Sarah interviews… Isla Rowntree, on transforming cycling

Isla Rowntree is most well-known for starting IslaBikes, a company that transformed children’s bicycles, with all kinds of child-friendly innovations.  If you look up reviews, or ask online, they’re always the top recommendation and influencer, and right now there are kids everywhere loving cycling because of Rowntree’s work.

But she’s also helped transform women’s cycling before that, being a key figure in the fight to let women race cyclocross.  When Rowntree started, the GB National Championships were only for men, as were the World Cups and World Championships – and she was a major part of the fight to change that.

And she doesn’t stop taking risks and fighting for change.  Rowntree is currently working on the Imagine Project, to make children’s bikes sustainable, in a future where resources will become scarcer – through recycling, but also exciting new models of renting rather than buying bikes.  It’s a fascinating project – and as she says, a risky one personally and for her company.

We talk about all that, the challenges of effecting change – and you can listen to our conversation, or read the transcript below.

We didn’t get into the questions specifically about children’s bikes, because there are a lot of interviews with Rowntree about that out there.  A selection of interviews and articles:

And more about the Imagine ProjectBBC news item on the Circular Economy and on the project, and interviews on the Guardian and Cyclesprog – and watch the video:

Find out more about Islabikes on their website, twitter, facebook, instagram and YouTube – including their great articles on teaching a child to ride, cycling to school, and lots of ideas and tips including riding as a family, starting kids racing and more. And you can follow Isla Rowntree on her twitter too.

If you want your child to test-ride a bike, there are events all over the UK – including the Islabikes pop-up shop in Battersea, on 7-9th April 2017.


ProWomensCycling:  Can you start by telling us a little bit about how you got into cycling?

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How HAS women’s cycling changed in the last few years?

I was asked this question earlier today, and it really got me thinking.  I’m still riding the high of hanging out at the British National Road Championships, and talking to inspiring riders like Emma Pooley (read my post-ITT, pre-Giro interview with her on Podium Café) – and of course last month I was working on the Friends Life Women’s Tour (you can listen to me talk about that here and here, and see all the videos I collected from the race on Podium Café), but I genuinely think we’re on an upwards wave at the moment.  The question is always “how do we keep moving in the right direction?” but it’s important to take a moment to be happy about what’s going well.

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Change in the UCI – and why it matters!

Brian Cookson became UCI President last week, and already we’ve got some change for women’s cycling!

The age rule for women’s teams was one of those frustrating ones that made no sense, and made things much harder for women’s teams.  If you have a roster limited by money and numbers, and most of the riders have to be under 28, this obviously causes problems.  The women clearly don’t peak at 28!  If they did, we wouldn’t have riders like Giorgia Bronzini, Emma Johansson and Evelyn Stevens (all 30) around at the top of the sport.  And it’s also important because a lot of women come into the sport “late” – they might have waited until they finished their education before getting into racing seriously, or started in other sports, and switched to cycling in their 30s, for example.

The rule was there because the women’s teams are governed by the same rules as men’s Continental teams.  It makes sense for the Euro-based Conti teams, because they’re development squads, and good riders can “graduate” to Pro-Conti & World Tour teams – but there’s only 1 level of women’s teams, so there’s nowhere to move to – except out of the sport.  It was a hugely frustrating rule, no one understood why the UCI clung to it, as riders and teams have been calling for this change for years.  It’s a great sign that Brian Cookson really has been asking around for how to develop the sport.  Such a quick and easy win!

It’s just a small start, of course, but it gives a huge amount of hope for the future, that maybe other things – the single layer of women’s teams, the lack of a minimum wage, teams getting away with not paying riders, the lack of u23 road Worlds, the lack of ANY Para-Cycling World Cups or World Championships, etc etc – can change too.  Some of those are easier than others, and I don’t expect them all to change immediately, but isn’t it easier to believe things are moving behind the scenes when you can see signs that things are happening?

Here are some more of the things I’d change – what would you do?

Thanks to Karl Lima for sharing the letter!

Some ideas for developing women’s cycling – UCI and Federations

If you visit this blog, you’ll know that both Dan and I have lots of ideas for the different ways women’s cycling could be developed.  It’s not just about money, and providing new races (though I support that absolutely) – here are some ideas I’ve been thinking of recently, about how national Federations and the UCI could make some relatively small changes that could make a real difference to the sport.

Better support for riders who have problems with teams

Every now and then we hear stories how some riders are not paid by their teams, treated appallingly, etc, although these stories surface after the fact, with riders saying they couldn’t talk publicly, or complain to the UCI, at the time because they will get dropped by teams or blacklisted, and can point to riders who this has happened to.  I’ve heard that one current team is on the third year of not honouring contracts – and in her retirement statement, Nicole Cooke talked about having to take four teams to court, just to get her contracted pay.  I can’t imagine how hard it is to do that, dealing with the court in a different country and language.

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