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1. A partner or core group

Have an enthusiastic partner or core group of 2 or 3 organizers for support and encouragement and to share successes and setbacks.  Get in touch with your local cycling organizations and borough Transport Officers.  Don’t be shy to ask for help.  See below for a list of useful organisations.

2. Work out your running costs and time

You may be able to get funding from the CCFL (Community Cycling Fund for London) or your local borough (the Sustainable Transport Officer, Travel Officers) to cover your running costs.  These costs will include copying & printing, publicity, stamps, phone, training, bike hire, a celebration and, possibly, some of your time.  Be realistic about your costs and time.  If possible, recruit volunteers to help.  It’s a juggling act getting women, trainers and bikes to the venue and you will need help.  Our project was funded by CCFL.

3. Bikes

You don’t need to have your own bikes.  You might be able to borrow or hire them from a nearby cycle group or cycle shop.   Barclays Bikes are a brilliant option for cycling in London but they tend to be heavy for beginners and too large for some Asian women to ride comfortably.  We took two Barclays Bikes on every training session so that the women could try them out and get used to them.  Barclays Cycle Hire.  Chain guards are important.  Buying your own bikes is expensive and they need secure storage. We hired 6 bikes for each session from the Jagonari Centre.

4. Training

Most boroughs offer free cycle training for people living or working in the borough.  In Tower Hamlets this training is done through Bikeworks.  Use these free training schemes for your first sessions.  Save your funding for additional sessions.  We had our training sessions on a Saturday morning.  Each session was divided into three one-hour slots so 18 women in total had the chance to cycle during the morning.  It sounds complicated but it worked well.  We only used women trainers - three per session.  Reputable training providers like BikeworksCycle Training UK will have insurance.  

5. Encouraging women to take part

BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) women cyclists are pioneers.  They don’t have role models and may never have seen a BEM woman on a bike in London.  They have busy family lives with children and other responsibilities.  They may have to overcome family and cultural prejudice.  Don’t be disappointed if you start off with small numbers or lots of women sign up but only a few turn up on the day. Numbers will level off and then increase.  People will be curious and come up to your group in the park.  Always have a card or flyer to hand.  You will sow the seeds for future cyclists.  Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone reminding, encouraging and persuading women to come.  It is worthwhile.  On the whole, people appreciate a phone call.  Remember to remind women to check with their GP before starting on training sessions. 

6. Where to advertise?

Choose places where women are more likely to be open to cycling and fitness. Put flyers up in the local doctors surgery and health & community centers.  Talk to women at school sports days and fitness classes.  Emphasize the health benefits of cycling.  Women want to be healthy and live longer and husbands want this too.  There is a very high incidence of heart disease, diabetes and obesity amongst the Asian population.  Encourage women to bring a friend or a relative.  

7. The venue

Women may be shy to be seen learning to cycle in a public space close to home for cultural, social or religious reasons.  If possible, choose a secluded area.  A school playground is a possibility if you can arrange access after school or at the weekend.  Public parks are an excellent alternative.  Saturday morning, 10am-1pm, is a good time as fewer people are around.  It’s also useful to be able to have the choice to cycle on pathways or grass.  Some people feel much more confidant learning on grass.  Parks are also wide-open spaces so forgetting to use brakes or to turn isn’t such a problem.  We chose Weaver’s Fields, Whitechapel, a 10 minutes walk away.

8. What to wear?

Most clothing can be adapted for cycling.  For safety, to avoid catching material in the chain or rear wheel, long dresses can be hitched up slightly.  The salwar kameez, light narrow cotton trousers and a long top (worn by younger Asian women) is ideal for cycling.  The jilbab (long outer garment) or burkha (which includes a floor length dress in black) need to be arranged with care.  Remember to have a chain guard.  Rubber bands are also useful to have to hand.  Ideally, shoes should cover the foot.  Trainers are excellent.  Think of all the Victorian and Edwardian women who were enthusiastic cyclists, often having to negotiate a crossbar.  

9. Helmet or not?

Helmets aren’t necessary for learning to cycle in the park.  They come into their own when cycling on the road.  It’s much better if women can buy their own helmet when they reach this stage.  They will then have a helmet which fits properly.

10. Celebration

Mark the end of the project with a celebration and presentation of certificates.  Bikeablility Level 1 has 9 sub levels so there is an award for everyone.  Give women information on how they can continue their cycling with further training and beginner cycle rides.  We held our event in partnership with the Jagonari Centre and invited our MP, Rushanara Ali, to present the certificates.  The event was supported by Tower Hamlets Transport officers and volunteers from the Wheelers.  An event is an opportunity to introduce more women to cycling and its benefits and to gain publicity for cycling.

GOOD LUCK WTIH YOUR PROJECT!  Everyone enjoyed our project.  Alongside learning new skills, friendships were made.

Useful sources of information:  LCC (London Cycling Campaign), your local borough Transport Officers, Sustrans, other local community cycling groups

Read more about the project and cycling for women on the Tower Hamlets Women Cyclists blog.

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