One day during the pandemic’s early stages, Sandra Fletcher decided to get back into the saddle and continue riding. While all local clubs shut down their activity, she was forced to reach out to other female riders she knew to join the local morning rides organized in the city. “As we began meeting for weekly rides, the group organically grew through word of mouth. I wanted to create a space for women to ride in the mornings that wasn’t intimidating.” To keep everything organized, Sandra created a Strava group, and eventually founding the Saddle Sisters of High Park (SSHP).
“I was previously part of a couple of local cycling clubs, but these clubs felt very intimidating for new cyclists, especially women, to join.” Based on her experience, Sandra wanted to create a place where women could take their first steps into the world of cycling. The main objective was to build a safe space for skill and strength development and confidence. “My main idea was to build the framework so riders gain the confidence to join other cycling clubs in Toronto. It felt to me that unless you already had group cycling experience, it was hard to join a cycling club.”
One of the main problems Sandra recognizes is that even beginner or development-level rides sometimes feel too fast for new riders. At the Saddle Sisters, the members decide the types of rides. Discord forums and Strava are utilized to get regular feedback from riders so the leadership team can make changes to the planned rides and accommodate more riders.
During the pandemic, the club mainly stuck to morning rides from Monday to Friday, departing from several locations in Downtown Toronto (High Park, Canary District, Cabbagetown), which typically were 30 to 40 kilometres in length. “On weekends, we have a bit more time, so we often rode north or west of the city. Kleinberg, Port Credit, Oakville and Burlington were popular destinations.” Sometimes the Saddle Sisters could even plan some rides at Niagara Falls or loop around Lake Simcoe. “The weekend rides are extremely popular. Many of the women in our group have completed their longest rides with the Saddle Sisters.”
Diversity as Part of the Club’s Culture
“At Saddle Sisters of High Park, we truly believe that cycling is a beautiful sport that people of all backgrounds can enjoy. Additionally, we want women of all backgrounds to join us. By acknowledging the diversity, members of the Saddle Sisters of High Park participate in and help promote a variety of non-SSHP group rides and activities in the cycling community that are often very different from the typical rides they host. Engaging with our broader community of cyclists and creating opportunities for themselves to engage in diversity or activities with diverse communities is the primary way the club has grown, and produced a welcoming space for women in Toronto. Diversity of experience, thoughts, culture, age, and more add value to our strength as a network by allowing us to have diverse opportunities to learn from each other.”
SSHP’s activities are not necessarily limited to road cycling. Two inspiring members made their appearances in other disciplines. Cassandra Powell and Teresa Yeung wear the SSHP colours on the provincial level. Both competed in the Track OCup #3 recently and brought great joy to the event. Their track careers started at Ontario Cycling’s Women’s Week when they joined a Try-the-track session dedicated to women. From there, they signed up for the track certification and entered the Ontario Cups.
Always Someone to Ride With
“Our goals are to keep leaving the doors open for more women to find an avenue into cycling where they can build long-lasting relationships with other women over a love of cycling. The club has become a welcoming place where women can grow and develop their confidence on the bike. In addition, the SSHP will continue to support women interested in getting into competitive racing. “Our main objective for the Saddle Sisters is to start at every sanctioned cycling event in Ontario and for our network of women to continue to grow organically in a manner that is supportive and beneficial to our members. All we want is for women always to feel like they have someone to ride with.”