Over the following 10 days two courageous women are getting on their bikes and riding almost 1000 miles to inspire women in midlife to overcome the fear of cycling and experience the joy and freedom it brings.
A recent Twitter poll by Women in Sport found the main barriers preventing women from getting in the saddle are safety (71%), time pressure (11%), not having the right gear (11%) and affordability (7%).
Figures also show 47 percent of women at midlife have less than 35 minutes to themselves each day*, yet 84 per cent of inactive women in that age bracket (41-60 years old) want to be more active.**
44-year-old Clare Taylor and Sharon Spriggs, 50, are joining a team of recreational cyclists for the Gill Cycle Challenge, which sees them set off from Wimbledon, London on June 2nd for Rochefort Su Mer, France, and back again! The riders will average 100 miles a day for 10 days, finishing back in London on June 11th having pedalled a total of 955 miles.
We caught up with them before they left:
What inspired you to take on this challenge?
Clare: When I was asked to take on this challenge it was initially a daunting prospect. 100 miles a day for ten days is a huge undertaking, especially as I’m a runner and cycling is not within my comfort zone. But working for Women in Sport I’m aware of the barriers to cycling many women, of all ages, face. I wanted to challenge my own worries – the fear of failure, concerns over cycling on the road, and the guilt I feel taking time out for training, being away from my family. I know that what I will learn from this ride will outweigh the concerns and if I can inspire just one woman to get on her bike and give it a go, then that’s fantastic.
Sharon: I like to do something every year that pushes me out of my comfort zone, which I think is so important, especially as we get older. When Clare asked me to join the challenge my initial thought was, ‘Can I do that?’, then I knew I had to at least try.
What training have you done to prepare you and how hard has that been?
C: Most of my previous biking experience has been on a spin bike, so to help improve my confidence riding on the roads I looked to join a local bike club. Unfortunately, there are no clubs in Lytham St Annes, but I met a wonderful woman called Barbara, who’s a local cycling legend and has been amazing at helping me to prepare. She’s taken me under her wing on rides and helped to organise routes which takes some of the pressure off me. I definitely feel my confidence on the bike has grown under her guidance. The hardest thing has been juggling long rides and hours on the bike with family commitments and work, but I also find that cycling is less intense than running and there are times on the bike where I can look up and appreciate the beauty of my surroundings.
S: The hardest thing has been carving out the time to train. I’ve got a turbo bike in the garage, so if the weather is rubbish I’ll stay inside, but four hours on a bike is difficult and boring. My daughter comes and talks to me in the garage but runs away when I start nagging her about homework as she knows I can’t follow her!
A recent poll by Women in Sport shows some of the barriers preventing women from cycling are safety, time pressures, clothing, and affordability. Have you been affected by any of these?
C: For me safety is the biggest concern. When I lived in London I began commuting to work by bike, which was the first time I cycled regularly. You definitely feel more vulnerable on a bike and I’ve come off a couple of times which really shook me. Now, the main barrier is time. My son is 5 years old and it’s hard to manage training and find adequate time to rest and recover with a young family to look after. I recently ran the Manchester Marathon and was really looking forward to unwinding in an Epsom salt bath when I got home and I ended up sharing it with my son, which was a slightly different experience!
S: I believe the single biggest barrier to cycling for women is cost. Even if you get a second-hand bike, by the time you’ve bought suitable clothes, a helmet and made alterations to improve comfort on the bike the cost can spiral. It’s no surprise that the majority of competitors in triathlon are middle-aged white men – they’re the demographic with the most disposable income.
I got my first bike on the NHS bike scheme and when I decided to take part in a triathlon and found a race bike I wanted I must have phoned every bike shop in the country asking them to let me know if the price of that model was reduced. 12 months and countless emails later I got the bike at a fraction of the retail price because it was scratched, but I think the shop felt sorry for me!
What do you feel will be the toughest part of the challenge?
C: Definitely being away from my family for ten days. It’s my son’s birthday when I’m away so the mum guilt will be there. The distance is also going to be tough. I know I can do 100 miles but 100 miles each day for ten days is going to be physically and mentally testing. There are 12 other riders participating in the challenge, so there will be a great sense of comradery and we’ll all keep each other going.
S: The saddle soreness! It’s so difficult to find a comfortable saddle. I’ve literally owned every saddle in the universe trying to find a suitable fit. It’s a running joke in our house as a couple of years ago when I was trying to find the perfect saddle a parcel would arrive every couple of weeks and my husband would groan and say, ‘not another saddle?’ For this ride, I’ve got a gel pad, which doesn’t look very professional, but if it keeps me comfortable that’s all that matters! I’ve only cycled 70 miles with it though, so 955 miles is going to be a test of what it can do!
What part of the challenge are you most looking forward to?
C: I’m really looking forward to meeting the other riders and getting to know them. It’s also going to be incredible cycling around France and exploring the country. It’s an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I must thank The Gill Foundation for supporting us on this challenge. My main driver though for wanting to do this is to show other women in midlife and other mums that they can challenge themselves and do things that are completely outside of their comfort zone. As a mum it’s so easy to lose your sense of self with so much caring responsibility for others. I believe it’s important that we make time for ourselves, to rediscover our sense of self and find new and exciting ways to be active.
S: Like Clare, I’m also looking forward to the feeling of challenging myself and the shared experience with the rest of the group. I turned 50 this year and I think there’s always a period of reflection that happens when you hit milestone birthdays. I want to prove that age is not a barrier. Also, over the past few years regular exercise has really helped to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Speaking with friends I feel I’ve got off lightly, but I put that down to an active lifestyle. I hope by doing this I can inspire other women to find their own release.
Support Clare and Sharon: Clare Taylor is fundraising for Women in Sport (justgiving.com)
* Aviva 2019
**Inspiring Women to be Active During Midlife and Menopause Women in Sport (2021)