In the age of information, no one can hide: politicians can no longer kick mistakes under the rug, we no longer have to wait until our favourite shows air on TV, and arguments can be settled with a quick search on our smart phones. Social media has changed the world.
In the age of information, more and more cyclists are connecting with one another and becoming involved in the sport when they normally wouldn’t have had the courage to enquire in the first place. Cyclists have been using social media for a long time now to organise rides, to share stories and advice, and to post that ever important shot of the day’s ride for the world to see. Female cyclists in particular are driving plenty of online discussion, and it could even be argued that social media is a key catalyst, changing the world of women’s cycling. We caught up with female cyclists from around Australia to find out about how they use social media to their advantage.
Melissa Robinson is the Director of the Women’s Specific Training Program for Hall Cycle Training in WA. In January 2013, Melissa along with the founder Brad Hall started a women’s cycling initiative that aimed to encourage more women to cycle, and to enable them to cycle together.
“One thing we have heard again and again is that women prefer to ride in a group. One of the biggest deterrents to women starting in cycling is that fear of getting out on the road on their own; that fear of being judged and of not knowing how to get started in the first place.”
Cycling Australia’s Women’s Stakeholder Surveys, conducted in October and November 2013, found that 52% of female cyclists surveyed at that time, rode on their own.
This is something that Nicheliving’s Women’s Cycling Initiative set out to change. And one way to quickly get more women involved in activities such as group rides, and racing events, is to put the word out on Facebook.
“I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter…It’s practically my full time job,” Melissa said, laughing.
More and more, people are taking virtual footsteps in the right direction before actually going there themselves. Look at Kickstarter, which enables users to raise funds for their projects without having to set foot in a bank. Great sites like meetup.com encourage cyclists and everyone in between to get together online before getting together to do the things they are interested in.
Cycling Australia confirmed that “Safer bike lanes and pathways, access to other women who ride at their level, as well as access to organised riding groups would motivate them to ride more.”
But why do women feel uncomfortable taking that first step and going to the meet straight away?
Melissa suggests that social media can help put everyone on a level playing field.
“What happens with cycling and in particular with women, is that they assume they are going to be the slowest. Social media gets the conversation started before you show up at the group ride or the club encouraging you to give it a go. Social media personalises everybody.”
It can be daunting showing up to one of these events, even if you have ridden with a group before. Many of us, (not only women!) begin with the idea in our minds that every rider in the group is going to be fitter, faster, and more competitive than us. Melissa keeps a steady stream of photos going live to their social media pages, to help put the minds of potential newcomers at ease.
“Photos are great. A lot of women don’t know what to expect – they’re not going to show up if it’s a bunch of super fit athletes wearing Lycra staring back at them. A photo can say, ‘Hey, we’re just like you, we were nervous the first time, too.’”
Jo Hall from Liv agrees that social media is important, saying “it’s a fantastic platform for getting your message across.” But she also mentions that “you can’t beat old school word-of-mouth – sitting at the café having a chat.”
And we couldn’t agree more.
The latter is certainly the best way to stay informed and in touch. Most of us would probably follow the advice of someone we know and trust over a complete stranger. But there is something to be said for the power of online discussion. Michelle Crick is one such cyclist who set the wheels in motion, and mostly sits back letting them roll.
“The Facebook page now pretty much runs itself — that’s the great thing with social media. People arrange rides between themselves, they are not afraid to share information.”
CA also found that 92% of women surveyed enjoy reading about cycling.
Michelle is the administrator of a Facebook group called Adelaide Female Cyclists. The idea is simple: create a forum for women to share anything to do with cycling in Adelaide. Michelle originally ran a website dedicated to the same idea, but soon discovered that Facebook would allow her to extend her reach to potential members.
As a participating coach in the She Rides initiative set up by cycling Australia, Michelle understands the need for community among female cyclists. She said the biggest challenge facing female cyclists when they are thinking about getting involved is the “lack of social connection they sometimes feel.”
Programs like She Rides work hard to change this by enabling women to ride as part of a group where they can be comfortable that everyone is around the same level. Social media is a useful tool for She Rides, enabling potential participants who like to ride to take virtual steps towards getting out there on the bike.
“We don’t expect the wheels to change overnight, but things are improving,” Michelle said.
Initiatives like She Rides, Nicheliving Women’s Cycling Initiative and brands like Liv are all turning that wheel, steadily encouraging the growth of the female cycling community at both the coffee shop, and in the cloud.
A big thanks to Liv Cycling and Melissa Robinson for the awesome photos!
How do you use social media? What do you want to see more of? Let us know in the comments below.