Lycra-clad stereotypes of lean men tearing through the countryside on bikes have done little to encourage women to saddle up.
Traditionally a male-dominated sport, cycling has had its heroines through the years with the likes of Morley’s Beryl Burton and more recently Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead but still it is estimated that only around a quarter of people who ride once a week in the UK are female.
But slowly the wheels of change are turning in Yorkshire and, with the July Tour de France Grand Depart from Yorkshire less than three months away, more and more women are taking to two wheels.
West Yorkshire is home to the UK’s largest and fastest growing cycling club, and among the 1,260 riders who count themselves as Ilkley Cycling Club members around 500 of those are women.
Stephanie Millward, chair and one of the founding members of Ilkley Cycling Club, said: “It’s been a huge success, particularly for women. Our membership is 40 per cent women which is really unusual for a cycling club.
“One of the big success stories is our women’s participation from our novice cyclists to the women we have racing this year.”
The sport is seeing something of a surge in popularity among women, although there is still much to be done about the everyday concerns non-cyclists have about saddling up.
Moortown cycling enthusiast Elaine Croot says women often have concerns about the safety of cycling on Leeds’ roads, while many are intimidated by cycling groups which are often associated with racing and male “banter”.
The 50-year-old exercise instructor set up the Leeds Women’s Velo cycle group around a fortnight ago, leading small female-only rides around north Leeds twice a week in line with the British Cycling Breeze programme.
She said: “Let’s hope things are changing. As the Tour de France gets a little bit closer we might be able to get more women out on the roads. There is a need for more women to get out there and show it’s not a men’s thing, women can do it just as well.
“When I go out it’s to have fun and for the social side. There’s always a coffee stop on a long ride and we often go out and see new places.”
Ambitious targets are being set to increase the number of female cyclists on UK roads, with British Cycling aiming get 1m more woman riding by 2020 and the region-wide Cycle Yorkshire Tour de France legacy campaign aiming to increase female inclusion as it bids to give everyone in the county access to a bike by 2023.
This summer, for the first time in years, the Tour de France will have a dedicated women’s stage – La Course by Le Tour de France, staged in Paris – after an online petition for a women’s Tour was signed by 100,000 people.
British Cycling’s president Bob Howden said: “It truly feels like momentum is now building and we’re starting to successfully tackle the historical gender imbalance.”
He added that schemes such as Breeze, which are UK-wide organised rides and courses for women, continue to “define success at the grassroots level of the sport”.