Proving that taking up cycling is a piece of cake is fledgling group, Belles on Bikes. The women-only cycling club aims to show that group bike rides do not have to be competitive.
It encourages members to go at their own pace while enjoying the great outdoors – all with the promise of a sweet treat at the end at a designated cake stop.
Belles on Bikes was set up as part of efforts to encourage more women of all ages and abilities to get out and see the world on two wheels. In January, the dreich weather did nothing to deter the intrepid Edinburgh Belles as they set out on the first ride, which took in sights around the Capital.
The event proved such a success, the Belles will today head out on a 30 mile ride around East Lothian.
Suzanne Forup, a development officer with the cycling charity CTC, said: “Over the past couple of years more than 450 women have signed up to the Glasgow Belles and we’re hoping Edinburgh is going to enjoy similar success.
“Since we set up the programme, we’ve already had women express an interest in leading groups of their own.
“We have funding which we can use for training in mentoring and mechanical skills.
“That way, each group can focus on what they want to do – whether it’s mountain biking or road biking.
“Our first ride was a success and we’ve already had dozens of inquiries from people who say they will be coming along to our second one.”
Belles on Bikes developed from a Bike Club Scotland project initiated by Victoria Leiper and Amy Hickman – who were development workers in 2011 – to get women cycling in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Since then, both workers have moved onto other roles but Victoria has developed the Glasgow Belles on Bikes group into a regular leisure cycling club with more than 400 active participants.
The group is organised through the social media site Meet Up and uses a grading system so ladies know what sort of ride they are signing up for and its difficulty.
“A lot of women just want to get out and have a bit of a ride but it not be too serious”, said Suzanne. “In some of the more established groups the environment can be a bit more competitive.
“The focus on Belles on Bikes is not just the cycling – it’s also enjoy about really enjoying yourself, getting active and making new friends.
“Having a bit of cake after the ride doesn’t hurt either – especially when you’ve cycled 30 miles.
“With the ride being women-only, it’s a bit more inclusive.
“In some cultures, women might not feel quite as comfortable in a mixed sex group.
“And it’s also open to ladies of all different levels of experience – beginners or women looking to get back into cycling.
“It’s a great way for people of all ages to get out and enjoy the landscape on two wheels – from late teens to grandmothers.”
During this year, CTC hopes to continue to roll out Belles on Bikes groups across Scotland.
Using their practical experience, the Glasgow Belles are helping to write a “how to” guide to setting up a Belles on Bikes group.
The guide will be available in the spring and will cover everything from group management to using social media.
One of the women who took part in the first Belles ride in the Capital was Claire Connachan, 29, a charity worker from Corstorphine.
A volunteer with the CTC, Claire, who has been cycling for two years, said: “When I heard about the club I thought it sounded like an amazing idea and a great way to get women into cycling.
“Not everyone might have the confidence to sign up to some of the more established groups.
“It might be a bit of a generalisation, but it can be quite scary cycling in a group with men because they are so much faster and the emphasis is much more focussed on speed.
“But with Belles on Bikes, there isn’t the same pressure on you to go fast.”
A small grant from Cycling Scotland has provided the Belles with funding for CTC affiliate insurance, Cycle Ride Leader training, Meet Up pages, Fix Your Own Bike nights and mentoring from the Glasgow Belles.
Eventually, the group hopes to have a pool of bikes that can be used by ladies without a cycle of their own and also a selection of baby seats and trailers so families can try before they buy.
Belles on Bikes will host its second Edinburgh run today.
The 30 mile route will be a quiet, relaxed and reasonably flat loop around East Lothian, with a cake stop in Longniddry.
The group will meet at the Beach House, 57 Bath Street at 10.30am.