So you’ve sorted your training program, got all the gear and now you need to find some like-minded people to ride with to reach your goals. The next most obvious step is to join a cycling club which can offer you the opportunity to train and race, with the added benefit that you will meet other cyclists, both men and women with similar aims.
When you join a cycling club in Australia you are actually signing up as a member of Cycling Australia, which gives you a number of other benefits including public liability and personal accident insurance. On the Cycling Australia website under membership you can search cycling clubs in your area within a five, 10, 25 or 100 kilometre radius, giving you a good shortlist depending on how far afield you are willing to go. Once you’ve got the shortlist you can start asking around and making contact with these clubs to determine the best fit for you.
Once the shortlist has been put together, which could have as few as one or two clubs, or as many as six or seven, you need to establish some criteria to measure each club against the others. This could include location, whether skills training is offered, what training rides are available, the number of female members and the support given to female riders, racing opportunities for women, and of course what social activities are included.
So let’s take these each in turn.
Location is an important criterion because there’s no point in joining a club that is 25 kilometres away from your home, making it very difficult to get to any events, particularly those early morning training rides. However, you shouldn’t automatically join the nearest club to you just for convenience if they don’t offer the other things you may seek, like female-only rides or skills training.
Bear in mind too, that you can join a club that is quite close to home and enjoy their training rides, but then you can travel further afield to race. The St Kilda Cycling Club (SKCC) in Melbourne’s inner east is by far the standout club in Australia for women’s participation and membership. SKCC offers three women’s only grades at its weekly criterium races, but if you live on the other side of Melbourne you could join your local club and then travel to South Melbourne to race on a Sunday morning in women’s only grades.
In a recent survey conducted by Cycling Australia of female riders, there was a strong sentiment from members for more advanced skills training and racing skills training. There are opportunities to attend skills workshops and sessions but they are not always easy to find and are held infrequently. Cycling NSW in conjunction with a few very motivated female coaches has held training camps and weekend skills sessions on an infrequent basis, so if you’re NSW-based look out for these.
Kangaroo Point Cycling Club (KPCC) in Brisbane is running a women’s training program this year to assist women who are new to racing and want to gain the required skills and fitness to ride in the Club’s principle race of the year – The Upperlimb.com Cunningham Classic. The coach who is running the program specifically joined KPCC because of the focus on women. There will also be dedicated women’s only grades for the first time in this year’s big race, making it much more accessible to new female racers.
KPCC Club Co-captain Alix Everton reports that last year KPCC ran a women’s novice racing tour which included three weekends of skills training and they are currently working on a women’s only racing program for 2015 which will incorporate skills development and racing, with a focus on providing a safe, fun and supportive environment.
Another important area to consider when joining is a cycling club is the training rides that are offered. While there are a few clubs around that offer women’s only rides there are also clubs that offer rides that are good options for women, particularly those who are new to riding.
Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club in Sydney’s inner west makes a deliberate effort to offer an entry level within their club for both men and women. Club President Eleri Morgan-Thomas says, “Pretty much anyone can manage Saturday Slowies and it’s quite inclusive. We ride safely and in a bunch over to Centennial Park and people can do what they want – some do hard training, others ride around and chat. Then we ride back together. This year we have had upwards of 40 riders on the way back to Marrickville, of all ages and abilities.
“And we have graded rides on Sunday up to Waterfall with an ‘entry level’ ride that is no-drop. That makes a big difference because people (not just women in turns out) worry they will be left behind or will hold everyone up. But that’s usually a small, friendly bunch and after a few rides people will graduate up the bunches. And everyone loves the post ride coffee and the socialising. That’s a big part of it. We pretty much take over the cafe in Marrickville on weekend mornings,” said Eleri.
“Being and feeling safer on the roads is a big factor for lots of people. It can be very intimidating. One of the good things about riding in a bunch is that you feel so much safer, because the bunch is bigger and there’s someone else directing where you should be on the road. Funnily enough that rubs off on people when they start riding solo. You get a greater sense of self-preservation and ownership of the road I think. But for clubs I think it’s important that they understand how to include women. Getting dropped by hyper competitive types on your first ride isn’t fun and won’t inspire anyone to turn up a second time,” added Eleri.
