“Sorry they’re a bit squished,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
She’s passing a brown paper bag of brownies around to a group of six women in Seapoint, a small coastal village on the south side of Dublin, close to Dún Laoghaire.
Nearby, people are preparing themselves for a plunge in the sea while others, post-dip, dry themselves off in the balmy air on an overcast Saturday.
The group, whose ages range from thirties to sixties, sits on a patch of grass beside the swimmers.
Lycra jackets zipped down and helmets off, some of them sit shoeless as they relax after their morning cycle.
“Sure that makes the brownies taste better,” says one of the group organisers of Monthly Cycles, Joan O’Connell.
Monthly Cycles is an event for women to meet and cycle around Dublin every month.
“We are very much trying to encourage new women or nervous women to get used to cycling by getting some support from ourselves,” says O’Connell.
Gender Disparity Among Cyclists
There is a significant gender imbalance when it comes to cycling in Ireland.
According to the most recent census, compiled by the Central Statistics Office in 2016, 41,341 men cycle to work every morning while only 15,496 women choose to get to work on their bike.
But, it seems the divergence starts much earlier with women.
According to the #andshecycles campaign by Green Schools in September 2019, one in every 250 teenage girls cycle to school. In comparison, the 2016 census found that 90 percent of secondary school students who cycle to school are boys.
Peddling Past Barriers
Last summer, O’Connell was at a cycling event for women when she met the vice chairperson of Dublin Cycling Campaign Louise Williams and Councillor Horner.
“I went up to them after the event and this idea came up in the course of the conversation,” says O’Connell.
The first monthly cycles meeting took place in September 2019. Since then a group of women with mixed ability and experience have met up each month around Dublin.
Women can share their own tips and experiences between each other while exploring the city, says O’Connell.
“We wanted to set up a group that would help women overcome the barriers they might face when cycling,” says O’Connell.
Dangers for Female Cyclists
Back in Seapoint, the women are talking about their own experiences. Harassment is an obstacle that comes up in conversation.
Louise Williams was cycling along Mount Street Crescent in Dublin 2 last year when a man hit her on the back, she says.
“He told me that I needed to learn how to cycle better,” says Williams.
“You feel quite vulnerable afterward. You can’t help it,” she says.
Williams is often told that she is “so brave”, for cycling in Dublin, she says.
Sitting beside Williams is Sara Stevens. She lives in Kilmainham, cycles to work and explains that she too has had similar experiences.
Stevens says she was cycling by the construction site for the new Children’s Hospital in Rialto when a lorry drove right up behind her and the driver began beeping at her so that she would move out of the way.
“I was so scared that I had to cycle up onto the pavement,” she says.
Stevens reported the incident to an office on the construction site.
“The man just told me that he was so sorry and he is always telling the lorry drivers to slow down,” she says.
Building Confidence in Tandem
Monthly Cycles is an opportunity to show solidarity among women cyclists, says Louise Williams.
The group has encouraged women to come along that have little cycling experience.
“This is my third time getting on a bike since I was a child,” says Janice McGann, wearing a luminous yellow jacket.
McGann is new to cycling because she was afraid of “the giant metal boxes” that drive at speed through the streets of Dublin, she says.
The meetups are a great way to build up confidence on a bike, says McGann.
“I’ve been asking stupid questions all morning about the rules of the road,” she says.
“There’s no such thing as stupid questions,” O’Connell says sitting on the bench beside her.
Staying in Lane
Once the cycling is finished, the women set down their bikes and chat together. “This is a great opportunity to share different perspectives,” says Clara Clark, one of the older women in the group.
She sits with her back to the swimmers while her bike — a trishaw with three wheels and a bench— is parked to the left of her.
Clark uses this bike to cycle residents from nursing and care homes around Dublin as part of the Cycling Without Age charity.
Clark and some of the other women are chatting about the new two-lane segregated cycle paths in Blackrock they saw on their cycle that morning.
“They’re too narrow, I thought,” Clark says.
“It’s fine if you are on a racer bike with skinny wheels but not everybody is,” she says.
Some people cycle with three wheels while new cyclists, such as kids, tend to wobble side to side when they cycle, Clark says.
Having Wheel Fun
Anyone is welcome to join Monthly Cycles, O’Connell says speaking on the phone last Friday.
“All you need is a bike and a love for coffee and cake. That’s pretty much it,” she says.
No specialist equipment is required and people can avail of bike-sharing schemes if they don’t own a bike but would like to join in, O’Connell says.
“As an experience it’s very fun, sociable and light hearted. Hopefully the outcome for the individuals who come along will be to build their confidence as people who cycle,” she says.
This is especially important in light of Covid-19 as more people buy bikes and people return to cycling who haven’t been on a bike in some time, she says.
Details for upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page.