Club life: Why do some cycling clubs attract so many more female members?

Many clubs say they want to expand their female membership, but some have far greater success than others. Amy Sedghi finds out how these clubs get it so right

Penge cycling club ride
(Image credit: ​Alessandra Bucci for Future)

“When I first started [cycling], I had no confidence,” recalls Julie-Anne De Thomasis, 58, of Penge Cycling Club. She leans in and stresses: “none.”  She fingers the yellow cap she’s wearing under her helmet - a prestige bestowed upon those in the club who’ve led at least ten rides - as we wait for her riders to assemble in Kent. She’s been explaining what in particular makes Penge CC - one of the most popular clubs in south east London - such a welcoming place for female riders. A willingness to open their doors to less experienced riders and invest in their development through a mix of friendly encouragement and club activities is key, I’m told, not just by Julie-Anne, but also by the other women - and men - who’ve joined us for a sunny ride out in the lanes.

With 28% of the club’s membership identifying as female, Penge CC are up there among the top mixed cycling clubs in Great Britain with a significant female contingent. A lot of clubs say that anyone is welcome on their rides, regardless of kit, bike, or speed - but the reality is riders who don’t fit the norm can find themselves abandoned on country lanes or feeling inadequate from the get-go. At Penge CC, the sentiment is genuine. “We had someone turn up the other day on a Brompton,” smiles Ann Ferris, adding with obvious admiration for the 16” wheel rider “she kept up quite well.” Sixty-nine year-old Ferris is legendary in the club for being a dedicated leader of the Sunday steady ride: a starting point for many newbies that averages a speed of 10-11 mph. 

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