Canadian Cycling Magazine
Manitoba’s first and sole female-only bike club
Velodonnas, Manitoba’s first and sole female-only bike club
Just about every cyclist – and every cycling club, for that matter – has needed to adapt in 2020. Lucky for Velodonnas, a Winnipeg-based female cycling club, pivoting to keep serving their members is nothing new.
The name of the club – a combination of vélo, French for bike, and donna, Italian for woman – is simple, and so is its mission. “We inform, instruct and inspire female cyclists of all abilities,” says Karin Mcsherry, a founding member and current vice-president of the club. Since former national team cyclist Erin Carter came up with the idea for Velodonnas in 2003, hoping to support local female cyclists, the club has evolved but has always kept its mission at the forefront.
That doesn’t mean its history has been without challenges. “The club has gone through so many changes over the past 17 years, including a long hiatus where nothing was happening at all,” Mcsherry says. “Those were the frustration years, where we found the number of women saying they wanted to participate far outweighed the number of women actually showing up, so we gave up for a while.”
Mcsherry says switching up their offerings helped revive the club around 2015. “Around that time, we started hosting local races for women only and that was very well-received,” she says. “We started leading weekly group road rides. This time we noticed a big difference in participation. Women were showing up consistently and in large numbers. We added skill clinics to the mix, and then expanded the number of rides we led each week and we’ve just been growing and evolving ever since.”
Although participation in the club races declined after a few years, prompting Velodonnas to host them as part of the provincial race series instead, the club has grown in other ways. In addition to weekly road, mountain bike and cyclocross rides, Velodonnas has a strong social media presence. This year, with some rides on hold due to the covid-19 pandemic, offerings such as a Strava club and Zwift meetups have helped to sustain the community. The club has also previously hosted camping trips for mountain bikers and mountain biking day camps for young girls, helping women to gain confidence on the bike and boost their willingness to try new things.
Along with the yearly skills clinic in each of the cycling disciplines, the club also emphasizes skill development in weekly rides. “We sprinkle in some specific skill theme nights for both road and mountain as well as general skills like fixing a flat,” Mcsherry says.
The idea of building skills – and the confidence that brings – is important for Velodonnas, which was Manitoba’s first and sole female-only bike club. “We want to see more women with the skills and confidence to be effective leaders in our community,” Mcsherry explains. “I think every woman who rides a bike will tell you about the tremendous amount of self-confidence she’s gained in the process of becoming a stronger, more skilled cyclist.”
Asked what she wishes women knew about getting into cycling, Mcsherry encourages women to come as they are. “I wish women knew they can show up with what they have and that’s enough,” she says. “They don’t need a fancy bike or special clothes or to be super fit or experienced, and they don’t need to show up with friends because they’ll make friends.”