all the amazing Cycle Sprog readers who nominated me for the award. THANK YOU!!!

The day started with a bike ride (what else!) from the historic Guildhall in the centre of the City of London. It was brilliant that someone from my cycle club Beth Jackson was also there. Beth is responsible for the women’s section of Kendal CC and has been such an inspiration to me in my own cycling. She’s even got me riding multi-day rides (last year it was Edinburgh to Kendal) and I’m busy training for another this summer (Wales north coast to south coast – owch!)

The Guildhall plaza quickly filled up with bikes of all types and sizes and thankfully for those of us travelling a long distance there were e-bikes from Jump to borrow.

It was a joyful procession that set out towards Westminster.

It was a rather poignant moment for me as we headed past my normal corporate stomping grounds . Now when I come out of Monument Station on my way to the office I’ll have wonderful memories of riding along with hundreds of other women!

I hadn’t cycled in London for several decades (due to being far too scared) and it was wonderful to be able to enjoy the new London Cycleway which took us all the way to the Houses of Parliament where we stopped for the group photo call.

We then headed inside for the more formal proceedings which took place in the stunning setting of the Terrace Bar, overlooking the River Thames.

Launch of the Women's Festival of Cycling 2019

We were the guest of Ruth Cadbury MP, who is co-chair of the Committee of the All Party Cycling Group, who started proceedings by explaining the work of the Group and some of the recent successes they’ve had such as extending the Bike to Work Scheme to include e-bikes. However, she admitted that there is SUCH a long way to go, because the funding available for Active Travel is so limited. It was heartening to hear her talk about the need to make sure that people (and particularly women) feel safe when cycling and the need for investment in both proper infrastructure and cycle training.

However, it was also really depressing. Here we were in the House of Commons, the very place where decisions on spending priorities are made, and we were hearing the same old appeals for funding and action. It does make you think, if there’s plenty of MP’s who care enough to be on the All Party Cycling Group (51 in total) and they can’t get change made, what hope do the rest of us have?

Thankfully next up was Rachel Kirkwood, one of Cycling UK’s Trustees, who was our compare for the afternoon. She talked passionately about how she got her very first bike as a 5 year old and taught to ride by her Dad. That one Christmas present has led to a life-long love of cycling – be that for transport, leisure or sport (she has recently taken up Triathlon and had podium positions for her age group – something she never dreamt possible).

Rachel Kirkwood - Cycling UK Trustee at the launch of the Women's Cycling Festival 2019

Rachel reminded us of all the statistics around women’s cycling and why it was so important to celebrate our successes and to continue to inspire others. Whilst government might not be taking action, each of us can. The power of the individual, when multipled by us all, is immense and can create real change.

Official transport figures indicate only a million women in the UK cycle regularly (at least three times a week), compared to three times as many men.  Many women who don’t cycle or cycle less than once a month say they would be encouraged to cycle more if there was better cycling infrastructure (27%), more considerate drivers (21%) and having access to a working bike (20%).

HOWEVER, the good news is that women are much more likely to start cycling if they’re inspired by someone they know, rather than a celebrity or sports person. So, if you’re a cyclist reading this then remember you have the power to get more women cycling!

If every one of us gets two more women cycling, then there will be parity between the genders.

Of course, it all comes back to having safe places for all these women to cycle, and the old chicken and egg situation of more women cycling only when there’s the infrastructure for them to feel safe.

This was the theme taken up by Isla Rowntree, founder of Islabikes and many times cyclocross champion. In a passionate speech Isla reminded us of why cycling urgently needs to become one of our main modes of transport, along with walking and integrated public transport. The impact of climate disruption and growing populations means society needs to change. Cities must radically alter how people are moved about to avoid total gridlock and choking air pollution. As individuals we need to be more active to avoid the physical and mental effects of our current sedentary lifestyles.

The current media image of cyclists being male, thin, white and under the age of 40 must cease in order to get people who don’t currently cycle to try riding a bike. This is something Islabikes are actively trying to tackle in their marketing and the launch of their Icons range of bikes for the over 65’s

And of course, in order to get all these people cycling, there needs to be safe places for them to cycle. Isla’s analogy was that it’s the Rule of the Jungle out on the roads at the moment – priority is given to the biggest and fastest vehicles. Once behind the wheel people often become impatient (and even aggressive) towards those slower and smaller than themselves. Action needs to be taken to redress this balance and prioritise moving people, not vehicles, around. Everyone in the room nodded along as she described the moment when people call you “brave” when they find out you’re a cyclist – and how this shouldn’t need to happen.

As a life-long cyclist, Isla rides her bikes for pleasure, for leisure, for sport and as a mode of transport. She uses them to get to work everyday and to explore the world. And why? It all boils down to this one statement - “Riding my bike just makes me smile!”

