When I was very young I lived in Amsterdam, known for its bike-friendly culture, I owned a beautiful red bicycle that took me on many mini adventures! Then, when I was a teenager, we moved to the UK where it was less culturally normal to travel on bikes, and it wasn’t common to see many women cycling in my neighbourhood. Time went by; I grew up, started work, got married, had a family and forgot all about my red bike.
Now that I have more time, I have decided to focus again on all the activities I enjoyed before I got busy bringing up my family, such as painting, travelling… and cycling. It had been years since I’d been on a bike and I was quite anxious about it, and so I started searching for cycling lessons for adults. I found the City Connect website and signed up for free Level 1 cycling lessons in Lister Park, in Bradford.
I felt very shy when I arrived for my first lesson. I was worried about being watched by the people visiting the park. But as soon as I met the instructor and got my hands on a bike again, I was so excited that I didn’t care who was looking. All those fears I’d had for months completely vanished!
There were four of us ladies there with various experiences. One owned a bike but had never used it. The other two, like me, had cycled as children, including one lady who was in her 60s. Just like me, they too were feeling shy, but by the end of our first lesson we were having so much fun it was infectious!
The training went right back to basics. The first lesson was literally about how to find your balance. Then it was about getting going and stopping, and we then moved on to going around corners. It wasn’t easy letting go of one of the handlebars to indicate, but we soon got the hang of it.
We attracted lots of positive attention, lots of smiles from passers-by who cheered and gave us thumbs up, we created a lovely vibe in the park. We even attracted the attention of several women who came up to us to find out more about the sessions and decided on the spot to sign up for cycle training themselves. The more people see women on bikes, the more it will break down the barriers and get rid of stereotypes and become something that’s for all of us.
As my confidence grew I knew it was time to escape out of the park. I went on to do Level 2 training to gain skills in cycling on quiet roads. I treated myself to a new bike through my employer’s Cycle to Work scheme, went on a couple of maintenance sessions so I could do simple things like fix a puncture, and now I practise cycling on really quiet local roads where I live. Now that I have the confidence and am over my shyness I cycle a bit further each time, or I drive to somewhere else that’s quiet. I practise cycling on one bit of the canal or a bit of the cycle superhighway, then the next bit, slowly piecing it all together, mile by mile, to build up my skill and get familiar with the different stretches.
For a lot of women, it’s all about the environment. I’d like to learn to cycle on the roads, but I don’t have the confidence to cycle on busy main roads with lots of traffic. We need more cycle infrastructure to create safer cycling.
I’ve motivated a few of my friends to join me on bike rides so we can support each other and feel safer together. My next challenge is to cycle with my friend on the cycle superhighway all the way from Bradford into Leeds; I need to practise locking my bike up properly so that we can leave it safely in a public place and go and enjoy shopping and coffee shops in Leeds City Centre. I have kept in contact with the wonderful friends I met through the City Connect scheme and hope to meet up with them post lockdown.
For a woman who hasn’t cycled since childhood, learning how to ride a bike again has been such a thrill. All that negativity was in my head – I’d been holding myself back for years! So to any girls and women out there who have been mulling it over, I can’t think of a better way to mark International Women’s Day than to make a plan to get back in the saddle.
- Ask your employer if they offer a Cycle to Work scheme – guidance for employers is here
- The adult cycle training is on hold at the moment due to Covid-19 restrictions but is likely to resume later this year; follow us on @ConnectingLeeds and @CityConnect1 for further announcements.