Guest blog by Suzanne Forup
I’m not sure that I identify as a ‘girl’ but I do love to get out on my bike with my girlfriends and ride, chatting until a cake stop calls my name. Judging by the success of the Belles on Bikes network in Scotland, I’m not the only woman that likes to spend the weekend pedalling the backroads searching for the perfect lemon drizzle.
Belles on Bikes grew out of our Bike Club project for disadvantaged young people, when our development workers came across many women that wanted to get cycling but didn’t have the skills, confidence or support. Thanks to some funding from Cycling Scotland we were able to run a series of confidence and leadership courses and, out of this initial programme, my colleagues found more women that wanted to cycle together in social, inclusive groups. Belles on Bikes Glasgow was born!
Fast forward four years and we’re now a network of 13 groups across Scotland, riding with hundreds of women on a regular basis. CTCs supports the growth and development of the Belles by hunting down funding for training, equipment, some marketing support, insurance and social opportunities to share experiences and peer support. Every Belles group is different; our community development approach means that the groups are driven by the needs of the women that are involved. You can get a flavour of what being a Belle is like by watching our film!
We don’t spend all our time talking about periods, giving birth, body hair, sports bras or the complexities of finding a suitable bike seat (or life partner) but an all-female environment can provide a space for women to share experiences and gain support. And judging by the screams of laughter I hear when out riding with other women, everyone has a great deal of fun too.
“An all-female environment can provide a space for women to share experiences and gain support.”
We want to reach out to more women, at every stage of their cycling journey, so CTC has secured funds to run a series of ‘Learn then Ride’ session with the Edinburgh Belles. These sessions support women to gain confidence in safe space, improving their cycling skills until they can move onto cycle paths and them the road. One participant from our pilot last year told us
“The sessions have changed me from a very nervous rider, who basically can just turn the pedals and steer into someone who across those four sessions undertook a cycle home, including some road cycling. I cannot believe the transformation in such a short time. This was wholly due to the supportive and nurturing environment that was created. I have had cycle lessons in the past, they left me able to cycle but terrified, and took me years to actually get on the bike despite having learned. This experience has been amazing and opened up opportunities for me that wouldn’t have happened any other way.”
If you would like to set up a Belles on Bikes group in your area, please get in touch!
Suzanne is Head of Development Scotland for CTC, the national cycling charity. She got back on her bike with her son three years ago, and hasn’t looked back. As well as manging a range of cycling projects, she’s a founder of Women’s Cycle Forum and is a co-ordinator of the We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote campaign. In her spare time she gets out on her bike with her family, eats cake and irregularly writes a blog about family cycling.
CTC support a range of cycling opportunities, including Edinburgh All Ability Cycling Centre and Play on Pedals. Check out the CTC Scotland Facebook page for any upcoming events near you.