Ladies-only beginner cycling – it’s a breeze!

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Ladies cycling darlington

Cycling – the gender gap

We all know that travelling by bike should be a mode of transport for anyone to enjoy, whatever their gender, ability or background. But all too often, cycling is seen as a male-dominated, high-tech sport, and according to a recent Sustrans study carried out across UK seven cities, men are twice as likely to use a bike for travel on a regular basis, and only 12% of women cycle once a week. And that’s in a city environment – one can imagine that far fewer women cycle in more rural areas such as around the Tees Valley.

What is a Breeze ride?

The HSBC UK Breeze programme is a national project which offers fun, free bike rides for women all over the country. As a Breeze champion, Michelle Haigh wants to give women in Darlington the opportunity to ride together, at a pace that suits them, and have a lot of fun while they’re at it.

Michelle is qualified Breeze ride leader offering weekly ladies rides from Darlington, partnership with Bike Stop Darlington. She runs a beginners ride from South Park each Wednesday, and a longer ride at other times, which she fits in around her busy home and work life.

Michelle’s Wednesday ride is arranged through Bike Stop. Ladies can call 01325 788857 or email rob.archer@bikestop.org.uk to book a place, and bikes and helmets are available to borrow for free – just make sure you mention it when booking.

Michelle organises her longer rides through the Let’s Ride website. Just pop in your postcode and search for rides near you.

What is it like?

I joined Michelle and her small band of merry women, just setting off on their first beginners ride together from Bike Stop on Wednesday lunchtime. Michelle and the other ladies were very friendly and made feel welcome immediately. The initial discussion was about whether we should have a quick sandwich now or after the ride – my favourite kind of conversation!

Where did we go?

After some deliberation about which route to go out on, we headed off from Bike Stop to South Park, to pick up any other riders joining the group there.

Now, I am a fairly experienced cyclist, but I must admit that I tend to avoid large roundabouts if I can help it. But being part of a group gave me the confidence to cycle around the Feethams roundabout with ease, buoyed by words of encouragement from Michelle bringing up the rear.

Time for a quick rest at South Park before we set off again at a very comfortable pace, our destination the picturesque Snipe Pond near the golf course. We travelled along quiet residential roads towards the edge of town, then the final section of the ride was along gravel paths alongside the River Skerne to the pond.

At that point, sadly, it was time for me to bid my farewell to the ladies and head back home for the school run, but the rest of the group were planning to retrace their route back to the town centre. The whole route would be around 3.5 miles.

What next?

It was a fantastic experience to be out with other women who just want to ride at a gentle pace, take in the scenery, meet new people and discover new ways to get around town. I now have the confidence to navigate roundabouts, which I’m really rather pleased about, and I am looking forward to getting out with the Bike Stop Breeze ladies again soon.

If you’d like to find out about Michelle’s beginners rides, you can get in with Bike Stop on 01325 788857 or email rob.archer@bikestop.org.uk. There are also a number of other group rides from beginners to confident riders, organised by volunteer leaders from Bike Stop, so if the Wednesday ride doesn’t suit, you may find something else that fits the bill. All their rides are listed on Bike Stop Facebook page.

Not in Darlington?

There are loads of free guided rides being run regularly all over the Tees Valley area. Simply find your nearest active travel hub and check out their regular rides.


By Georgina at 10 Sep 2018, 14:48 PM

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