Montage of various women on bikes

If you asked someone to picture a cyclist, odds are they would imagine a middle-aged man in lycra with an expensive bike but there are women who ride and they are just as passionate about it as any MAMIL.

In 2012 Tina McCarthy decided to throw in her successful career as a designer and chase her dream of getting as many women on bikes as she possibly could by establishing Wheel Women, a social enterprise which focuses on teaching women usually aged between 33 – 55 how to ride confidently and safely on the road alone and in a group.

Woman riding a mountain bike

Tina McCarthy having fun on her mountain bike. Photo: Tina McCarthy

McCarthy said she has been in the privileged position of watching women gain confidence on a bike and achieve things they thought were impossible.

“There’s a lady who’s joined in September who hadn’t ridden a bike in years, years and years and she’s coming up for 60 this year and she’d been riding for six weeks before I said ‘why don’t you come do Ride Daylesford?’ which was a 65 kilometre ride.” McCarthy said.

“She did the 65 kilometres, she was walking towards the end, but she still did it. She got to the end of it, burst into tears and just said ‘if you’d have told me six weeks ago I was going to ride 65 kilometres, let alone 65 kilometres with hills, I would’ve just laughed and said, don’t be ridiculous’.”

It’s stories like this that drive McCarthy to keep going with her business even though it’s a labour of love and has seen Wheel Women win a Victorian Sport Award in 2017 as well as McCarthy recently being named an ambassador for VicHealth’s This Girl Can initiative.

Stories like this aren’t unique to the women who go through the Wheel Women program, they can be found in every group of women who ride.

Helen Young discovered cycling in her 40s after her body started to object to aerobics she was doing but she didn’t want to stop exercising.

Women standing in front of the summit sign for a mountain

Helen Young at the summit of Col du Galibier in France. Photo: Helen Young

Since taking up cycling, she has been on a self-guided cycling holiday in France with friends, ridden the 250 kilometre circuit of Bicycle Network’s Around the Bay event twice and conquered all seven peaks in the yearly 7 Peaks challenge which includes Mt Hotham and Falls Creek.

“I ride these days for coffee, cake, friends and fitness. My husband and I are classic empty-nesters and moved out of the family home in the burbs a couple of years ago into an inner suburban apartment. Plus I can indulge my love of food and not stack on the kilos,” Young said.

Angela MacRae has been riding a bike on and off for her whole life with breaks when she got her driver’s licence and when she had children but got back on her bike when her kids were school-aged and surprised herself by taking up racing.

“To keep riding is essential for me. It keeps me healthy mentally and physically and it is an integral part of who I am. I just couldn’t imagine life without my bike. It allows me some ‘me’ time, and I believe it sets a great example to my kids – follow your passion whatever it is, and treasure what you love.” MacRae said.

Robyn Grant is another woman who has discovered a passion for cycling after needing to find another form of exercise.

She first tried out mountain biking in her 40s and loved it but recently decided that racing downhill on the mountain bike trails are a little too dangerous for someone in her 50s so has instead shifted her attention to road riding instead.

“I’m riding for me, for fitness, for enjoyment, for the sense of freedom you get when you leave home at 6.45 on a chilly Melbourne morning, watch the sun come up as you are riding to meet your like-minded friends, ride through the morning, and be home for lunch, like nothing ever happened, but indeed it did, it’s my little secret why I tingle inside and feel so damn good for the rest of the day.”

Feature image photos: Alison Raaymakes, Samantha Stones, Bridge Elle, Jennie Ramage and Lauren O’Keefe. Created by Lauren O’Keefe.

This article was also published on Bicycling Australia as: These Women Can: The Rise & Rise Of Women’s Cycling