Last week the Bike Mill Owl spread its wings and flew* over to Bradford for the Women & Cycling conference. On arrival we found ourselves in a brilliantly packed room full of people, stalls, info stands & participatory activities.

Women & Cycling conferenceThe morning talks heard stories from ladies from all cycles of life. It was really moving to hear how cycling had positively impacted so many women… and we were inspired to hear tales of gaining confidence & independence, improving mental health & managing depression, feeling fitter & happier, exploring new places, challenging perceptions, making friends & strengthening communities.

However it was also saddening to hear how many barriers women and girls still face to getting on a bike. Velo City Girl‘s experience in a bike shop (when buying her first bike after a 10-year break) was one such example. Expecting all beginner riders to know exactly what bike they want, how to fit it themselves & even know how to adjust a bike is a bizarre assumption, at best. Luckily, it didn’t put her off – but it might do some people – and this highlights the responsibility the cycle industry has to ensure it is open to everyone. (We hope everyone always feels they can ask questions when buying a bike with us!)

Women & Cycle conferenceRepresentation of diverse women in cycling was a strong theme throughout the day. In particular the need to challenge the notion that to be a “proper cyclist” you have to be this, have that, or know everything about bikes already. If you’re sitting on a bike, you are a cyclist. Inspiring young women, especially black & minority ethnic women, to see cycling as a safe / fun / viable option was advocated by all, and was being awesomely demonstrated by so many groups in the room, including Girls Gotta Ride Cycling Club & Onna Bike Community Club.

We were flattered to be invited to hold a discussion on engaging women from asylum seeker & refugee communities in cycling. This was based on the work we’ve been doing in our pilot project funded by Leeds Community Foundation. We were grateful to all the ideas that were shared around the table and excited to hear that similar projects may be starting up elsewhere. Owl & doughnutsImportantly though, the people who should shape such projects are the women themselves. We are committed to widening participation, and encouraging more (and different) people to our workshop – but we don’t have all the answers for how to do that and don’t want to assume we know best. So if you want to get more involved, or have an idea of something that would really help you cycle more, please let us know.

*Actually, it was very lazy & got a lift from the peloton of ladies who cycled with us from Leeds to Bradford along the cycle superhighway. And it ate most of the doughnuts.

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