Historically, women have always had less involvement in cycling. For example, when bikes were first invented, women’s clothing was not suited to cycling and so it was deemed dangerous to ride a bicycle. Still, in the modern day, barriers to women such as the gender confidence gap are very much alive and present. So, with fewer women than men cycling in the UK, many have wondered what can be done to improve this.
Last month, 75 women, non-binary and trans folk embarked on the English Lake District to take part in a community-building weekend focused on bikepacking.
Sisters in the Wild is a community working to create an environment where people other than men can feel empowered to expand their comfort zones in a safe and supportive environment. A weekend in the beautiful Lake District surrounded by some of the best gravel in the country was just the tonic for those who were keen to get involved.
Camping in the Langdale valley, people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences in cycling came together. Long-distance bikepackers, bike mechanics, commuters and those who’d never ridden off-road before: a real breadth of experience was present. The perfect environment for a whole lot of knowledge-sharing.
A bike-skills workshop ensured everyone was acquainted with their bikes and that any mechanicals or punctures could be dealt with with confidence. One benefit of riding in a group is that you sort of hope that someone will know what to do in the event that something goes wrong with your bike. However, it was emphasised that riders should carry basic tools and know how to use them. From a basic M-check to indexing your gears, understanding your bike is of particular importance if you’re heading out on a longer bikepacking trip. If you’re going off-road, it’s even more essential as the walk off the hill could instead be an easy fix if you know what you’re looking for.
Top tip: If you’re heading out for a longer trip – or even for day-to-day – purchase a spare derailleur hanger in case yours becomes damaged. It’s easily done, and it’s an easy fix if you have one on hand. Ordering a specialised bike part on the other hand could take a few days.
Saturday night saw adventure sharing and a talk from two experienced bikepackers. Emma Kingston, author of Bikepacking England Guidebook shared her knowledge and experience of multi-day bike trips alongside Rachael Walker, one of Cycling UK’s 2018 100 Women in Cycling. For some having never experienced an overnighter on two wheels before, the talk provided great insight. For others, the simple act of having a conversation with others about a shared pleasure was inspiring. To share that conversation with other women was something of a revelation too.
With Emma’s gear laid out on the field in front of the group, she isolated each item and explained its importance. Ultimately though, she shared that the most useful pieces of bikepacking equipment are those you already have. With a few dry bags and some bungee cords, you can easily load your bike up with whatever you have and set off on an adventure. That way at least you can figure out 1) whether you enjoy it and 2) what you actually want to invest in.
One important element of a multi-day bike trip, Emma says, will be your quality of sleep. So if you’re going to invest in anything then invest in a good quality sleeping bag and mat. Both should be suitable to the temperature you’ll be sleeping in for the most comfortable night’s sleep. Other important items will be down to personal preference. You might prefer to go super lightweight or you might carry some home comforts. As long as you’re safe and comfortable, whatever you take on your trip should facilitate a fun adventure.
The conversation continued as everyone shared their favourite camp foods (overnight oats is popular) and sleep set-ups. Leave-no-trace principles were highlighted as an important element of bikepacking, with Emma even carrying a trowel for doing her business in the great outdoors. The group was left feeling motivated and inspired to take on new challenges on their bikes. But for now, there were campfire chats and marshmallows to be shared with more good rides in the cards.
The weekend was the first of its kind in the UK, having held its inaugural meet in Slovenia last year. The next event will be in Slovenia in September 2021. Tickets are available on the website. You can find Sisters in the Wild on Instagram at: Sisters in the Wild UK and SitW bikepacking.