Feeling empowered cycling alone

Eleanor enjoying a solo cycle in Scotland

Feeling empowered cycling alone

At Cycling UK, we can't celebrate the joys of riding a bike enough. From the physical perks of staying fit and healthy to the confidence-boosting mental health rewards cycling can bring. For these reasons, we care about the perceived barriers that women face when riding bikes, especially when riding alone, as Jessica Strange writes

The most common mental barrier women face is confidence. Whether it's confidence in your ability on the bike or knowing how to fix a mechanical problem, confidence is arguably the biggest stumbling block for women cycling alone. Yet, overcoming your personal barriers to cycling can give you a great deal of satisfaction, provide you with a newfound sense of independence and that all-important confidence boost. So what are the main barriers women face when cycling alone, and how can we overcome them?

Barrier: Fear of mechanicals

What if I suffer from a mechanical issue while out riding on my own? Unfortunately, punctures, chain breaks and things loosening themselves can happen on a bike ride; it's part and parcel of cycling. However, adequate preparation and knowledge can get you out of almost all bike mechanical situations.

Emily Magill has been riding bikes for a few years but only recently began cycling on her own. She shares, "I was apprehensive about riding on my own at first, having always ridden with my partner. He would take care of any mechanical issues and be my support if anything happened. I didn't have the confidence to ride alone, just in case I got a puncture or something fell off. I'd overthink everything and ultimately talk myself out of it."

How to overcome it

Booking yourself onto a bicycle maintenance course will teach you how to repair common problems while on a ride. Learn how your bike works and what tools you'll need to remedy any issues. Don't be afraid to practice as well. Spend some time replacing inner tubes and using quick links at home until you feel confident enough to fix an issue unassisted. Just don't forget to take a small repair kit and multi-tool with you on your ride!

Barrier: Fear of safety

There are many safety concerns when doing anything on your own, but preparation goes a long way, like most things. Your personal safety may include road traffic, feeling more vulnerable, having an accident, and sustaining an injury. 

How to overcome it

Emma Hawkins is a qualified mountain bike guide who offers some great advice to keep you safe on a solo ride. "Always carry a mobile phone which is fully charged; this will certainly come in handy if you need to call on someone, especially if you need the emergency services. Whenever you plan to ride alone, it's also a good idea to share your route with someone, so they know where you're heading, and check-in with them at various points along the way."

Other considerations to make are riding within your limits, especially if you're venturing off-road. If you want to push yourself out of your comfort zones in skill level or fitness, consider taking a riding partner if things don't go to plan. 

Barrier: Fear of adverse weather

While it may not seem significant for some, rain, hail and wind can be a big concern when riding your bike. Just like driving a car, adverse weather can affect your braking time, visibility and personal comfort, which can be really off-putting to venture out in. Of course, truly severe weather conditions aren't to be trifled with, but general wet weather riding can be surprisingly fun!

How to overcome it

It's that keyword again, preparation! When it comes to the weather, it's very much a mind-over-matter perspective. Check the forecast before heading out so you know what to expect on your ride, and then plan accordingly. Effective layering will help you keep warm while remaining breathable. Having suitable waterproof clothing will help keep you dry, so much so, you may not even notice the rain. When it comes to riding, remember to be more cautious of wet surfaces. Reducing your speed will allow for more time to assess the route ahead and plan for braking in advance. 

Barrier: Fear of boredom

"Cycling on your own must be so dull." "Cycling is a social activity." For many of us, cycling is a social hobby that we do with friends because it's fun and a great way to bond with other people. For others, cycling is merely a form of transportation to get you from A to B. The prospect of heading off on the bike alone may not be the norm for cyclists, and that's ok, but cycling on your own can give way to a whole new meaning of me-time. 

How to overcome it

Try it. You don't have to venture far or embark on some multi-day cycle tour to try it out. Plan a cycle route to somewhere you've not ventured before and take some time out for yourself. "I make time for a solo ride at least once a week, more if I can! I find the freedom to pedal at my own pace and leisurely roll around the country roads as a form of meditation. I can ride away from the stresses of the day, think things through more clearly, and just be alone with myself. I can't get this kind of headspace with the kids running around me at home," shares avid road cyclist Kathy Hardigan.

Clear your head, breathe in the fresh air and engage with nature around you. It may surprise yourself you how much you enjoy it! Cycling for you fulfils many essential aspects of our overall wellbeing; freedom, fun, independence and empowerment.

Moving forward

When it comes to cycling on your own, there are many other considerations to make. Still, it all comes down to effective planning and preparation. Plan a ride, tell someone where you're going, take a mobile phone, know how to fix basic repairs, keep moving and most importantly, follow your instincts. 

If something doesn't feel right or comfortable, stop. Don't force yourself down a road that's dimly lit or pass a group of people that triggers uncertainty. Listen to yourself because you're in your own safe hands. When you're in control, your confidence grows along with an overwhelming sense of empowerment.

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