A wheely-good scheme to get women cycling

Ladies' free Breeze bike rides start in Scalby.Organiser Anne Blood (centre) with the group. Picture Richard Ponter 133118b
Ladies' free Breeze bike rides start in Scalby.Organiser Anne Blood (centre) with the group. Picture Richard Ponter 133118b
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Olympic champion riders, a successive British Tour de France winner and a new multi-million pound government initiative, announced this week, to get more people on two wheels are just some of the factors putting cycling firmly in the frame.

But while men might be the first to don the Lycra and ride high in the shadows of such modern greats as Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, in the UK the proportion of women getting involved is declining.

Ladies' Breeze bike club starts in Scalby.Organiser Anne Blood with Denise Johnson ready to set off.Picture Richard Ponter 133118a

Ladies' Breeze bike club starts in Scalby.Organiser Anne Blood with Denise Johnson ready to set off.Picture Richard Ponter 133118a

In light of this, British Cycling’s Closing the Cycling Gap campaign aims to create new opportunities for more women to experience the fun and freedom of riding a bike.

Breeze is the single biggest programme ever to get more women into riding bikes for fun, and local biking enthusiast Anne Blood is leading the way in Scarborough.

The co-owner of Let’s Bike - which also promotes local cycling through guided rides, bike hire and schemes for children and people with learning disabilities - is running free, friendly women-only rides every week.

She said: “I’ve had a lot of help cycling over the years from different people and I thought I could do something to help others, in particular I like the idea of getting more women cycling.

Ladies Guided bike club starts in Scalby.Setting off.Picture Richard Ponter 133118c

Ladies Guided bike club starts in Scalby.Setting off.Picture Richard Ponter 133118c

“British Cycling say there are three times more men cycling than women, but I actually think that in Scarborough the statistics are much higher.

“When I went riding all through winter with a club I was the only woman taking part, so it’s nice to get more women involved.”

Anne, 59, has been running Breeze bike rides every Wednesday evening since April and has had a positive response from members who appreciate the social aspect of the group.

A current lack of female cyclists could be associated with lifestyle, and perhaps there is something about that tight-fitting material that makes women want to hop off the saddle or avoid it completely.

“There are a variety of reasons why women aren’t riding as much; looking after family, work commitments, and I think when you go to a club and find men dressed in Lycra and raring to go it can be quite intimidating,” said Anne. “But these are fun, friendly, supportive rides; there’s no competition, it’s not a race and we always wait for each other.

“It’s about having a get-together, a bit of exercise, making friends and helping women to feel more confident and comfortable about riding.”

The group currently attracts around seven to 14 women, ranging in age from late 20s up to late 60s and new members are free to join at any time.

Rides start at 6.30pm on Wednesdays, but are likely to change to a Saturday afternoon from mid-September, and usually last around two-and-a-half hours, to include a refreshment stop, and have progressed from seven to 15 miles.

Initially meeting at the Nag’s Head in Scalby and travelling along the cinder track, members are putting in the pedal power to tackle hills and more diverse routes which can take in Harwood Dale, Staintondale, Brompton and Filey, occasionally meeting from location.

“Some women have been coming since the beginning and are really getting good,” added Anne. “I’m the only Breeze champion in Scarborough but if there were more volunteers we could split levels.”

One rider to benefit from the scheme is Lynda Mills, 50, who collected a new bike after going five years without, and 30 minutes later was taking part in her first Breeze ride.

She said: “I did about 12 miles and I was hooked. After eight weeks I’ve gone from a complete novice to doing 60-mile rides.

“It’s through Anne, she’s very inspirational and she sets a good pace for new riders, they always feel part of the group.

“I’m now part of Richardson’s cycle group which rides at quicker pace and this week I’ve entered for the Prudential London 100 miles but I still do Breeze for the social side, it’s still a lot of fun.”

While Scarborough missed out on a chance to host part of the 2014 Tour de France Le Grand Depart in Yorkshire, and it is unlikely that it will directly benefit from the government scheme to boost cycling by ploughing £148 million in cities and National Parks between now and 2015, nevertheless, the area is home to a variety of scenic routes - some things that money can’t buy.

“On our Let’s Bike guided rides, so many people, even local people, aren’t aware of Dalby or the countryside and the Moors and they say ‘I didn’t know this even existed’” said Anne. “I still stand in awe when I’m on the Moors and I think ‘we’re so lucky to live here’.

“Scarborough is so varied, you’ve got the forests which are lovely, all the central rides, the coast and so many other places to go.

She added: “Some people ride to de-stress, but I just like the feeling of being out in the fresh air, not being in a car, having two wheels and going independently. It’s that feeling of freedom.”

• To sign up to Scarborough Breeze bike rides or for more information email info@letsbike.net or contact Breeze on 0161 2742117.