Cycling is not just for the super-fit. Group cycling can be an easy and fun way of getting on your bike. Sarah Brealey tells us more.
Many of us had a beloved bicycle as a child, yet the delight of speeding downhill or feeling the wind on your face is all too often forgotten as we get older.
If you haven’t been on a bike since you free-wheeled down the road to school, then you’re not alone. A lack of confidence, fear of traffic, worry about punctures or simply no time are just some of the reasons that so many of us never feel the joy of whizzing along on two wheels.
Breaking down barriers
Happily, many of the reasons not to cycle can be overcome if you can find the right group. And whether you fancy touring country lanes or just a relaxed spin around the park, there’s a group out there to help you get going.
Sue Booth, 41, set up Chester Fabulous Ladies in January 2009. The group has a core of 20 to 30 members, aged from early 20s to 60-plus. Sue, a mother-of-two who works for the local mental health trust, says: “The biggest thing for women is confidence, whether it’s knowing how to fix a puncture, handle the traffic or just knowing where to go.
Within a group, it’s not essential that everyone is proficient at repairs, as long as someone is. Coming on a ride helps people see that there are routes such as byways and towpaths, which they might not have found otherwise and which are much quieter than main roads.
Women sometimes stop cycling because of family commitments. Then if they leave it a few years, they often find that the group they used to ride with is now too fast for them. We go out on a Saturday morning, which many people can manage because it doesn’t impact too much on their family time.”
I just love cycling. It’s the feeling of freedom – you feel as though you can go anywhere
Jo-Anne Strachan, 56, a psychotherapist and mother-of four, took up cycling again after joining the Fabulous Ladies. “I cycled a lot as a child but I hadn’t done it much for years. I think I lacked motivation, but finding a group of like-minded people inspired me.
Now I cycle regularly. I just love it. It’s the feeling of freedom – you feel as though you can go anywhere,” she says.
Juliet Jardine, Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) development officer for Sefton, Merseyside, set up the Southport Cycling Belles three years ago, and regularly gets around 20 ladies on the fortnightly rides.
“Part of my job is to find hard-to-reach groups, and I particularly wanted to work with women. They enjoy it for the social side as much as anything. It’s about coming together as a group and helping newer members as well. We split into two rides, fast and slow, so you can choose the one that suits you best. We also have a ladies’ night at the local cycling club, so you can feel like you’re part of a club even if you don’t race.
“There are so many health benefits – it gets people out of their homes and on their bikes. They become passionate about cycling. Quite a few have sold their cars and now use cycling as their main means of getting around.”
What the Chester Fabulous Ladies say about how cycling helps them
“Cycling really helps you feel physically stronger, it is a great stress buster and I always feel refreshed and relaxed after a ride even if my legs ache a bit. Cycling is a true passion for me, the combination of the open air, the freedom and fun a bike brings really does improve your physical fitness and mental wellbeing.”
“Cycling has improved my fitness, helped me to tone up and lose weight and has contributed to a sense of wellbeing. Heart health is very important as there is heart disease in my family, it is one of the reasons that contribute to my cycling. Other reasons are that the whole family can get involved and it’s a great sport.”
“Cycling helps build your endurance, strength and stamina and keeps you trim when you keep on top of it, well it has for me and it is a good way to release stress if your are stressed out. Amazing way to get to places and when it’s a challenge ride it feels like a darn good achievement.”
“A few years ago I was in a stressful/ depressed way, and I increased my cycling (I had not been doing much) and found it is a very good tonic for your mental health.”
Hildah McAllen, 62, a book-keeper and grandmother-of-two from Bootle, took up cycling a few years ago after suffering hip problems, which made it difficult for her to walk. She went on a bike skills course and then moved on to the Cycling Belles.
It’s really got me fit again and I’ve developed a terrific set of friends
“It’s been fantastic,” says Hildah. “The best thing is that we’re all women. Some women don’t like to ride with men because men are usually stronger and will push you along. We ride with the slowest person and build up from there. There’s never any pressure. If someone is finding it a bit much, we’ll stop for them. We always stop at a café, which is lovely. It’s nice to be out with a group.”
Hildah has since had both hips replaced and has worked up to cycling 50 or 60 miles at a time. She says: “It’s really got me fit again. I’m so glad I joined them and I’ve developed a terrific set of friends.”
Not just for ladies
Older people in Southport – men included – are catered for with an over-50s group, which was set up with help from charity Age Concern (now Age UK).
Juliet also runs a Cycling Back to Health course specifically for people who have been through illness such as a heart attack. Many people go on from this to join one of the regular cycling groups, like Tony Byrne, 60, a father-of-two from Aintree, who took up cycling after his heart attack in November 2008.
A former middleweight boxer who competed for England, Tony had always been fit and healthy and says having a heart attack was a huge shock. “It sapped my confidence and set me back mentally as well as physically. You come out and wonder what you can do.”
Back to fitness
It helped me become active again
Doing a cardiac rehab course at his local hospital gave Tony the confidence to exercise again. He now volunteers at the sessions to support others. After the rehab, he started a Cycling Back to Health course, and enjoyed it so much that he moved on to the Southport Age Concern rides.
“I thoroughly enjoy it,” he says. “You feel that people are there for you. It’s a nice social event but it’s not just that. Physically and mentally it gets you back where you were. It helped me become active again.
“The leaders are very good. Juliet is amazing – when you’re on the road with her, she gives you so much confidence, and she encourages you if you’re struggling.”
Two years after the heart attack, Tony had an angioplasty with three stents. Now he keeps fit by walking and going to the gym as well as cycling. He says: “I think people don’t realise that after cardiac rehab they have to get up and do the next step themselves. It’s up to you to take control of your health, but it’s well worth it.”
- Visit the BHF online shop to see our fantastic range of cycling products to help you get started.
BHF bike rides
We’re proud to be the nation’s favourite cycling charity and we’ve got more than 30 different bike rides throughout the UK and overseas from March to November. On-road, off-road, with the family or even at night, we have a ride to suit you.
Our cycling events are the perfect way to have fun, get fitter and help save lives, whatever your cycling level, plus you’ll have a fantastic time fundraising for the BHF.
Every penny raised helps us to continue finding new ways to fight heart disease and giving invaluable support to people with heart conditions and their families.