• Melissa Wong

Women in Cycling: Highgate Racing

Updated: Jul 18


Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography


Welcome to another edition of Bikes N Hikes! Today we're featuring Highgate Racing, Canada's largest all-female cycling team. Cycling is still a male-dominated sport despite how much progress is being made, so we wanted to highlight just one of many communities promoting and supporting women's cycling. Highgate Racing is committed to riders of all levels, and to the long term development of women's cycling! We hope to encourage more women to get out on bikes and fall in love with the sport. Post-COVID days, the team organizes women's rides for riders of any ability in the summer in Toronto and Highgate would love to see you there!


Deirdre Maloney (Founder, Team Captain, Master Athlete)


Q: Why do you love cycling?

Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography

I love the sense of freedom and the challenge. I find nothing more exhilarating than struggling to get to the top of a big climb and feeling that sense of accomplishment once you reach the top. Then the rush of sheer joy you experience on the way down is always worth the effort. The freedom is felt when the wind blows across your body, maybe some spray off of an ocean, or a light rain to cool you off. Being outside, seeing nature pass you by, really absorbing the beauty is magical.

"It makes you feel young, strong, and like you are capable of anything."

Q: What inspired you to found the Highgate Racing team?


I saw an inequality in the sport for women. I was on a mixed gender team and women did not receive the same platform. I wanted to change that. In the first year we had 7 women, really just a group of friends, I never imagined it would turn into what it has.

"The vibe on the team is super inclusive and positive. There is space for anyone who wants to ride. Whether it’s one race, all races, beginner, or elite, you will feel at home with HighGate Racing."

Q: Highgate Racing offers a tremendous amount of support to its U23 athletes. Can you tell me more about what led you to make this decision to offer this support and what it's like working with this young group of athletes? 


Being involved with the U23 athletes is one of my favorite things! They inspire me so much with their dedication to the sport, school, work, and then trying to balance a social life on top of it all. As someone who has financial security I find cycling expensive, and I can’t imagine how students can afford it. I’m so grateful to our amazing sponsors for helping keep this program afloat and to the entire team for supporting it as well. I don’t want girls leaving the sport based on affordability, so giving them as much support as we can is a top priority for the team. I love being a leader and mentor and if I can create some ease for these athletes it really fills me up. 

Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography


Q: How can we get more women to take up cycling at any level?


Our sponsor D’Ornellas Bike Shop has girls rides once per month where women at all levels can come out and join a safe group ride that suits their capabilities. Programs like this are essential to getting more women on bikes. Hopefully 2021 will have us back to group riding and supporting each other on the road!


Karen Paterson (Master Athlete)


Q: Why do you love cycling?

I love cycling because it is a sport that challenges me to keep fit, has changed how I like to vacation & travel, and allows me to meet new people on & off the bike.


Q: What motivates you to keep training and hop on your bike every day?


I am motivated to get stronger and faster. I love my local cycling club which has a group of like minded riders that love to ride hard, race, have fun and travel together. I have to train to keep my fitness at a level to keep up with this group of riders.


Q: What is your favourite part about the Highgate Racing team?


My favourite part of the Highgate Racing team is racing the spring O-Cup Masters race series with this group of women. It is great to be on the start line with women from your race team and then, after the finish, a group to share your race experience with. 

"Win or lose, I love that camaraderie with my teammates on race day."

Q: How can we get more women to take up cycling at any level?


We can start by asking other women we know & meet to join us. People are drawn to positive social experiences. I met my cycling mentor at a business meeting. She shared with me her experience cycling with a group of friends at a spring training camp in North Carolina. I wanted to experience that kind of travel and joined the cycling club the following week with my husband. After a summer of learning how to ride and training over the winter, I gained enough fitness to join the club’s next cycling adventure in Portugal the following year. I fell in love with the sport and now I take every opportunity I can to encourage other women to ride their bike!


Erica Leonard (U23 Athlete)

Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography


Q: Why do you love cycling?


I love cycling because I can always count on it to being me happiness. Ever since I was young, cycling was always a place for me to meet friends, have fun, and be active!

"I have found my community and family from racing and training. My friends from my early years training group are now some of my best friends to this day. Cycling was never just a sport for me, it was the life I chose, as they say, do what makes you happy!"

Q: Tell me more about your involvement with Fast and Female and how the organization is promoting women in sport


Fast and Female is a non for profit organization that helps keep women and girls active and in sport! I joined the organization a few years ago as an ambassador and just this last year became an event organizer. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, I had to cancel the event for this year, but we were able to host the first ever Virtual Fast and Female Champ Chat! Fast and Female brings R.E.A.L Role Models together to create events for young girls that will get them active, motivated, and inspired! Not only is this a great organization to encourage girls to stay in sport, but all of the adult athletes that help out! It’s such a great community to be a part of and I’m so honoured to be included in their events!


Q: How do you find balancing school and cycling??


Balancing school and cycling has been very difficult for me since I work during the school year as well. Typically during the school year I work part time 20-30 hours a week which hasn’t been easy when you add training into the equation. Just this past year, I was offered admission to Brevard College in North Carolina, so this coming August, I’ll be starting my last two years of school down South (with added safety precautions)! So hopefully, I won’t be working, and then I’ll have lots of time to balance school and training. I’ve found in the past, when work isn’t a problem, training and school co-exist fairly easily, I often find myself wanting a break from studying and cycling just happens to be that break. It becomes difficult when you want to follow the professional cyclist recovery regime of “eat, ride, eat, legs up” when you have to run to class. But personally I like being busy, having lots of things on the go, and running around with a mad schedule. Throw in a day of Netflix and I’m a happy woman.


Q: How can we get more women to take up cycling at any level?

Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography

I think the key to getting more women in cycling is having the opportunity for girls to try it out! Cycling is addicting once you try it, but the hardest part for girls especially, is having the means to try it. Unlike sports like basketball, soccer, or even flag football, cycling isn’t typically a sport that you can just try out in gym class, it requires a lot of equipment and space. Even outside of schools, compared to other sports there are relatively fewer places that you can go and just rent a bike.

"Once women have a chance to try it out they can see how freeing it is and how much independence the sport can bring you. Keeping them in sport involves showing them the community that comes along with cycling."

My team Highgate Racing is Canada’s largest all women’s cycling team and I’ve personally found that being part of a family of that shares the same passion for cycling that I do, is what keeps me on my bike at the end of the day.


Conclusion


There are so many riders out there supporting women's cycling and the sport is so easy to fall in love with - we encourage everyone to give it a shot. If you've ever thought of getting into the sport, the communities are there to support you and help you navigate your way into it. It's not as intimidating as it seems, and no matter your age, fitness, experience level there's a place for you in the cycling community. You don't have to go all in and compete at the highest level, even if it's an occasional or weekend hobby we would still love to see more women on bikes. All you need is a bike and yourself - that's it! See you out on the roads and trails!

Photo Credit: Jody Wilson Photography

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