With the article "What Is Stopping Women from Cycling?" by the BBC's Anna Allatt doing the rounds on social media recently, I got to thinking about my own experiences as a woman new to cycling, writes Jo Shepherd, business development associate at Velocity partner Symmetrys. In particular my mind zeroed in on the part British Cycling's Breeze campaign has played in getting me out every weekend on my bike.
A note in the papers that came with my new bike suggested I visit www.letsride.co.uk, a website set up by British Cycling to encourage people to cycle, whether it be for a five mile "bimble" around the park, or a challenging 40 miles through the Chiltern Hills. Eager to promote cycling among women, a section called Breeze advertises organised and guided rides for women throughout the UK.
Their website boasts of "more than 2,000 trained volunteer Breeze Champions organising and leading the rides", and claims to be "the cornerstone of British Cycling's ambition to get one million more women on their bikes by 2020".
So, less than a week after receiving my first bike last November, I found myself one freezing cold Sunday morning at the Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensington, London, waiting for my Breeze Champion to arrive. When the group finally assembled we set off on a route taking in Hyde Park, through cycle lanes to Battersea Park, stopping for cake and coffee, and then returning. A short ride, but it was great! Eight cyclists in all, on road, hybrid, folding and one recumbent bike.
I now cycle every weekend with www.letsride.co.uk. It has not only helped me gain confidence on the roads, but I've also learned how this city knits together, and how easy it is to get to places by bike, instead of two or three tube journeys. I've ridden along canal paths and wetlands that previously had been glimpsed, only briefly, from the car. I've met scores of great women too, of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
Last month I drove my bike from London up to Chesham, nestling in the Chiltern Hills, and cycled around the Pednor Loop with the Amersham Breeze group, which included a triathlete joining the group to regain her confidence following the birth of her daughter. My favourite ride so far was the "Adele Ride", named after the singer and taking in the length of the River Lea from the VeloPark to Waltham Forest. I had no idea that parts of Hackney, Walthamstow and Tottenham were so beautiful. That's a 70km ride, which is great progress for me.
By supporting my growing confidence, Breeze has encouraged me to take cycling and fitness further: sportives in the summer are booked, a London to Cambridge route planned, and I'm taking part in the Brighton to Brussels property charity ride in May. For me, getting into cycling has been a Breeze.
For Jo's dream cycling playlist, click here.