MORE women than ever are getting on their bikes.

The growth in women’s cycling is evident in the number of high profile cyclists who have taken their passion for being on two wheels to pursuing it as a profession and joining the sporting elite.

And, according to Ginny Leonard, it is the likes of Otley’s very own Olympic cyclist - Lizzie Armistead - who is helping to champion cycling among women.

“We have got some fantastic figureheads like Lizzie Armistead and the more coverage the women’s races get, and the more people who do it now shows it is definitely on the rise,” she says.

A keen cyclist herself, Ginny is the communications manager for the CityConnect programme, a partnership between the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council which aims to increase cycling and walking levels by improving infrastructure.

Promoting cycling to young children at an early age, Ginny believes, will help to swell the number of young girls taking it up as a pastime and, potentially, pursuing it as a profession.

“It (women’s cycling) is becoming more and more mainstream and there is a lot of work going on with community organisations and governing bodies to promote cycling as well,” says Ginny.

Another initiative which should help to boost cycling generally is the recently launched, £29m cycle superhighway.

The nine mile CityConnect segregated cycle route runs from east Leeds to the Broadway shopping centre in Bradford city centre.

Ginny says she thinks one of the fundamental issues for people, especially women, is safety and many don’t feel safe cycling amongst traffic.

“So providing an infrastructure like this is the way forward,” she says.

High profile cycling events such as the Tour de Yorkshire and the recent Fyffes Otley Cycle race, are also helping to encourage more women to get on their bikes.

The Fyffes race is carrying on a 31 year tradition of bringing world class racing in Otley for both men and women.

Organiser Nigel Bishop says the growth in female cyclists has been evident for the past two years.

Nigel, whose wife Mandy Jones is a former ladies world race champion after winning the title in 1983, says: “It has been really interesting because the growth has been quite dramatic in the last two or three years.

“British cycling have put a massive amount of effort into introducing equality into the sport. The women’s racing is given the same amount of profile as men’s racing and that has gained momentum.”

Nigel also refers to the local Sky Rides and Breeze Rides which are encouraging more people to take up cycling as a pastime and may encourage the younger generation, inspired by their cycling heroes and heroines such as Bradley Wiggins and Lizzie Armistead, to eventually pursue it as a professional sport.

“I think success breeds success and we have seen some fantastic women riders coming out recently from the Olympics and on the road.

“To have Lizzie Armistead, who is now the women’s world champion, it inspires young girls to get into the sport and it is quite a colourful sport as well, not a muddy sport. There is quite a bit of glamour about it and I think it appeals to a lot of young girls,” says Nigel.

“It is a great sport. It is very colourful and it is very dramatic and I think there is a massive feel-good-factor about riding a bike, the wind in your hair, and I think girls can see there is some razzamatazz around the sport.”

He says the crowds and the support given to cyclists is also part of the appeal of the sport.

“It is a great atmosphere,” says Nigel.

A number of women’s cycling groups have organically set up and are growing in Bradford according to Adam Tasker, project manager with Choices 4 All, formerly known as Cycling 4 All, an initiative based at Bradford University to encourage people with disabilities into the sport.

“I think may be because more women are cycling it reduces the barrier to get other women cycling. There is no stigma there any more. It’s not just a man’s thing to go very fast, with women they support each other.”

Bradford mum Annmarie Smith set up Girls Gotta Ride in September last year after inquiries from parents when cycling with her children to school.

She says for many it is about re-kindling childhood memories. “They haven’t done it for so long and it is re-kindling their childhood and realising how good it is to get out and about and it allows them to keep fit,” says Annmarie.