Cycling is a fantastic and enjoyable sport, and Centreville are keen to welcome and support new women members of any experience. So to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March) Geoff Read had an unofficial chat to some of Centreville’s strong and experienced cyclists who happen to be female. Please note the views expressed are of course personal, about cycling in general and do not necessarily reflect the views of the club or it’s members.
While they usually let their legs do the talking, 1982 World Road Race Champion Mandy Bishop, strong time-trialling newbie Charlotte Boothman (previously Gorman), and long-time racer and club ride stalwart Pauline Cooper should have a thing or two to say on what they love about cycling, what hacks them off, and how can a club encourage, support and keep women cyclists? Their thoughts are reflections on some of the debates in cycling and society in general at the moment which inevitably touch on problematic issues, but they are keen to emphasise their love of cycling; and that the vast majority of cyclists inside and outside Centreville are supportive and welcoming.
Mandy setting another record in winning the national 3000 metre pursuit title riding for West Pennine.
I asked Mandy what will help get women into a cycling club and what might put them off? “I joined because my family were in it, so I was dragged into it kicking and screaming whether I liked it or not: ‘You’re coming, because we’re not leaving you at home on your own.'” Mandy thinks that for some women it’s perhaps the initial step that’s hard, just getting on a bike, and that just having a 10 mile easy ride for women with a social café stop would help to get them into it. “The first time they go out they don’t want to turn up to find a bunch of blokes in Lycra, and there might not be a woman there, it can be off-putting. They might think ‘Oh I might not keep up with them.’ It’s like anything going into a new group, it’s very intimidating, no matter what sport it is.’
Time is also an issue, for example Mandy herself finds it hard to make time for cycling now. “Women have got families, they’ve got husbands, they’ve got things that they are used to doing on a Saturday and a Sunday, like housework, shopping and all that, that they have to fit cycling in somehow. An hour and a half, a couple of hours, they can probably manage. For women especially a café on the way home is good, so you can just sit and be sociable. Then you can say to women new to cycling, ‘Look, you are ready to ride a bike, you’re ready to go on a club run – I’ll be there, come out.'”
Mandy suggests that the issues are the same for new members of any gender. “The thing that puts you off, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or bloke, is, are they welcoming? If you turn up and someone actually says to you, ‘Oh good morning, have you come to join us?’ Not just looking at you, and you’re thinking ‘Oh god, what am I doing here?’ Not just one person, you need the whole group, if someone new turns up, they smile and say ‘Hiya,’ and it doesn’t matter if it’s cycling or anything else, it’s that initial meeting. You’re going to come back if you feel welcome.”
The vast majority of cyclists are friendly, but I’d have to admit as a man, you do come across the odd bloke out on the roads, even with our current awareness and the Me Too movement, who uses playground humour that can be very sexualised. “I find it abhorrant,” says Mandy, ” And because of the person I am, I tell them. If I was out in a group and someone said something, I would straight out say, ‘You are out of order, it is completely inappropriate.’…..But I’d have to say, thankfully the odd one is an anomaly in cycling as far as I’m concerned. Maybe because of what I’ve done, I get a different reception. But I’ve never felt with Andy and you lot [the Centreville social ride] that you haven’t wanted me to be there.” As if! Proud as punch more like.
I for one don’t want to ride just with blokes all the time: boring with a capital yawn. But it’s partly up to us as men, so what can chaps do to make club cycling a better experience for women? “Be friendly, be polite, treat women with respect. Treat them with respect for the fact that they are brave enough to go and say ‘I’d like to join your cycling club. Can I come out on the bike with you?’ You just want to be treated with respect.” In any club people can occasionally get carried away and leave riders behind, something that Mandy’s dad, the late Bary Jones who was instrumental in Centreville’s success thought was a definite no-no. If that happened Mandy said, “My dad will be turning in his grave – well in his saddlebag. My dad’s buried under Ernie’s bench – in his saddlebag. He’s got a bottle of wine, a puncture repair outfit, a pump and some photos. Under the bench. “Put me with Ernie he said.”
Having seen cycling from all sides over many years as a racer and now as a recreational cyclist, would you recommend that women try cycling? “I’d say to any woman thinking of taking up cycling it’s really good for you health-wise, mentally too, it’s fantastic for your brain, being out in the fresh air, cycling. It’s not hard on your joints like running, it’s really sociable as you can ride next to someone and talk, it’s much easier on your body compared to pounding the pavements. My mum is 78 and she is still riding a bike, and she’s been riding a bike since she was 15 years old.”
Charlotte has joined Centreville recently after a very strong first season of time trialling and hill climbing last year, including a sub-hour 25 on the West Pennine/VTTA 25 on the A56 near Pendle, knocking an impressive 1 minute 43 off the record for the Eva Benson trophy, making her the first woman under the hour in that illustrious competition which has been a who’s who of for 70 years. She also rode 22.13 for 10 at Hull on a road frame with clip-on bars and aims to go under 22 minutes this year. She has entered the Tour of Cambridge closed-road TT to try and qualify for the UCI Worlds.
