A Deakin researcher is driving initiatives to encourage female cyclists.
Dr Katie Rowe, a lecturer in Sport Management for the Deakin Business School and member of the Centre for Sport Research Strategic Research Centre, is applying her research to develop best practice approaches to increase women’s cycling participation.
“My PhD focused on women’s cycling participation at the entry level. It was set in the context of cycling education and training as an intervention to assist women to commence, or recommence, cycling as adults,” said Dr Rowe.
The qualitative study involved observation of education sessions, interviews with participants, course leaders and stakeholders, and document analysis.
“My research found that while many women are interested in cycling, they are often held back from participating by a lack of skills, knowledge and confidence. They are often concerned about cycling risks and safety, including traffic and the prospect of falling off their bike,” she said.
“An interesting finding was that women were feeling intimidated by Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs), in terms of competitive speed on bike paths. Females represent less than 35 per cent of Australians who cycle and less than 20 per cent of club members.”
Dr Rowe interviewed women directly after they completed the AustCycle education program, and again three months later.
“Cycling education was found to be a valuable intervention for women because it provided them with a safe learning environment where cycling risks were managed by professionals. The participants felt supported because they had the opportunity to engage with other women who were experiencing similar barriers, and learn from trainers who acted as role models for women.”
“Participants also reported that as they developed skills, their confidence grew and many progressed to riding on the road. They were given strategies to safely ride around cars, which provided reassurance and confidence that could be transferred to their regular riding pursuits.”
Dr Rowe has presented her research at numerous sport management and physical activity conferences, both nationally and internationally. She has also published in highly ranked journals and is the current Secretary of the Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand (SMAANZ).
Her research has provided key stakeholder groups with insights that have been used to inform strategies to engage more women in cycling. Stakeholders include Cycling Victoria, with its Festival of Women’s Cycling, Breeze Rides, and Social Spin programs; Cycling Australia with its She Rides program; and, Wheel Women, a women’s cycling organisation offering regular rides, education sessions and development opportunities in a fun, non-threatening environment.
On Saturday 25 March, in partnership with Whitehorse Council, the Women’s Ride took place at Deakin University’s Burwood Campus, as part of the Festival of Women’s Cycling. Held along the picturesque Gardiner’s Creek Trail, Burwood, the event included 15km and 6km loops, bike maintenance information sessions and morning tea, with support from the team at Wheel Women. The interest in these initiatives is clear; only in its second year, registrations for the event doubled in 2017 and reached the capacity of close to 50 riders.
“The Women’s Ride responds to research findings by providing a safe and enjoyable space for women to ride with other women, build their confidence and receive guidance from professional cycling instructors. Participants are exposed to a range of supports offered within the City of Whitehorse and linked to ongoing ride opportunities provided by Wheel Women in the months following the event,” said Dr Rowe.
Dr Rowe’s research identified that incorporating cycling into daily life can encourage participation, although there is a need for appropriate change room facilities for commuters – an initiative in which Deakin has been proactive.
“Deakin has great cycling infrastructure; we’ve got showers, change rooms, and bike lock-ups – everything a cyclist needs,” she said.
Deakin is a strong supporter of Women in Sport, both on and off the field. The Women in Sport and Exercise (WISE) research group, part of the Centre for Sport Research, aims to improve women’s participation in sport and exercise through world-class research and strengthening relationships with communities and partners.
• Watch this ‘Three Minute Thesis’ video to learn more about Dr Rowe’s research.
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