Around 10% of the adult population regularly participates in recreational cycling and the Department for Transport estimates that a typical ‘cycling city’ could be worth over £300 million to the NHS in healthcare cost savings.
Whilst being one of the most popular sports in the nation, cycling still presents fundamental barriers around accessibility, and ultimately inclusion.
With acronyms like MAMILs (Middle-aged men in lycra), Cycling has a history of being an exclusive sport, with white middle aged men being traditionally, the most widely represented demographic. While diversity in cycling is improving, there exists a lot of work to be done. According to TFL’s latest research on the demographic of cycling, only 20% of cyclists in London are women, with only 25% of Asian people. Whilst an improvement from previous years, there are still significant barriers to overcome.
One group looking to open up access is Evolve Cycle, a cycling community specifically designed for Muslim women that provides a safe space for them to progress in the sport. Formed in 2020, Evolve runs cycling groups in Harrow, Hillingdon, and Bushy Park. With a variety of rides for beginners to advanced cyclists. Evolve works to build confidence and opportunity for Muslim riders.
Since their inception, they have trained over 300 women aged between 4-70 and have put on two Sportives, which are long distance cycling events. Evolves Sportives included a 30 mile race and a 50 mile race to accommodate to the variety of skill levels of their participants. With other events such as their Eid Cyclathlon, hosted after the month of Ramadan, they bring their faith into cycling as well as breaking down barriers that prevent Muslim women from getting into the sport.
Iffat Tejani, CEO and founder of Evolve Cycle said: “We want create progression for Muslim women. We create confidence and build up their skills. To encourage more Muslim women to participate, change needs to be coming from within the community.”
While many cyclists might stop and rest in a pub or wear tight-fitting jerseys on their rides, many Muslim women may feel excluded because of their religious beliefs. According to Tejani: “We will set up rides and make sure there is a place for us to pray. Issues with cycling in the countryside are that you might stop and rest at a pub. It is important for us to remove these barriers.”
They have designed their own jersey with a sport-style skirt and zips that allow for both modesty and ease when cycling. Tejani expressed how important having a community was when creating the jersey: “I would have never known about the modest jerseys without the community. I used to wear a loose skirt to make it modest. Now we have a jersey that comes down to below our hips.”
One of their latest projects to support young riders is their Go-Ride sessions. Designed for young children, Evolve now has 60 participants in these sessions. For them, it was important to have female coaches to further encourage young girls from their community to participate. They have trained 15 coaches including Shahnia Chandoo who at 17 years old became the youngest female Muslim coach with British Cycling.
Speaking to Chandoo she said: “I started cycling before Evolve but I was the only girl in my community. I would cycle with my dad and his friends. In terms of the Hijab, it was really difficult because I can’t wear skin-tight clothing and had to work out how to put my helmet on. Evolve gave me a community and a sense of belonging. “
As Chandoo has built up her coaching qualifications she has been able to bring in new opportunities for the young children in her community. “I’ve been able to introduce BMX, road racing and time trials.” She added.
The Go-Ride sessions that Chandoo now coaches provide new opportunities for Muslim girls to thrive in the sport. Despite an increase in black and Asian people cycling in London, for British Cycling only 5% of their membership comes from diverse ethnic communities.
Evolve’s dream is to change this at every level of the sport. Tejani emphasised: “The dream is to get the first Muslim woman on the podium.” A big dream achieve, but as British Cycling’s first Muslim-specific affiliated club, they are making big changes to the sport.
This change is not going unrecognised. Later this year they will be attending the London Sport Awards, in association with the City of London Corporation, nominated for the Community Impact Award in association with 4Global. On the nomination, Tejani said: “It’s such an honour to be nominated. Its great our work is being recognised. We’d love to grow and inspire communities to take part in the programme. “
For more on the London Sport Awards, please visit www.londonsport.org