“Don’t be afraid to challenge your culture norms”
Brought up in Manchester in a conservative South Asian family, Selma never learnt to ride a bike because, culturally, this wasn’t something that girls did. That all changed when she moved to Birmingham for work, when a close friend – who happened to be a very keen cyclist – convinced her to ride a bike.
At first, going back home meant hiding her new-found cycling skills from her family, but Selma eventually built up the courage to tell them. Initial shock and denial eventually gave way to acceptance and her family now look at Selma cycling as something to be proud of.
Now, Selma has gone from not being able to ride a bike, to empowering her family to get in the saddle regularly – her sister and older brother are now bike owners and regularly commute to work on two wheels, and even her dad has had a go. She believes that cultural attitudes can be shifted and is doing more to promote cycling in her community.
“Cycling saved my life”
In 2013, Saffron found herself having the worst year of her life – her father committed suicide and her stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Struggling for an outlet to manage her grief whilst trying to balance a full-time job, marriage and motherhood, Saffron became suicidal.
With the support of her husband and employers, Saffron was referred to a counsellor. Although she was initially reluctant to take up exercise as a means of improving her mental wellbeing, Saffron dug out her ‘ancient’ bike from her garage and hit the road. And she loved it.
Saffron said: “I thought ‘what did I have to lose?’ My counsellor told me that getting outside in the fresh air may make me feel better, and it really did. I didn’t want to take antidepressants. Cycling gave – and still gives – me a sense of freedom and helps to clear my mind, as I don’t have to think about anything other than riding my bike. It makes me feel free.”
“Riding ahead of the game”
Judy is a force of nature and our oldest Breeze Champion – she still leads rides of groups of women on her mountain bike or her e-bike for longer, hillier rides.
At the age of 70, Judy was given a heavy, second-hand bike. She went on a few rides put on by British Cycling, then decided to train as a Breeze Champion and since then ‘has never looked back’.
She says she had low confidence on the road to start off with but found a local training scheme and despite riding a bike again being very hard work, her confidence began to quickly improve. Her rides don’t go fast but they won’t leave anyone behind and help to build confidence.
Her friends tell her that she is ‘riding ahead of the game’ and Judy says she will keep on riding because if she stops, old age will catch up with her!
“New city, new challenge”
Alison, a mother of two from Glasgow, moved from Edinburgh to Preston in 2006 with her family. A fan of the Great Britain Cycling Team, so no stranger to cycle sport, it was the triumphs of Sir Chris Hoy and Laura Kenny in Beijing and London that inspired her to get back on her bike after a long time off it.
Alison said: “It wasn’t like I’d never ridden a bike before, as I taught my two boys how to ride when they were children, but when they started growing up, cycling was one of the first things to fall by the wayside. I took early retirement a few years ago and thought ‘what now?’”
Being in a new city and keen to make friends, Alison joined her local HSBC UK Breeze ride – the fun, free female-led social bike ride initiative for women. Fast forward a few years, she’s become a Breeze Champion and led over 400 rides, and has met her two best friends through it, who have become Breeze Champions themselves after seeing what she has been able to achieve.
“You don’t have to wear lycra to get on a bike”
Indigo put on a lot of weight due to grief following the death of her mum - she felt a massive loss in her sense of identity and struggled to deal with life at such a difficult time. She had reached a size 24 and decided to try cycling in a bid to lose some weight.
To begin with, Indigo went out on her own and felt really embarrassed to even be seen on a bike. However, she saw something about Breeze on the internet and went on to do the course which she says, ‘totally changed her life’. Since starting to cycle, Indigo has never looked back.
She’s gone on to ride Lands’ End to John O’Groats (amongst other impressive achievements), she is the chair of Leicester women’s Velo and has been recruited by a company to help truck drivers learn how to be safer for cyclists in urban environments. To boot, Indigo has also been nominated by Cycling UK for their Top 100 ‘Women in Cycling’ award.
“From a £20 bike, injury setback to racing against the professionals”
Though Alice abandoned plans for an Italian cycling adventure with her sister before starting university, her love for life in the saddle was ignited that summer by a £20 bike. Then after starting the new semester, Alice promptly used her student loan to buy a carbon road bike, joined her university’s cycling club and, as she puts it, ‘got a bit more serious’.
Unfortunately, a crash whilst out on a ride – admittedly beyond her ability – saw Alice break her neck, suffer a collapsed lung and paralyse her right arm. Rather than putting her off cycling, the injury galvanised her desire to get back on a bike as soon as possible! After several months recuperating, Alice was soon back riding whilst trying to overcome a new fear of descents and corners.
Alice said: “I didn't get into racing until the following summer when I was staying with friends in London, one of whom was an active racer and she convinced me to have a go at Hog Hill. After that race I came back to university for the new term and took part in a series of novice skills sessions, then weekend criterium races.
From there she “decided she was a fantastic racer!” and entered the Tour Series, racing a few rounds in the run-up to 2012. Fast forward a few years, Alice spends her winters competing in the hotly contested south west cyclo-cross league and the summer racing national (and occasional international) road events.
For more information on women's cycling at any level, visit www.britishcycling.org.uk/womenscycling