By Hayley Bradley, Diversity and Inclusion lead
New Malden Velo prides itself on being a friendly local cycling club, with regular Sunday group rides, Tuesday laps of Richmond Park, and a healthy focus on where you can get the best coffee and cake during a ride. Nevertheless in our January 2021 club meeting, the issue of diversifying our membership was raised. We realised that we could be doing more to actively encourage more members of the local community to cycle with us. Our constitution states that ‘anyone interested in the sport regardless of sex, age, disability, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or other beliefs’ can join in, and we wanted to return to that original goal of actively pursuing diverse expansion.
Therefore I was appointed as the Diversity and Inclusion lead to head this initiative. After conducting a club survey, it became apparent that we should initially focus on encouraging more women to join us, since our active members are mostly men.
Between January and April 2021, we held several meetings that included conversations about how New Malden Velo can support women cyclists so that they feel empowered to participate in and enjoy the sport, drawing on guidance from British Cycling. With input from the Exec Committee and club members, I have drawn up an action plan that considers how we can implement successful change in our club demographic, without changing our core values (as cake-loving cyclists). On top of advertising and updating the website ‘so it looks less blokey’, this is what we are going to do in the coming months:
New Malden Velo want everyone to feel that they can integrate seamlessly into our club. For me, New Malden Velo has been nothing but supportive and inclusive since I joined two years ago. I’ve learnt a lot about cycling and achieved distances that I thought near impossible. Yet when I first joined I remember being worried at the thought of the longer Sunday Ride and was hyper-aware of being a woman in a club of mostly men. Common concerns that I used to have before a Sunday ride manifested as a self-imposed pressure not to be the slowest, or the least-mechanically minded, for fear of fulfilling a stereotype of a woman who was weaker and less able to, for example, change my own tyres. A women-only ride would have provided space where I could have more quickly alleviated any worries I had about being slow or less mechanically equipped. And I know I’m not alone with these worries; several women cyclists I spoke to said they’d be concerned about being left behind or not having people around who they could easily relate to if they were joining a male-dominated club like ours is at present.
Even for more experienced cyclists, women-only rides are popular for many reasons, including ‘the camaraderie, the lack of pressure to perform, the chance to discuss topics such as saddle sores, families and friendship, as much as the technical or physical challenges...not being in
the minority for a change’ (We Are Cycling UK, 2017). Therefore we now have a space on our Ride Spreadsheet for a women-only ride every Saturday, which will be led initially by myself. The distance and pace of the ride will vary depending on who is coming - I’m quite happy to ride 20km round Richmond Park, or out for a long ride into the Surrey hills, or pootle across to Windsor for a cinnamon bun (a personal favourite). We want this to be a space where women can become more confident and stronger in their cycling, and feel empowered and supported as part of New Malden Velo.
This is not to say that women shouldn’t join the other rides that we offer, but simply that there is a space for women to ride together each week without societal, religious, psychological or physiological barriers (whether real or perceived) getting in the way (We Are Cycling UK, 2017).
As part of the drive for making women feel included in New Malden Velo, our most recent kit order included extra women’s jerseys so that when more women join, they have the option of wearing club colours without having to wait until the next kit order.
‘Bridging the Gap’
We are expanding the variety and type of rides we offer as a club, focusing on how we can ‘bridge the gap’ for cyclists (of any gender) joining us. This includes first-time club members, those who enjoy shorter distances, off-roading, or who want to improve their fitness before joining us on longer rides.
At the moment, New Malden Velo officially offer an Intro ride on the last Sunday of each month (approx. 45-50km and relatively flat), Tuesday evening Richmond Park laps (approx. 25-30km), and a range of more challenging Sunday Rides anywhere from 50-160km, and varying in the numbers of hills included, from virtually flat to very hilly indeed. There are also specially organised trips to further flung destinations such as the Alps, the Pyrenees, Girona and Majorca.
We therefore want to introduce more opportunities for shorter, more varied rides to take place during the week and at the weekend, as this will allow a wider variety of cyclists to join our club, including those who just enjoy shorter and mid-distance rides, as well as those who are trying to improve their fitness and cycle further/faster. The pandemic has served us well in this respect, as we now have a very organised Ride Spreadsheet for riding in groups of 6, with GPS routes from Strava and Ride with GPS, where people can set up rides with each other on any day, at any time, for any length. We are already seeing the benefit of this within the club, with more variations of rides going out at the weekend and during the week.
As we begin to emerge from yet another lockdown, we are very excited to implement these changes in our club, and hope to see you on the roads with us in the near future. If you want any more information, please don’t hesitate to visit our website or contact us on Facebook or Instagram: https://www.newmaldenvelo.com/