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Advocating for the Sport of Women's Cycling
Women today are riding bikes for fitness, transportation, charity, competition, joy and perhaps most importantly, social connection. However, in 2009 women accounted for just 24% of all U.S. bike trips. In Germany, 49% of bike trips are by women; in the Netherlands that number is 55%.
I started Wisconsin Women Cycling to get more women interested in riding bikes and to put on Wisconsin’s only All-Women Century Ride. By identifying or creating safe environments to ride, we offer girls and women the opportunity to give cycling a try. For those who do ride, we encourage them to invite a friend to join in on the fun. The women I work with say being on a bike brings them closer to nature, to their community and to themselves and, along the way, they discover (or rediscover) the joy of riding a bike.
In The Beginning
I have been riding bikes since the late-60s; first on the road then off-road at the moon-crater (what would now be called a pump track). My sister and I were the only girls among the boys on bikes. As a teen, I taught myself to be a bicycle mechanic and was very proficient at disassembling and then reassembling my equipment. At 16, I was Wheel & Sprocket’s first and only female mechanic at the time. I was also training for track racing at the Kenosha Velodrome, which included commuting to school and work and riding the “beat down” weekly. I remember well, I was the only girl on that ride.
At 18, I discovered century rides and tours. I fell in love with the challenge each posed and really enjoyed the camaraderie (probably because there were women on those rides). Fast forwarding, as an adult I commuted to work and rode after work to burn off the stresses in my life. I rode alone most of the time. My favorite route, still, is along the bluffs of Lake Michigan between Manitowoc and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. It is 21 miles of rolling shoreline and straight with very few stop signs. I could just hit it hard and zone out or take in the scenery — whatever my mind and soul was craving.
At times, I would search out a group ride. I’d find myself among a number of men and they had no problem leaving me in the dust. “See ya next week,” they’d say.
That last paragraph may seem negative because, for many women cyclists, it is. But in defense of men – they’re different. They generally ride different, think different, and have a different ego than women do. Looking back, I now know these were not the right groups for me to ride with. I’ve gotten better at distinguishing what they offer and if it’s a good fit.
With the help of websites and social media, cycling clubs are better at expressing their club’s style and goals (i.e. casual, focused on training for an event, or if their all in to compete, to name a few). With that, I encourage women cyclists to not give up riding but to find a group that fits your style and goals. If you’re still unsure, your local bike shop may be able to help you find the right group.
Turning the corner
I was in (pre)-retirement when the idea of starting this business came to mind. As a cycling enthusiast and former event planner, starting Wisconsin Women Cycling was a natural move for me as it combines what I love — riding my bike, being with friends and building new relationships.
With the help of friends, family and volunteers, in three months Wisconsin Women Cycling was off and rolling out its first century ride. Thanks to everyone who helped, it was organized, inclusive and fun.
Our first event was the 2015 Wisconsin Women Century, held on the last Saturday in July, offering distances from 16 to 105 miles for riders to choose from with “manned” full-service rest stops.
Several of the ladies’ post-ride surveys asked for training, mostly because they were not prepared for the rolling the hills in this area of Wisconsin. That resulted in the formation of WWCycling Club. Through group rides and social activities, we bring women together to improve riding skills and promote the benefits and joys of bike riding.
Ride leaders stepped up, and the season kicked-off the following year on Mother’s Day 2016 with the first annual Cindyrella Classic. As a day of declaration, riders select a distance to ride at the Wisconsin Women Century.
Over the next 10-12 weeks, we help them focus on their goal using a tailored schedule, workshops, weekly group rides, hills training or a combination thereof. We celebrate their accomplishments at the WI Bike Festival. Not because they completed their distance, but because they made the healthy choice of being there every week to ride, learn and train.
All of this is possible because of the volunteers. And those who “manned” our rest stops expressed an interest to ride to support women cycling, so 2016 also brought with it the first annual Holy Hill Classic. With over 5,000 ft in climbing on the hottest day of the year, the Holy Hill Classic is not intended for the novice rider. This coed semi-self-supported ride is similar to the WI Women Century, held the day before, but has an additional 1,000 ft of climbing.
In 2017, we added Bike4aCause. A community ride supporting local nonprofits. Proceeds from all our rides benefit our foundation, the Wisconsin Women’s Fund, Inc.
Welcome to the Club
Over the years, it was infrequent to connect with women on the road or trail. But when I did, we’d get excited and share stories. It was common to hear stories of “that awful ride” that nearly turned them off to riding.
“That awful ride” didn’t have anything to do with traffic. It had to do with riding in a group or with one’s husband / significant other who would always be more interested in going fast or crushing a hill than in the ride itself. We’d often exchange numbers and say “Call when you’re up for a ride,” and we would. Today, these women are some of my closest friends.
When talking with women about what I do, many start off with, “I’m interested in riding but I’m not a racer…” I let them know that we’re not about racing or going fast. Some do like to compete, and others like to ride fast and hard but WWCycling is all about getting you comfortable on your bike and helping you develop your skills so you enjoy your ride, however you define it.
On the road, WWCycling Club holds weekly group rides. All are no-drop and are defined as Casual, Beginner, Intermediate, Brisk and Advanced. Our routes are flexible and are determined by who shows up.
Off-road, we offer a weekly mountain bike ride for women and summer camps for youth. Plus our members volunteer at local women’s mountain bike and cyclocross clinics. We’re a very active group and there is something for just about every style of rider.
WWCycling Club was formed under our foundation, but it was never in the original business plan to have a riding club. We partner with local groups, advocate for safe routes, and encourage kids to bike to school. Since it’s a natural fit and falls in line with the mission, WWCycling Club helps girls and women experience a memorable time on their bike.
Life As A Soigneur
My entire life has been about helping others. I think I was 32 when I first said “no.” Looking back, it has brought me great pleasure to serve, and today is no different. With my role at Wisconsin Women Cycling, it is my duty to serve the needs of the riders, coaches and volunteers. When I picked out my title, Soigneur was most fitting.
Though I do them from time-to-time, one-on-one sessions are not my core. Putting on rides, clinics and camps are. The focus at Wisconsin Women Cycling is event creation of non-competitive sporting activities set around cycling, women cycling in particular. We lay out environments where our riders feel safe, challenged and exhilarated.
Wisconsin Women Cycling is for hire and proceeds go to our foundation, Wisconsin Women’s Fund, Inc. a Wisconsin-based 501(c)(3) with a mission of inspiring more women and girls to ride bikes. More information can be found by visiting www.WiWomenCycling.com or www.WisconsinWomensFund.org.
Cindy Petted is Founder and Chief Soigneur of Wisconsin Women Cycling.