Women’s representation in cycling

I have nothing against attractive young women on podiums, hopefully earning a decent living from what will be a short lived career.  So long as the women involved are not being exploited, and are there of their own free will and career choices, and they are adequately and fairly represented in wage negotiations.

I do however think that if this practice is going to continue, then we should most definitely have attractive male podium men at women’s races.  Of course, we should really have attractive podium persons of all genders at all events so that all of the audience is catered for.  Everyone needs representation and women are not very fairly, frequently, or I would argue, adequately represented in either cycling or the cycling media.

Women’s racing should get the same level of financial incentives and sponsorship, and media coverage, as mens.  There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.  Men’s racing is not just watched by male cyclists, it is watched by sports fans of all genders, that happens to also include female cyclists.  I always watch the Tour, have done since I was around 12, and if there’s coverage, then I’ll watch other races too.  I have even attended a few finishes.  I don’t really see the point in going to the stages unless they pass close by me, because you get to see more of the race on tv than you do standing by the side of the road.  I would like to be at the Tour’s grande depart or the final sprint though, just the once.  I’d like to see a women’s Tour too.

Here is some breaking news for sports broadcasters – guess what? – Not only do women watch men’s sports, but men will happily watch women’s sports too.  I think we can all enjoy the sports performances of other all genders.

The more we see women cycling, and I don’t mean just in racing, then the more we are likely to see increases in the uptake of cycling by women.  We also need to see men and women from different backgrounds, sizes, ethnicities, cultures all round in our public representation of people.  There is a definite middle class, white male, dominance to too much of the media, but particularly to the world of cycling.

When you ask the sporting media why this is so, they will argue that media coverage is based on economics, i.e. Advertising.  This is true, but it is very, very, short sighted.  Women have disposable incomes, and let’s be honest, quite a lot of us love to shop.  We, as a species, definitely shop a hell of lot more than men.  That is for certain, even if our individual styles of retail therapy vary.

Take a look at the average high street or shopping centre: You will find at least twice the number of women’s shops.  So, with that in mind, why do cycle companies and the cycling media ignore women so much?

Depending on the source of the statistics, women only account for up to 20% of the cycling population, at least in the UK.  This figure will have risen with the lockdown and hopefully it will continue to rise.  But even 20% is still actually quite a lot of women.

I don’t agree that we are only 20% of the cycling population anyway.  Many women, who use a bicycle daily for commuting, doing the shopping, or just popping out with their friends/family/partners etc won’t count themselves as cyclists.  They just happen to use a bike as transport, and they don’t get ‘seen’ by the media.

When I went out and did the popular Edinburgh – Forth Bridges – Kirkliston route the other day I absolutely swear that women cyclists outnumbered men by at least 3:1!  And that’s without the option of cake being available.  Look at the popularity of Breeze rides, look at the number of (all female) members of VeloVixen’s women’s Facebook group – currently over 6,000 and rising.  There is your audience, there is your market.

I heard an argument the other day that women aren’t included in cycling magazines because women don’t read cycling magazines – it just didn’t occur to the person saying this that women don’t read cycling magazines because they don’t see themselves represented.  Turn the argument on its head: Represent a female audience and you’ll have a female audience, and sell more magazines.  Don’t believe me?  Then please explain why the ‘women’s magazines’ section is way bigger than the ‘mens magazine’ section in supermarkets and in W.H. Smith.

Why did this site get over 2,000 hits in the first THREE DAYS of its existence?  Because there is an audience out there, and it’s growing.

Advertisers look at product sales figures, frequently looking at the national brands or chain retailers, such as say Halfords or Evans Cycles.  Although there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, I know that I would rather use a smaller independent shop where I can get quality service and advice, over trusting my own luck and judgement in a chain store.  Cycling shops can be pretty intimidating too, as many of these don’t have female staff to ask for opinions.  Some are much better at this than others; my favourite shop has a female mechanic, but some of the male staff even there can be a little patronising.  Mainly the younger ones, it has to be said, as the more mature staff are great.

Women shop differently, we usually have greater expectations of service.  Importantly, we are often prepared to pay that little bit extra to be ‘looked after’ properly.  We also tend to do our research amongst our friends and peer groups, and this will continue, but it has come about as much to do with availability of information (and targeting advertising ignoring us), as well as habit.  Some female cyclists working in shops would help increase the female footfall no doubt about it.

Women are still often seen as lower earners, and whilst this is unfortunately often true, it doesn’t mean we don’t earn enough to spend some of that money on things other than just the essentials.  Things we enjoy, like cycling.



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