Chhaya explores the Scottish countryside thanks to Big Bike Revival
When Chhaya Patel was a child in her small Indian hometown she used to cycle from A to B along with everyone else, but her bicycle habit ended when she went to university. She lived far from her campus and the traffic made cycling to lectures impossible. When Chhaya left university and finally moved to the UK with her husband in 2012, cycling was an old memory and no longer part of her life.
Chhaya heard about the Big Bike Revival through the networks of the Edinburgh and Lothian Regional Equality Council (ELREC), a Bike Bike Revival partner offering various events, including two bike rides for women in the Asian community. Chhaya thought this seemed a really good opportunity to try cycling again in a supportive environment.
After 20 years there was a lot to learn. She said, “The bicycles I used to ride some two decades ago had no gears. It was simply you pedal and you ride. I’ve never cycled in the UK and it was very different learning the bicycle with gears. It was really a good skill to learn. The Big Bike Revival leader explained how to change the gears, how to get up a hill, how to control speed and what the gear has to be. It was really good learning for me, before discovering my confidence.”
On her first Big Bike Revival ride, Chhaya arrived with a small children’s bike that was difficult to cycle. But she made it all the way through both rides, each more than 15 miles long. Chhaya was so excited about her achievements that she phoned to tell her mother in India, who was unable to believe that her once inactive daughter could cycle more than a mile or two.
Chhaya is now hooked on cycling. After the Big Bike Revival, Chhaya goes on at least three rides a week. Her personal aim is to be able to cycle up Eildon Hill, which is an important goal not just for leisure cycling but for everyday riding in the hilly Borders where she lives.
For small errands to the shop, Chhaya would previously have driven the car but now nips down on the bike, especially as she is concerned about caring for the environment. As a mode of transport, cycling has also made her feel much healthier and fitter, encouraging her to take part in other forms of exercise such as swimming. She's lost weight and rediscovered reserves of energy she never knew she had. Chhaya has now decided to start working again after some years away from employment since becoming a parent.
The whole family is now getting involved in Chhaya’s cycling enthusiasm. Chhaya goes on short rides with her two-year-old daughter, and instead of jetting off to the beach for their holidays she and her husband are now looking for cycling breaks in the UK.
If this kind of event did not exist, then I think I still wouldn’t be on a bike. From the bottom of my heart, I’m really thankful."
ELREC’s participation in the Big Bike Revival provided an accessible bike riding option with her peers. She said, “If this kind of event did not exist, then I think I still wouldn’t be on a bike. From the bottom of my heart, I’m really thankful to ELREC for working on this project.”
For Chhaya, it’s not just the convenience of cycling that has made her journeys so much more enjoyable - it’s the quality of the ride itself. “In Scotland, if you go on a bike, you can explore real natural beauty,” she said. “When you go on holiday and drive a car to get there, you won’t be able to see these beautiful places. Either you walk or you go on a bike – that’s the thing.”
Chhaya is getting ongoing support from ELREC and Cycling UK to keep cycling with tips on local bike shops and riding groups. Once she gets to the top of Eildon Hill and conquers her final challenge, there will be nothing stopping her.