SIR Chris Hoy and Laura Kenny are among a host of Olympic champions backing a British Cycling campaign to close the sport's vast gender participation gap.

According to the national governing body's latest research, more than two-thirds of frequent cyclists in Britain are men, while in Denmark female riders slightly outnumber male ones.

The British Cycling research suggests safety concerns are the main reason for the gender gap, with almost two-thirds of women saying they lack the confidence to ride on the roads because of driver behaviour and poor infrastructure.

Men complain about these issues, too, but to a much lesser extent and if these barriers were removed more than one in three women say they would cycle more frequently, equating to almost 10 million more riders.

In 2013, British Cycling launched a campaign to inspire one million more women to ride by 2020 and, with Sport England's help, it has seen more than 800,000 women take upcycling.

That is a significant increase on six years ago, when only 525,000 women were riding frequently, but there are signs that closing the gender gap completely will be impossible while women lack the confidence to jump on a bike and give it a try.

In a statement, campaign ambassador Hoy said: "Cycling, in all its forms - whether it's commuting, competing, coaching or as a career - must be just as appealing to women as it is to men.

"These heightened negative perceptions of confidence and safety on a bike amongst women are concerning as this is worsening the cycling gender gap and preventing women from getting on bikes altogether.

"We need to redouble our efforts to encourage more women to consider cycling and show them that it is safe, you don't have to be super fit or have a wardrobe full of lycra and there are women-only Breeze rides across the whole of the country waiting to welcome beginners."

British Cycling chief executive Julie Harrington is rightly proud of the Breeze initiative, which has been training women to lead guided rides since 2011, but wants government, local councils and other organisations to work together to "transform Britain into a greatcycling nation" by normalising cycling for both genders.

"Cycling is increasingly being understood as a fundamental part of the solution when it comes to issues of public health and air quality, however change will not come unless people feel safe on the roads and we know this disproportionately affects women," said Harrington.