There are many clubs for those who want to ride exclusively with women. Kangaroo Point Cycling Club has a weekly women’s only ride on Wednesday mornings, while St Kilda Cycling Club has three women’s only rides, plus there are other clubs planning to them in the near future, so ask around.
When you contact the clubs on your shortlist, one of the questions you should ask them is how many female members they currently have in their ranks. Kangaroo Point Cycling Club boasts more than 50 members, which is about 25 per cent of its membership. There aren’t too many clubs around that can claim those numbers so don’t be disappointed if you find the numbers are low in the clubs in your area. You can always start your own female-only activities.
If you live in Adelaide you should include the Skinny Lattés on your shortlist. The Skinny Lattés is a women’s only cycling club, one of the only ones in Australia and was formed in 2002 by three girlfriends; Felicity Laing, Lynette Collins and Belinda Bramley, who recognised a need for a women’s specific cycling group. The club currently has about 90 members.
Club Secretary Belinda Bramley reports, “We don’t search for members – they find us. We formed the club 12 years ago because our partners, at the time, rode with an Adelaide club called the Fat Boys and we kept getting left out, so we went riding with our girlfriends and we soon discovered how much we knew and could support each other on the rides. We combined two loves, a coffee with a ride and soon became the Skinny Lattés – because that’s what we drank.
“We found women supporting women was key, and a non-threatening environment was so important in learning and developing cycling skills, and we also enjoyed solving the world’s problems, or trying to, and managing some of our own. Amazing what stories are told on a ride,” she added.
Another question to ask the clubs on your shortlist is whether there are women in committee positions. Kangaroo Point Cycling Club reports that it has a Club Co-captain, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and a club mentor that are all women. “Having women in these key positions definitely helps to create the right atmosphere to attract women cyclists to the club. I think new female members appreciate having a female club captain as their first point of contact, to help them feel comfortable and supported in coming along for a ride,” says Club Co-captain Alix Everton.
Another important factor when considering which cycling club is for you is the racing that is offered. There are a number of different styles of racing you can participate in on a road bike, the most popular ones being criterium racing (or crit, a bike race held on a short course, often run on closed-off streets) and road racing (held on roads where competing riders start simultaneously). Some clubs emphasise one of these more than others, and many clubs also have defined seasons for each. Often a club’s geographic location will dictate the emphasis because they may have access to a great road racing circuit or closed track for crit racing.
The great part about cycle racing is that once you’re a signed up as a member of one club you can go and race in another’s clubs events so you can pick and choose what your prefer. For example, there’s a club in Sydney called Waratah Veterans and you need to be over 30 to race. That means that if you’re just starting out you won’t be racing against teenage boys in your local club’s E grade, something that can be quite off-putting for new female racers.
While there isn’t a lot of female-only racing available, there is no reason why women can’t race amongst the men on a regular basis.
The least important criteria for selecting your ideal cycling club should be the social events. I only say this because the principal reason for a cycling club to exist is to offer its members training and racing. However, socialising is a big part of cycling and can be incorporated into both rides and post-ride activities. All clubs offer you the opportunity to meet other female and male cyclists but if social riding is all you want to do, then you’re better off in a casual group of local riders.
Some clubs do offer social/informal activities that are cycling related without a focus on racing. St Kilda Cycling Club runs a women’s weekend in Bright every November. Last year a record 50 women attended. It’s an informal weekend away in Victoria’s alpine region where women can just ride their bikes and network with those newer to the club, plus a big communal dinner on the Saturday night.
Don’t be put off if you don’t find what appears to be your ideal cycling club nearby. You can always form a women’s committee and start organising women’s events within an existing club. That’s certainly where it all started at St Kilda Cycling Club and they are now the envy of many others.