Women in Tandem’s Lily Beaven Explains How They’re Helping to Tackle the Gender Imbalance in Cycling

Interview: Gemma Cockrell
Illustrations: James Adams
Thursday 08 September 2022
reading time: min, words

We chat to Women in Tandem’s founder and managing director, Lily Beaven, about the activities that the Nottingham based community bike collective organise and how they are helping women overcome the barriers they face within the cycling world…


What is Women in Tandem and what does it aim to do?
Women In Tandem is a community interest company, which we set up because we wanted to help women to feel more confident when riding bikes. There's a gender imbalance in cycling and a lot of the representation in the media is of people who look a particular way. We were founded in 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. We started off fixing bikes in my garden, then we moved on to doing mobile repairs, and then we started using grant funding to help people who wouldn't be able to afford to get into cycling to have that opportunity as well. We did group rides when we were allowed to, and then in February moved into our first workshop space.

Are these activities that you are still running now?
Yes, and more! We are still running our Dr Bike repair services, and we're doing more group rides. We've got weekly Tuesday evening rides for beginners, and a project with the women's centre on Wednesday mornings. We've got longer weekend rides, which are our most popular sessions. We've had 26 people, which is quite powerful, a huge group of women. Then you turn up at a café and they've got to make 26 coffees and cakes! We have a fully equipped workshop now where we teach bike mechanics. We've started a new project which is a bike kitchen, and we’ve also started working more with brands, like Raleigh, and Commute, a route planning app. We want the workshop to be not just about bikes but about community too. 

You mentioned that cycling is male-dominated, why do you think this is? 
I think women have less time and money to do things for themselves. People don't realise the freedom that men have. This is changing, and definitely doesn't speak for everyone, but that tends to be the case. There's also more practical things, like only recently have they started making saddles specifically for women and women-specific kit. They often advertise them as unisex when they're not. This year was the first year there was a Tour De France for women, and that was fantastic - it was called Tour De Femme. I loved it and was very proud of the riders. But how can that be the first time that the event is open to women? It wasn't broadcasted nationally, whereas Tour de France is, so the public may not have realised it was happening. Even though there is change being made, which is exciting to see and to be part of, there's still a long way to go. 


I think it gives women added independence. Cycling is a cheap, efficient mode of transport, which can allow women to get around and run their errands.

What are the benefits of cycling for women?
I think it gives women added independence. Cycling is a cheap, efficient mode of transport, which can allow women to get around and run their errands. They may even be able to access support services beyond their local area, such as education or employment. Public transport is expensive, and so is running a car, and women may not have access to this. A lot of women who attend our sessions say 'This is my hour, just for me'. They take the time out for themselves, which is very liberating. 

How do you feel that your women-only sessions can help women to feel more confident when cycling?
I think it can be a bit controversial when we say something is women-only but it gives women a chance to feel more comfortable and ask questions that they may not have asked in other environments. Women have come to us specifically saying they're grateful it's a women-only space. Some people may not have come otherwise, if it was a mixed group. We don't advertise ourselves as being inclusive, because we're not. We're quite deliberately exclusive. But we want all kinds of women to feel comfortable in the space. We're trying to make people feel like there's no such thing as a stupid question, and break down the terminology so it's accessible. Another advantage of women-only spaces is that we can break down the barriers that women face within cycling. Women feel more comfortable in an environment with other women that they can connect with and have more in common with. We're trying to create a space where they feel comfortable and can develop skills at their own pace. What's unique about us is that we are entirely women-led, meaning that we can be role models for the community and give women a chance to envision themselves as a part of it. 

What do you feel these barriers are?
We're still very much learning what they are and how to overcome them. A big one is finance. There's the gender pay gap, and women have less disposable income to spend on leisure activities. That's why we make our sessions free. We also offer childcare, because in reality most of the responsibility for this lies on women. 

How can people get involved?
We have a website, which has a page with all of our upcoming events. There's also social media - our Instagram is super active, and there's Facebook and email as well. You can visit our workshop which is open weekdays 10am-6pm, and we list everything on Eventbrite, so you can just search ‘Women In Tandem’ on there and follow us to get reminders of new events. 


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