Despite the antelope incident that circulated on the web last month, where a cyclist in Africa was unceremoniously knocked from his bike when a red hartebeest antelope crossed his path, exotic animals rarely figure in the lives of UK cyclists.
It’s a convention that was ignored at the start of the autumn, when a mass cycle ride started rolling from Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. And it wasn’t the only convention turned on its head – the second being that the mass cycle ride featured, exclusively, women.
The Whipsnade ride was the first of two ‘Cycletta’ rides for 2011, the second taking place a few weeks later in Cheshire, in Tatton Park.
Exotic animals aside, the rides are notable for their female-only emphasis, concocted to try and normalise that elusive goal of women cycling in numbers. Backed by Sky Ride, British Cycling and its Breeze network, the rides are over 40km, with an emphasis on accessibility but also on ensuring participants consider their general fitness, training, apparel and equipment prior to taking part – or competing for the more competitive.
The rides also have an altruistic hook. Tapping into the vogue of raising money for good causes through physical activity – like the increasingly popular Moonwalk and Race for Life events – riders taking part in Cycletta can help fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Research.
The two rides managed to attract around 800 women each, but more interestingly, statistics from the organisers show that around 75 per cent of riders were new to cycling.
In her role of Cycletta ambassador, Victoria Pendleton told the media: “It was such a privilege to ride alongside hundreds of women in Cycletta South. I was able to speak to lots of girls on the way round and the enthusiasm and atmosphere was infectious. It is great to see so many more women cycling, not just at Cycletta but every day, and we really hope this continues.”
While Pendleton has been the media-grabbing figurehead of the rides, Jo Dytch of Participate, former organiser of the Etape Caledonia, has put the rides together in her role as project director.
Dytch admits that there were higher hopes for participation, but tells BikeBiz that this year’s rides are a solid beginning from which to build on.
“We’re pleased with the attendance. It was slightly less than we thought, but overall it’s great and a positive start.
“We had everyone from experienced cyclists to novices take part – everyone came together. It was great to see.
“A cross section of women took part and the charity element proved important to a lot of the riders, while for others it’s just the chance for a ride.”
Cycletta has tasked itself with encouraging more women to cycle, but it’s not just the job of events like the two this year to foster the market, says Dytch: “We help grow women cycling through events like ours, but also the industry is becoming more inclusive, less exclusive and more open.
“I think we need lots more events and most of all we need everyone to get involved to make it successful.”
“We found that the women taking part in Cycletta liked to ride around in groups. Something like Cycletta is less intimidating than some cycling clubs, say, which are usually male dominated.”
Having a celebrity cyclist ambassador has helped to bring the media on board and increase coverage, Dytch explains.
“It absolutely has with Vicky P at the helm. She is inspirational and she’s also someone that people can relate to. At the Cycletta rides she started them off. She also stopped along the route and hung around after the rides had finished to talk to the riders. That went down well with the riders.”
Cycletta participants were also treated to a range of post-ride facilities, not least a helmet hair clinic.
“That’s developed beyond that original offering. We initially announced it as a helmet hair clinic, but it’s now a full pamper zone, with head massages – and Indian head massages this time – and a nail bar. For the helmet hair we’ve had a hairdresser on hand, using dry shampoo on the riders.
“It absolutely was not meant to be patronising,” Dytch emphasises. “It’s a quirky thing, a bit tongue-in-cheek and something slightly different.”
And as such Cycletta occupies an unusual space in the cycle events calendar. The organisation behind the event – Participate Sport – specialises in participation events based on unique concepts in the worlds of cycling, running, triathlon and open water swimming.
So will the unique concept of Cycletta be a permanent fixture? Dytch tells BikeBiz: “We’re absolutely coming back next year and we’re going to grow the series. I can’t say much more on how many events just yet, but we’re definitely growing.”
“One area we’ll definitely build on is the training sessions before the rides begin. We’re going to build on what we’re doing by continuing to work with Sky, British Cycling and the Breeze network.”
MAIN PIC CREDIT: RB Create