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Cycling's a breeze for women
THE Guardian’s Pedal Power campaign aims to inspire Northwich residents to get on their bikes and discover that there is a kind of cycling for everyone.
Through the course of the campaign we will feature inspiring stories, features and tips about the two-wheeled world.
This week our focus falls on cycling for women.
Chief reporter Gina Bebbington interviews Natalie Justice, Breeze women’s network manager, to find out more.
THE past couple of years has seen a huge drive to encourage women back in the saddle, or to even jump (carefully) on a bike for the first time.
Spearheading this is the national Breeze network, which is attempting to break down the barriers faced by women who want to enter this traditionally male-dominated sport and pasttime.
Natalie Justice, the Breeze women’s network manager, explained that the project, launched in June 2011, had a number of aims, from organising relaxed women-only bike rides to encouraging and promoting female-friendly bike shops and bike hire.
The backbone of Breeze, set up by British Cycling and backed by Sport England and the National Lottery, is its Breeze champions, women volunteers who lead rides and the direction of the campaign.
“We knew we wanted it to be a volunteer-led project and so we train women up to lead rides in their area,” said Natalie, herself a champion.
“We also know there are barriers out there around access to bikes, confidence, not having people to ride with, routes and things like that.
“So there were a few elements to look at when we started and they’ve stuck with us.
“But the most important thing about having volunteers involved means that our Breeze champions are real advocates for the network and are responsible for how it grows, they take real ownership of it.”
Natalie said one of the ways in which the network has grown and changed already is that it was originally set up to help women start cycling but now also helps women maintain their interest, with a variety of bike rides planned for different levels of fitness.
“There’s women who want to go that little bit further so it’s become a bit of a social network and it’s great to be able to offer different levels,” she said.
“We find a lot of women aren’t starting with Breeze but they are capable cyclists that just want to ride with other women.
“And bike rides tend to end up in a coffee shop.”
To help beginners, a lot of rides start off where there are bike hire facilities, like at Delamere Forest, and the rides are yealding real results.
Natalie said: “We had a woman get in touch with us whose mum banned her from riding a bike when she was six because she broke both her wrists.
“We put her in touch with a Breeze champion and cycling training instructor as well and she learned to ride and got her confidence back – her challenge was to do Cycletta and she did it.”
The Breeze website, breezebikerides.com, features a search facility to find women friendly traders, bike hire facilities and bike recycling schemes, as well as search for local rides.
“We recognise female friendly bike shops and recognise those that are great local traders, really supportive of the community and cycling community,” Natalie said.
“Through the website we also include information about bike recycling and hire schemes, which we update all the time.
“We work in some areas where there are a lot of single mums and finding £100 to buy a bike is not going to be a priority.”
Breeze, which is supporting the Cheshire Classic women’s road race in Acton Bridge in the spring, also plans to look for potential champions to lead more rides in the Northwich area early next year.
• Don’t be scared – it’s for everybody, it’s not about being sporty but about rediscovering what it was like to ride a bike as a child.
• Explore – you’re also able to discover your area and find nice places you never knew existed.
• Socialise – taking part with friends or in a group makes a big difference.
• Visit breezebikerides.com and get in touch with the network – Breeze champions are good at making sure people feel welcome and comfortable .