With so many people in the room having cycled for years, it was refreshing to hear TV presenter Angellica Bell speak about coming to cycling later in life. The thought of her working alongside Gary Linekear on a Blue Peter cycling challenge whilst having to cover up her inadequacy was very amusing. More serious was her realisation that she wasn’t able to join her children on their bike rides - “I didn’t want to be the Mum who stood and watched”.

However, it wasn’t until she was asked to be the “Tour de Celeb” in 2016, which involved an 8 week intensive training programme resulting in riding the Etape that she decided to take action. Her story was in equal parts hilarious, inspirational and emotional - proof that it’s never to late to learn to ride. She now enjoys cycling regularly with her two children, aged 7 and 6.

Our final speaker was Baroness Barker, who termed herself the “world’s most unlikely cyclist”.

About ten years ago she inherited a bike when her friend passed away, but hadn’t cycled since she was a young girl. Signing up for Bikeability lessons gave her the confidence to get back onto two wheels and she now travels around a lot by bike for the same reasons as everyone else – it’s quicker, better for the environment and it makes her feel great! Her plea was for those involved in cycling to make sure they think of those who don’t cycle when making their plans –especially when planning our roads and staffing bike shops.

It was quite fitting that the speeches ended with someone working within our own parliamentary structure calling for more funding for cycling. The Baroness pointed out that the UK cycling industry was worth more than the UK steel industry, but her aside that she hoped “someone in the treasury is listening” again highlights that there’s an entire level of decision making that just doesn’t “get cycling”.

100 Women In Cycling 2019

Once the talking was over it was time to recognise the 100 Women in Cycling 2019. It was a real privilege to receive my own award from Isla Rowntree and to see Beth get hers too. Sadly my other nominee, Ruth-Anna McQueen, wasn’t able to attend due to work commitments.

I’d nominated Ruth-Anna for being such an inspiration to parents wanting to start cycling – she established the Family Cycling UK Facebook Group which is a wonderful source of advice for some many parents thinking of starting to cycle with their child, plus the Hackney Cycling Library which loans out equipment in her local area.

After the presentations were over, I was very honoured to meet the two young recipients of the award. Ruby Isaac is a phenomenal cyclist, who entertains her social media following with impressive feats on rollers. At 11 years of age she’s just finished her Sats and is off to France this weekend to ride a stage of the Tour de France!

Annabel Killey is perhaps one of the most deserving of all the recipients. Her mum, Clare, was tragically killed in a crash involving three cars whilst riding her bike earlier this year. Annabel had the idea of campaigning for people who drive to be more aware of people who cycle and her “Be Aware for Clare” campaign has gone from strength to strength.

As a mum who cycles, with and without her children, and who knows so many others in a similar position, it’s hard to comprehend what Annabel and her brother have to deal with on a day to day basis. Her Dad Pete told me that they want something positive to come out of losing Clare, and Annabel is certainly doing them both proud with her campaigning work.

As well as Ruby and Annabel there were so many other positive role models I got to chat to – there’s just too many to list here! It was a truly inspirational day and made me realise that if we all do our own little bit to get more people cycling, the world does become that little bit better.

You can read all about the other recipients of the 100 Women in Cycling award here.

If you've enjoyed reading this blog, then do check these others out:

Recent Articles

July 3rd
2019 blog

A school trip with a difference - Mountain biking to Hay-on-Wye

A school trip with a difference - Mountain biking to Hay-on-Wye

I'm sure we all remember the trips we would take with school. Even if it ...

Read More

June 25th
2019 blog

SUCCESS OR FAILURE? The Cycle Sprog experiment draws to a close

SUCCESS OR FAILURE? The Cycle Sprog experiment draws to a close

Long term readers of Cycle Sprog may recall that about a year ago I gave ...

Read More

June 19th
2019 blog

Welcome to Grace - Cycle Sprog's new Instagram guru!

Welcome to Grace - Cycle Sprog's new Instagram guru!

Cycle Sprog has a new Instagram guru!

Read More

4 Comments

  1. Andrew Welton says:

    What an inspirational blog. To read about such pationate and dedicated women can and should lead to the step change we need to get out of cars and embrace the ultimate mode of transport, I.e. bicycle.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Andy - it was indeed such an inspirational day. There's so many people out there doing their best to get more people onto bikes! Thanks Karen

  2. Thank you for a great write up.
    I was nominated by Chris Alston from Manchester office.
    What A THRILL, I rapidly approach my 90th birthday
    (Feb 2020)
    I volunteer with Disabled cyclists in Chester and still use my ordinary cycle most of the time. My urgent efforts just now is to persuade women to keep up their cycling
    I am so lucky with my health, but then You don't stop cycling because you get OLD you get old because you stop cycling!
    KEEP GOING GIRLS.

    • Karen says:

      Lovely to hear from you Sylvia. It was such a wonderful day, wasn't it! And so many inspirational women, such as yourself, doing so much to get people of all ages and abilities cycling. Karen

Leave a Reply