Exclusive: Olympic cyclist Joanna Rowsell MBE on how to get more women cycling in London

Olympic gold medallist calls for greater provision of cycle facilities in London

In the bright sunshine of Bloomsbury Square, Joanna Rowsell MBE is sitting astride a distinctly non-racing bicycle, and patiently posing for photographs. After the photo shoot is over, she rolls up the sleeves of her t-shirt.

“I don’t want to get cyclist tan lines,” she says. “I’ve been trying to avoid them all season, and I’m getting married next weekend.”

But instead of making last minute preparations for her wedding, she’s in central London championing a state-of-the-art cycling storage facility with showers and lockers that has just opened its doors.

LondonLovesBusiness caught up with the Olympic gold medallist to find out what can be done to get more people across the capital cycling, and why she’s supporting the cycle vault scheme:

Q. More people are riding bikes in London than ever before, what are some of the factors that have helped London achieve this?

A lot of people said to me after the London Olympics that they were inspired to get on their bikes and to get cycling again, so I like to think that might have helped things.

But there’s also been a lot of encouragement for people to get on their bikes – there are a lot of initiatives, there’s the Boris bikes, there’s the new cycle superhighway, and all these things help people to decide to ride bikes and come together to make it easier and less hassle.


Q. What are some of the more obvious things that can be done to encourage cycling?

I’d say that something like this [the bike vault] is one of the biggest things. For me personally, I ride my bike every day for training, but I don’t use it that often as a method of transport. The two biggest things that put me off are firstly, my bike getting stolen – it’s worth a few thousand pounds I don’t want that to go missing. And secondly – somewhere to get showered and changed when you get there, because you can spend ages picking an outfit and getting ready to go somewhere, then you get hot and sweaty when you ride your bike – it’s not always the look you want to go for.


Q. One criticism levelled at cycling in London is that cyclists are disproportionately young and male. What more can be done to make it more inclusive?

Definitely, I think something like this [the bike vault] will help that and maybe more women would be encouraged if there was somewhere to get showered and changed, and do your hair and makeup and everything.

A lot of people say to me ‘why don’t more women cycle, is it a road safety thing?’. And I say, well for me it’s not. For me it’s other factors that would affect that, so that’s why I think things like this are good.


Q. Do you think that overall there’s been a bit of a change in attitude to cycling in recent years?

I like to think so. Ride London is trying to become like the London Marathon of cycling, and obviously the London Marathon has always been supported very well. Ride London’s in its third year now and already it’s massively oversubscribed, so I think people are already getting more supportive of cycling.


Q. Have you noticed businesses encouraging cycling too?

Yeah definitely. Sometimes when cycling events go through places, people go ‘oh, you’re closing our roads and we’re trapped and this isn’t fair’, but recently it’s seemed the opposite – more people want events to be there, and it is good for the businesses, there are loads of crowds out supporting us racing and everyone’s going to go and buy their coffee somewhere and it’s good for the businesses as well.

And things like the Get Pumped campaign are all about getting businesses to encourage their employees to cycle. If there are incentives or just making it easier by providing changing facilities, then that’s a big thing that can be done to help encourage it.


Q.Transport for London has underspent its cycling budget in recent years. Do you have a message for them?

Get spending it! If the budget is there and set aside, then get using it. It’s not just about bike paths, it’s also about bike parking facilities and having equipment – if you need to repair a puncture or something and you’re far away from home. Things like this are so simple.

I’ve been in Mexico, and they’ve got things like this [bike repair stations] at the side of the road, and I thought ‘oh my god,this is a brilliant idea!’, and that’s in Mexico, so we should get more things like this in and around London.

It just takes out the problems and thinking ‘oh I might get a puncture, or this might break, that might break’, it’ll help people solve that.


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