Cycling group proves learning new skills is as easy as riding a bike

A CYCLING group for mostly Muslim women in Woking is attracting new members from the area and farther afield.

The group was set up to teach cycling to women who did not have the chance to ride a bicycle when they were children.

Waheeda and Saddaf out on a ride together

It is run through the Shifa Asian Women’s Wellbeing Project that began as a drop-in centre at Corner House in Courtenay Road and now offers a wide range of classes and other services.

Khalda Kusar, the Shifa projects administrator, said she learnt to ride on the cycling project.

“It came about because not many Asian women learnt to cycle when they were young.

“There may be cultural reasons; it’s not encouraged that much,” Khalda said.

The start of training

“Now with women living in the UK, they want to do things like other families do, such as joining in with their children, and hop on a bike like other women do.

“It is about integration and being part of society.”

The cycling group has been boosted by funding from Active Surrey and having Claire Murray, an award-winning cycling coach, recently become the new trainer.

“We have 10 to 12 women on our current programme and we have a waiting list. We are expanding into Camberley in May. There’s definitely a demand for it,” Khalda said.

The women who have learnt to cycle are starting to ride around the area in groups, some of which are led by Claire.

The rides use the Basingstoke Canal towpath and routes around Sheerwater.

Some of the women have used their newly-learnt skills for transport.

“For an Asian woman to cycle on the road, gives her a great sense of independence,” Khalda said.

Gaining confidence

 Claire, who lives in Frimley, said she is thoroughly enjoying the training sessions at the Sheerwater Community Centre car park.

“It’s just been wonderful to see the ladies really excited about wanting to learn to ride a bicycle but also quite nervous because it’s all new to them,” she said.

“For some of them, it’s been their dream all their lives and there are big expectations hanging on them as they wander over to the bicycle.

“I slowly get them started on learning a little bit about the bicycle and how to get on it properly; I do a clothing and helmet check to make sure everything is safe. Then it is slowly starting them off having the saddle really low so that both their feet touch the floor and then it’s scooting the bike along using their feet.

“Luckily the car park is slightly downhill and we use that to our advantage. As they get more and more confident and start to learn what balance feels like, I ask them to lift their feet up a little bit. Then with my support we get them to set their pedal and learn about pushing off and we get them riding.

“Some of them achieve that within an hour.”

Claire says she gets a great sense of joy from the new cyclists.

“It’s just wonderful to see the smiles on their faces. There are tears of elation and joy and I’m in tears as I’m thrilled to bits that they’ve done it.

“For some, it’s something they’ve wanted for 30 or 40 years and it’s just happened in an hour.”

Sara gets more comfortable with her bike

Claire has been a corporate trainer for more than 30 years and added the cycling training a few years ago, setting up a group called Any1 Can Ride, which has led her to win the Surrey Heath Sports Coach of the Year award twice.

“I’m thrilled as people tend not to win it twice. Ladies don’t win it very often and cycling really doesn’t win it very often.

“My passion is getting inactive people active, and sharing that joy of learning something new.”

The cycling project has also brought joy to Khalda and her colleagues at Shifa, which is part of  Woking MIND.

“It’s wonderful for us when we see someone achieve something, whether it’s to pass an exam or get on a bike,” she said.

For more information, visit www.shifanetwork.org.uk or email Khalda Kusar at admin@shifanetwork.org.uk.

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