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Towards 50/50

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Bicycle Network has moved on equalising participation in bike riding with an initiative specifically for women. Sarah Down reports.

At present, only one-in-three of Australia’s bike riders are women.

This proportion is even less across Australia’s major mass participation bike riding events like Around the Bay, where women make up only 21% of riders.

It’s these alarming statistics which have pushed many bike riding groups to rethink their approach to women’s cycling.

As one of Australia’s major bike riding event providers, Bicycle Network identified that it was failing one particular group in its aim to make bike riding easy for everyone. In providing the same opportunity for all sexes, Bicycle Network’s own events model failed to attract both sexes equally and women continued to be under represented.

Now, Bicycle Network is taking a stand to address the gender imbalance across their own bike riding events, driven by the strong belief that 50% of bike riders should be women.

Backed by research and a recognition that you can’t tackle imbalance with a one-size-fits-all approach, Bicycle Network’s The Ascent is a unique initiative aimed at removing the common barriers to bike riding faced by women.

At this stage,The Ascent is made up of two parts: a program which includes skills sessions, training rides and a library of resources, and a goal—a 100 kilometre, fully-supported, women’s-only ride through Victoria’s Yarra Ranges on Sunday 17 April, 2016.

Anthea Hargreaves, spokesperson for The Ascent, says what makes this program different to Bicycle Network’s other behaviour change initiatives, despite the obvious lack of men, is that all elements of the ride have been planned with women in mind, focusing on support and participation.

“We’ve done the research and know that women have a different approach to bike riding events. This is why The Ascent is focused on the journey to the event, rather than solely the ride itself,” Ms Hargreaves said.

“Through free skills sessions, training rides and information packs, we want to empower women with the confidence, skills and support they need to tackle a challenging ride. The Ascent will remove barriers for those women who are new riders or keen to get back into road riding but don’t know where to start.”

In itself, the The Ascent ride is designed to inspire, motivate and challenge—100 kilometres, full road closures, and on-road mechanical and nutritional support. But the months leading up to the event is where the emphasis lies—helping women build the confidence they need to feel comfortable on a bike, and in a bike riding event.

Ms Hargreaves points out that The Ascent is more than just an event, as the intention from the start was “to foster a community of shared experiences for women of all ages and abilities.”

Since the launch of the website in October 2015, more than 1,000 women have joined the program and the weekly training rides are booking out quickly. But Bicycle Network’s initiative to inspire more women to join the world of bike riding hasn’t passed without its criticisms—not unexpected, on the whole, as gendered topics create a hotbed of differing opinions.

“Feedback is more than welcome”, says Ms Hargreaves who believes the dialogue is healthy and will help The Ascent become more relevant to more women in the future.

“It’s important to remember that the aim of the event is not to exclude men, but to encourage women to get on their bikes and bring the bike riding gender split back in balance,” Ms Hargreaves said.

“On a whole, the response has been positive with women across Australia excited to be part of the program. We’re proud to put ourselves out there and try something new in the hope that more women will discover the health benefits and fun of bike riding.”

While the program may not be for everyone, Bicycle Network would love to see women of all ages and abilities taking part in the event next year.

“We’re not prescribing The Ascent as a single catch-all for all types of female riders, but we think that for some, this program has the potential to be an important step.”

“There are thousands of women who already enjoy our events, and we need them to get behind The Ascent as well. Their support will help inspire and encourage anyone who’s starting out on their bike-riding journey,” Ms Hargreaves said.

While the ride may be the end goal for The Ascent’s first class of participants, the real aim of the initiative is for a flow-on effect, hoping to attract new and more women to the world of bike riding.

“In the long term, we want to see a 50/50 split of men and women participating not only in our events, but out on the road. This is just the first step. It’s ambitious but we know it’s achievable,” she said.

The Ascent skills sessions, training rides and a library of resources are available now, and the 100km, fully-supported, women’s-only ride through Victoria’s Yarra Ranges is on 17 April, 2016.

bicyclenetwork.com.au/the-ascent

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