I asked Charlotte how she got into cycling. “I started off cycling to work and back, then around Middlesborough and the North Yorkshire Moors, then moved here. Someone said I should give racing a go, and I did a couple of hill climbs and a couple of tests, then last year was my first full season doing time trials and hill climbs. I enjoyed it.” I should think so too with results like that straight off the bat – an inspiration to anyone to find out what their hidden potential might be on the bike.
What Charlotte is looking for in a club is that they are “Friendly, approachable, to be able to ask for assistance if you need it, and to gain a lot of knowledge from a club,” and she joined Centreville because the male members she came across at time trials were very friendly, especially Steve, Jon and Paul. She isn’t personally too concerned about what people say. “I’ve heard stories of sexist comments and stuff, but they happen everywhere don’t they? That doesn’t really bother me, I was brought up in an environment that was like that, being army and RAF based, but a lot of women might find that a bit of a put-off. It’s one of those things that happens isn’t it? Women can be just as bad, but I’m pretty open-minded with that sort of stuff.”
She emphasised the importance of helping new members, men or women, to learn the ropes in group riding “What would put me off is people getting stressed out and shouting at new people who are trying to ride in a group, but don’t really know what to do – that might be annoying, instead of teaching the person how to ride in a group just getting irritated by them. In can be nerve-wracking when you are turning up to a new situation, you don’t really know how people are, and especially if you haven’t ridden with a group, there’s a lot of group etiquette isn’t there?” At Centreville we are happy to help people learn this fascinating skill – there is nothing like belting along the road in a group wearing the green, blue and white!
Charlotte’s experience of racing has been interesting and perhaps unexpected. “In time-trialling people can be quite stand-offish at first, until they get to know you, but once they get to know you they are quite chatty…. but, in road racing, women especially can be stand-offish, especially if you haven’t been brought up through the system and you just appear out of nowhere, they are trying to figure you out, whereas men’s road-racing is a bit more friendly than women’s. A few of the women are fine, but when you are a newbie, you are sort of put off.” However she does understand where this wariness comes from: “I suppose when you are in the moment it’s different isn’t it? That competitive side comes out. Time trialling I find a much more relaxed atmosphere, that’s why I enjoy it, and you are pushing yourself to your limit, whereas road racing, it’s quite a daunting environment.” Of course racing with Centreville, whether in tests or road races, you are not alone, that’s another advantage of clubs. Good crack is built in, along with pre-race excuses and post-race autopsies and refreshments. And most of all that satisfying roar when a Centreville rider is called up at the prize-giving!
I wondered if she thought there were any barriers specific to women in cycling. “When I first started cycling I didn’t want to wear Lycra, I was a bit self-concious, I think women are a bit more self-conscious about what they are wearing, but once you get through that you are fine,” something MAMLs can definitley identify with – I try to avoid standing sideways on to any camera! Also as with most of us Charlotte has had issues with vehicles. “Sometimes you get abuse from drivers, I’ve had a lot of abuse from drivers – more from drivers pulling out, and because you’ve said “What are you doing?” they’ve literally stopped the car in front of me, got out, and went to hit me, once. Road rage can put you off quite a bit. It’s lack of education with driving I think.” Again, you are perhaps less vulnerable riding with a club.
She agreed with Mandy about busy lives being a problem. “It’s getting the time, when you’ve got kids and stuff it’s hard to get out with clubs I think, and some women tend to think they are not fast enough when it is a male environment, it can be quiet daunting. But once you’ve joined the club and gone to the first club session you don’t feel as bad. I know one club started a separate female group, but the problem with that is you are segregating yourself, really – instead of joining the men’s and maybe having a slower ride once a month with women in it if they want to go slightly slower.” Here at Centreville we have club rides at varying speeds, from the social ride to full on race training, so we can help riders find the right group and gradually get stronger – and women are welcome in any of them.
Charlotte is currently coming back from a crash injury after an encounter with an elderly motorist. We wish her a speedy return to form and look forward to riding with her through the next season and beyond.
Sadly Pauline was unable to talk in the end, so we will catch her later. Suffice it to say that she is a great example of a woman cyclist, being a stalwart of the club runs, a strong hill tester, and a qualified cycling trainer who has introduced lots of people to cycling and road safety. Get well soon Pauline!
And the future of women cyclists at Centreville Cycling Club?
I’m glad I asked, I’ve learned a lot about how any cycling club can respond to a changing world and support and welcome women cyclists; what the barriers and rewards of riding and racing are for women riders; and most importantly what we all have in common – a love of riding our bikes in good company. Onwards and upwards brothers and sisters! I don’t know about you but I’m hoping to be like Mandy’s mum one day….
Women cyclists are very welcome to come and ride with Centreville, please get in touch
For more about Mandy:
Obviously all cycling websites are relevant to women, but here are are a few specific ones:
Barriers to women in cycling:
Sites for women cyclists: