Women in cycling - an uphill battle

This article reviews the challenges and barriers women currently face when participating in recreational cycling and commuting, what campaigns are taking place and how the legal sectors can help break those barriers.

There are various preconceptions that come to mind when asked to think about cycling: Lycra, speed, elitism are to name a few. 2012 would show the world how strong Great Britain is as a cycling nation with Bradley Wiggins taking the yellow jersey and Chris Froome coming home second at the Tour De France.

There are a range of disciplines within cycling such as Mountain Bike, Track, Cyclo Cross, BMX and of course Road. Currently of the three professional disciplines in Mountain Bike, Rachel Atherton currently holds the world number one ranking in the Downhill. Laura Trott holds the top spot in the Omnium for the track cycling discipline and Great Britain are currently second in the world for the Team Pursuit. With names as big as this, it is clear we are not short of female professionals, but in general, there are still many more male than female cyclists.

In this article we look at the current status of female cycling and what is happening within the cycling community and beyond to promote and increase female participation, including activity by Sport England, British Cycling (#WeRide and SkyRides)and UCI mixed events, and how the legal industry can help.

1. Sport England #ThisGirlCan

On a national level, Sport England are currently promoting the “This Girl Can” campaign which aims to encourage all women, irrespective of size, fitness and shape, to get involved in sport. The campaign is an excellent example of tackling many stereotypical but prominent factors that affect women from participating in sport such as physical appearance, confidence and general fitness. The advert shows a level of unity that exposes those factors in a way that brings women together on different levels other than simply gender. Nonetheless this is aimed at sport in general, therefore does not necessarily reflect the growth or promotion in females getting involved in cycling.

2. British Cycling’s #WeRide strategy

British Cycling launched the “#WeRide” Womens Strategy in 2013 founded by Sara Storey, Rachel Riley and Jennie Price. The principle of the strategy is to influence one million women to regularly ride a bike by 2020. In June 2015 it was confirmed to be well on track (pardon the pun); it already has 254,000 women cycling on British roads. British Cycling has also confirmed that their Go-Ride programme, which actively encourages young people to get involved in cycling, shows a 40% participation rate by girls. The latter statistic is very promising as it clearly shows British Cycling is creating some grassroots cyclists who may go on to compete or simply get on a bike and enjoy the sport. On the other hand, this programme is aimed at young riders and not the rest of the female public. One argument for this is gender reinforcement from a young age which in the past, boys would play sports and girls would do “nice” things. Thankfully this issue is being tackled on a regular basis which is clearly exampled by the #WeRide campaign.

3. UCI mixed events

Whilst there are clearly strong female amateur cyclists, such as Katrine Mari who is one of few amateur females to ride the Tour De Force twice, the question still  remains as to why there are separate groups dedicated to women’s cycling, such as women only rides?

From a social aspect, a variety of factors play a part. Confidence, for example, is a major factor which affects many. This falls into many other sub-categories.

such as body confidence, self-confidence on a bike, confidence to keep up with a group or on the other hand, confidence of being with a male dominant group. On a professional level, the UCI recently trialled mixed events where males and females went head to head ; Italy only beat France by 1/100 of a second, showing not only that females can compete against men in cycling but this trial also showcases to all sports that females can compete alongside men. 

4. British Cycling’s Sky Rides

This lack of confidence also has a direct link with the dominance of male cyclist and their attitudes toward female cyclists. Katrine Mari explains she has experienced this and suggests that men can give judging attitudes towards women who are competitive. Clearly, attitudes need to change on all levels of ability and ideas such as mixed events need to be encouraged and emphasised. Elitism is a problem with in all sports, and whilst it does help to create outstanding athletes it actively discourages novices. With this in mind, British Cycling’s’ Sky Rides offer a variety of distances and speeds. What makes these rides different to others is that they are entirely inclusive. Therefore you must go as fast as the slowest and actively encourage one another along the route. This provides those with nerves that stepping stone towards becoming a recreational cyclist. 

How the legal sector can help to break barriers

From a legal perspective, there are a variety of sectors that can play an integral part in the promotion of female cycling.

Private Client legal services can benefit from promoting and acting for local cycling charities. The benefit to these charities is that they may apply for funding for bike tools, extra bicycles and even providing workshops. Road awareness and safety workshops are a great way to encourage females to be confident to ride on the British roads.

According to statistics for this year of the eight cyclists killed in London, six were female. Whilst this is an anomaly, Lili Matson who is head of Service Delivery for Transport for London explains the lack of confidence “…is due to women fearing for their safety,” which in turn leads to lower confidence on the road. Interestingly despite this higher level of female accidents, Transport for Greater Manchester has found for every one female cyclist there are four male cyclists on the road. This places greater emphasis on confidence being an issue across the female cycling community. The “Belles on Bikes” project, run by the National Cycling Charity, promotes a network of local women’s cycling clubs across Scotland. They encourage one another to participate as part of a friendly and inclusive club. This is only one project of part of a potentially large market to be utilized by law firms.

Under S65 of the Highways Act 1980 (HA), a highway authority may at public expense create cycle tracks. For example, Transport for London are currently building cycling infrastructure to 50% of the Central London Grid and Quietways. This means the Real Estate and Planning Sector will be able to evaluate and secure the interests of a cyclist’s safety. This requires extensive planning regulation including where necessary the widening of highways, alterations of levels and maintenance of the roads. The latter may be enforced by an order to repair under s56 of the HA. 

Alongside this, British Cycling has confirmed they are in the development stages of five new cycling sites. Chief Executive of British Cycling, Ian Drake explains on the matter, “… to build participation we need to create a new network of traffic-free cycle sport facilities.” Therefore a novice cyclist can be given the opportunity to gain the experience in a safe environment and take those skills on to the road.


Overall, it would seem there are varying factors to consider, such as discouraging gender reinforcement and tackling male perceptions. On the other hand we need to offer more training and encourage those with concerns for the road on how to ensure they stay safe whilst riding the public roads. It is clear there is not a single answer to tackling this issue, however we are pedalling in the right direction with major campaigns on a national level such as #WeRide and local level with ”Belles on Bikes”.

Author: Oliver Bramley

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Andrew McGregor

Senior Solicitor

I am a Senior Solicitor and member of the DWF Sports Group. My areas of expertise include contractual and commercial disputes along with intellectual property issues.


Naveen Gupta


I am a partner within the Real Estate team, based in Manchester. I act for retail and leisure operators, large corporate occupiers, developers, charities and institutional clients with large property portfolios.