Cycling with Asperger’s: Belles on Bikes helps Laura find her confidence

There was a healthy turnout for the Falkirk Belles big ride
Since Laura Wilson founded Belles on Bikes Falkirk five years ago, cycling has helped both her physical and mental health. Cycling UK’s Claire Hutchison caught up with the Belles leader

She’s cycled the Hebridean Way, lost 7 stone and feels more comfortable meeting new people: that is the impact founding a cycling group has had on Laura Wilson’s life.

Laura, a 56-year-old retired nurse from Falkirk, created the women’s group Belles on Bikes Falkirk in order to boost her cycling confidence.

The Belles on Bikes leader has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism which can lead to difficulty in social relationships and communicating, as well as dyspraxia, a condition which affects physical co-ordination.

“As a woman with disabilities, cycling has helped me so much,” says Laura. “It can be quite daunting for me meeting new people, going out on my own, doing a new route – things like that.

“Mentally, I think getting out that often with women in that environment, you feel quite safe. So, it’s been a really good confidence boost. It’s helped my depression, too.”

Support network

Belles on Bikes is a network of 12 inclusive women’s cycling groups in Scotland. The groups are run by volunteers who support other women to get cycling in a friendly and relaxed environment. Activities include a variety of rides and the ethos of the groups is to empower women.

Not only has Laura’s mental health benefited from cycling, her physical health has, too. In 2019, she cycled the Hebridean Way – 235 miles in six days, with 13,500 feet of climbing.

“That was quite an achievement for me, to achieve that at that age,” she adds. “And also, because I had joined Slimming World as well, I lost 7 stone in a year.

“As I lost weight, I was fitter, lighter and more confident to go out.”

Being out in a group of like-minded women really helped to push me on to do things

Laura Wilson

Laura’s achievement has even inspired other women in her local Belles group to take on the challenge.

The Falkirk group holds regular rides between March and November and around a dozen women come along to each event.

“It has helped quite a few people make friendships,” Laura explains. “At Christmas we have a meal together as a group – everybody is included.”

Leading the group has even inspired Laura to become a volunteer First Responder for the Scottish Ambulance Service, after she did first aid training.

“I would never have done any of that without the Belles,” she adds. “That was the thing that encouraged me to start making friends, because that is difficult for me. I had to really push through that.

“Being out in a group of like-minded women really helped to push me on to do things outside of that as well.”

Laura explains that the main aim of Belles on Bikes Falkirk is to encourage women to support one another: “It’s very relaxed, there’s no rush and no competition. It’s good mental downtime,” she said.