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Gear Up Girl – men in lycra shouldn’t put you off riding for fun and exercise

In the weeks following the Tour De France or our own Tour Down Under, groups of lycra-clad men swarm the streets on their state-of-the-art bikes.

While this is a sign that these premier cycling events inspire some to outlay hundreds of dollars to look good and get fit, could the experience be a better one?

Currently around 30 per cent of the South Australian population rides a bike each year, which seems a healthy number.

Yet we have the lowest participation rate in the country and even worse, only one in five cyclists in Adelaide are female.

So how do we redress this slump?

The answer could well be to just ask a woman.

Monique Bowley is as passionate about cycling for fun and a healthy lifestyle as she is about one of her other passions – baking.

She was a contestant on the Great Australian Bake Off, coming in a credible 4th.

It is this dedication to lifestyle and better living that has her riding her bike practically everywhere.

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“Adelaide is the perfect riding city. It’s so flat and it is pretty good weather most of the time,” she says.

Every day she rides from her home in Port Adelaide to her job as a journalist and producer for ABC Radio in Collinswood.

Monique is now a Gear Up Girl SA Ambassador along with media personality Amanda Blair.

Gear Up Girl SA is an event run by Bike SA to encourage as many women as possible to get on their bikes fitness and fun.

On November 24, hundreds of women will ride either 15, 40 or 50 kilometres as part of the Gear Up Girl SA ride and can choose to fundraise for breast cancer with proceeds going to Cancer Council SA.

This year also sees the addition of a new beach ride, going all the way down to Port Adelaide.

Bike SA Marketing and Communications Manager Julian Ferguson says that most women in car-dominated cities such as Adelaide don’t ride because of safety reasons.

“Research shows that if more women ride, the level of rider safety rises, which in turn encourages more women to ride,” Julian says.

It is this message that Monique also advocates as a Gear Up Girl Ambassador.

“Gear Up Girl is just about encouraging women who don’t normally ride to just have a go,” she says.

“If you are just going to the shops or to work, I would encourage you to just try it once a week and see how you go.

“I think you’ll find pretty soon you get addicted.”

While Monique is a seasoned rider, her fellow Ambassador, Amanda Blair, is a recent convert. But both women are perfect examples of the very different types of women who ride.

“We used to work on radio together and a couple of years ago I convinced her to buy a bike and get riding,” Monique says.

“As soon as she did she loved it too.

“But she takes it really slowly. She’s got an old vintage bike called Eunice and she rides as a leisure activity.

“Amanda is your more relaxed rider wheras I like to get from A to B fast, efficiently and cheaply.”

Compared to Europe, the numbers of female riders in Australia are significantly less than that of men, with national figures mirroring those of South Australia.

In bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands, more than half of all cyclists are women and around a quarter of all trips are on bikes.

To help redress these numbers and allow for safer travel and an increasing cycling population, the Adelaide City Council has installed European-style bike infrastructure across the city such as shared bike paths through the parklands and green bike lanes.

There are also green bike boxes at key intersections where cyclists have priority over vehicles, increased dedicated bike parking and secure storage in council carparks.

How the bike box works at an intersection

How the bike box works at an intersection

Bike SA and the ACC also have a popular free bike hire service called Adelaide City Bikes.

The State Government is also commitment to promoting cycling.  In the five years from 2006 to 2011 the length of the metropolitan bicycle network, Bikedirect, has increased by 76 per cent from 604 to 1,062 kilometres.

Monique is pragmatic about the pro’s and con’s being a female cyclist.

“Riding takes only five minutes more than driving wherever you’re going. You don’t have to worry about parking, you don’t have to worry about fuel, it’s really good for your body and your mind,” she says.

“The only downsides are you might get a bit sweaty and your hair might not look brilliant, but if you pack shower-in-a-can or a hairbrush, you get over that pretty quickly.”

So apart from a mild case of helmet hair, Monique says the best thing is to just give bike riding a go.

“I just think more girls need to get onto their bikes. You don’t have to be lycra-clad and riding all weekend and you don’t even need a great bike.”

“You just need something with two wheels, some pedals and some brakes and have a go.”

For more info about Gear Up Girl SA rides, go to www.bikesa.asn.au/gearupgirl

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