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The cycling community – and why we all need to up our game to foster one

Ready for offAn encouraging turn out at Loseley Park - women's cycling is gaining traction, in part thanks to events like the Macmillan Cycletta.
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It’s an exciting time to be involved in women’s cycling. We visited Spin London over the weekend and it was brilliant to see so many women’s cycling brands – and plenty of other brands keen to launch a women’s cycling range soon. It’s really encouraging to see so many women’s rides being organised, and to hear such a buzz about an emerging women’s cycling community.

Exciting times indeed.

So why do I feel like there’s something missing? Why does this new and vibrant women’s cycling community feel a little bit empty?

In fact – why do I feel like quite a lot of female cyclists aren’t on board with the idea of community at all?

I cycle a lot. Usually with Matt, though not always. I rode in a Macmillan women’s sportive, on my own. I thought I might be able to buddy up with someone, or find a nice group to pedal with for a few miles. But nobody seemed to be playing ball. Solo cyclists kept their heads down while groups and pairs seemed curiously closed. Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning to sit on your wheel and coast along. I was just going to pass the time of day, and maybe take the wind for a while.

Can you only ride with other women if you join a cycling club? If you’re not on a club ride, are you obliged to ride alone?

Has the sudden growth of cycling fractured friendship and community?

Beyond that – does cycling actually need to be segregated? Am I alone in wanting cycling to feel like an inclusive community, rather than disparate gendered groups? It feels increasingly like there are two camps of women’s cycling: one is fiercely Alpha and competitive while the other seems entrenched in cake and not breaking too much of a sweat. Where do I fit in? I’m happy to break a sweat. I want to ride with women, but also with men. I want to reap the rewards of a tough ride – sometimes I might want a piece of cake, but sometimes I might want a refreshing pint and a bowl of chips. I don’t want to feel like I’ve let Women’s Cycling down if I get dropped, or if I feel like I’m dying and decide to get off and push. But nor do I want to feel like my place has to be a 12mph café ride with cake stops. A true community should be supportive of everyone’s differences, shouldn’t it? A community should be understanding and encouraging – not looking down its nose if you chose not to ride when it was bitterly cold and wet. Nor should it be unapproachable for members who want to learn more and take on new challenges.

What community is that? The cliques of riders sticking firmly in their groups, determinedly not making eye contact with cyclists they don’t know?

Matt is always keen to ride around Richmond Park. I asked him why he liked it so much, and he replied that he liked being part of the community.

What community is that? The cliques of riders sticking firmly in their groups, determinedly not making eye contact with cyclists they don’t know?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ridden around Richmond Park and stopped for coffee at Roehampton Gate. But I haven’t lost count of the number of times a fellow cyclist has spoken to me there.

Once.

In all the times I’ve parked my bike up and bought a coffee, just one cyclist has spoken to me.

Am I naïve to think we should all be making more of an effort to get along with each other because we have a mutual interest?

I suppose all of this leads to a bigger question than one about women’s cycling; it’s really about the existence of a true cycling community. Has the rapid explosion of cycling in recent years damaged the notion of a cycling community? Has the popularity of cycling grown too quickly for its own good? How can we nurture cycling, and cyclists, and a cycling community? How can we all become better custodians of cycling, encouraging others and setting a good example rather than developing cliques and critiquing newcomers?

Am I naïve to think we should all be making more of an effort to get along with each other because we have a mutual interest?

Is it wrong to think that it’s perhaps not very surprising that motorists and pedestrians aren’t madly keen on us when, frankly, it feels like we’re not madly keen on each other?

So, I’m issuing a call to arms. I’m issuing a call to all cyclists, male and female, cake-eating, beer-drinking, fast, slow and everything in between: let’s show some solidarity. Let’s smile at each other. Let’s call a friendly greeting, or nod or wave. Let’s pass the time of day with all the other people who love the same thing we do.

The next time you pass a fellow cyclist, let them know you’re part of the community – and that they are, too.

Chapeau.