By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer

Another weekend, another bike ride. Week after week, Willa Kriebel and Deb Intas would find themselves heading to another Fondo or fun ride and then hanging out, waiting for their husbands to cross the finish.

They were both supportive of their husbands’ passion for cycling. But then one weekend they looked at each other and said, “We are the ones who should be crossing the finish line.”

Willa says “We didn’t even really own a bike, at least not a good one. We had kids and not a lot of time, but we had to start somewhere.”

So the two decided to start a cycling club in Vancouver just for women. The idea behind WOWride (stands for Women on Wheels) was to create a community, and bring together like-minded women to ride in a safe, supportive environment.

Their motto: “By women, for women. We are stronger together.”

“So many women feel intimidated to take up road riding,” says Deb. “We felt like that. We felt weird riding with men, a lot don’t have the skill level to keep up at the beginning, many don’t know women who ride, and don’t feel safe.”

Willa adds, “Women can feel unwelcome in group rides, they don’t feel safe in traffic. We wanted to help change that.”

WOWride is now in its sixth season, and their numbers have grown to more than a hundred dedicated and diverse riders. The youngest woman in WOWride is 23 – the oldest is 73. They all ride together a couple of times a week, and participate in organized rides and Fondos. WOWride even has a race team on the circuit. All things Deb and Willa could never have imagined just a few years ago.

“When I started, I didn’t know how to work my gears how to fuel myself, and I looked to other people to help me,” says Willa. “Now I’m amazed to see what I can accomplish.”

It’s not that women don’t want to ride. According to the League of American Bicyclists, 60% of bike owners between the ages of 17 and 28 are women. But in the US, men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1. Somewhere between the bike purchase and hitting the road, there’s a disconnect. And for years, the number of women who cycled was on a steady decline.

However, because of women like Deb and Willa, and clubs like WOWride, the tide finally seems to have turned.

According to the latest Toronto cycling statistics, women are now the fastest growing demographic in cycling.

And I’m seeing women-focused clubs pop up everywhere. Bad Girls Bike Club in Toronto is an informal cycling group geared towards women, transgender and non-binary people. Their goal is to encourage more women to get on their bikes because they see it as one of the fastest, easiest and most empowering ways to get around the city.

Tripleshot Women’s Cycling Clinics are run by women for women in Victoria, BC. Again, the clinics were originally established for women who are interested in learning the skills and techniques needed for safe group riding. But over the decade since it started, Tripleshot has also evolved to include to train women who want to become faster and more skillful, as well as those who are curious about getting onto racing.

And in the Ottawa area there’s CycleFit CHICKS. It was founded in 2008 to provide more cycling opportunities for female cyclists to grow and develop their skills.

As founder Sylvie D’Aoust says on their website, “We need more women to feel comfortable on the bike and gain the confidence through skills clinics to be successful and comfortable competing in their first road race, or participating in longer tours”.

Deb and Willa says the bottom line for them is to introduce women to just how fun cycling is.

“Just the way it feels to ride, it’s just pure joy!” says Deb. “Whether it’s a pleasure ride, or getting your personal best in a Fondo. And as a co-founder the greatest buzz is seeing women transform into stronger riders and the joy and confidence they feel.”

“For me,” says Willa, “It’s that feeling you get when you’re with a bunch of women and we’re thrilled that we’re out and we’re all together – it’s super powerful.”

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