Meet our groups: Cycle Sisters

Cycle Sisters is a thriving Muslim women’s cycling group based in Waltham Forest in London and is affiliated to Cycling UK. Founder Sarah Javaid explains how the group has become so successful

Cycle Sisters was established in October 2016 by Sarah Javaid, one of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling 2018. Sarah took her own passion and cycling experience and began leading weekly social rides for a small group of her friends and family. The club now has more than 50 members and volunteer ride leaders and is enabling women from a group not normally represented in cycling to enjoy the activity.

Sarah explains: “I identified the importance of having a group specifically for Muslim women to provide a safe and culturally appropriate space to develop their cycling skills. Since then, Cycle Sisters has grown organically into a hugely successful group with more than 50 active members, and now has a team of trained volunteer ride leaders, who all started out as participants themselves, leading the rides every week.

“Members are mainly based in Walthamstow and Leyton, but also come from other parts of Waltham Forest and neighbouring boroughs such as Hackney and Haringey to join the rides.”

In 2018, Cycle Sisters won Waltham Forest’s Love Your Borough Award for Best Community or Business Cycling Initiative.

At the end of 2018, Cycle Sisters surveyed their members and discovered:

  • 93% of people said that participating in Cycle Sisters rides has ‘greatly’ improved their cycling confidence
  • 70% of people who have a bike got it after participating in Cycle Sisters rides
  • 77% of people cycle more independently after participating in Cycle Sisters rides
  • 97% of people said that family/friends have been motivated to cycle or cycle more

Two or three times a year we also hold a social event at a local restaurant for members to be able to socialise outside of our rides

Sarah Javaid, founder of Cycle Sisters

Eat Pray Cycle

Cycle Sisters is so popular it is adding new rides. Sarah says: “We are also just launching a new initiative this month called ‘Eat Pray Cycle’, a monthly ride to a different mosque to perform Friday prayers and eat together in a local restaurant. The first mosque will be Masjid Tawhid in Leyton.

Two or three times a year we also hold a social event at a local restaurant for members to be able to socialise outside of our rides.”

Lending support

Waltham Forest Council has provided Cycle Sisters with bikes that can be borrowed for rides by people who don’t have their own. These are allocated on a first come, first served basis when booking a place on the rides. The group doesn’t offer rides for complete beginners, but does offer a range of rides of different lengths and for differing abilities.

Waltham Forest Council has also funded opportunities for members to do bike maintenance courses, which is something Sarah hopes to be able to continue to provide in the future.

Joyce from Cycle Sisters

Amazing volunteers

Cycle Sisters has a team of eight amazing volunteer ride leaders who support the Wednesday and Saturday rides.

Sarah says: “Our ride leaders give a huge amount of time to the group. They do much more than indicate the routes on the rides and manage junctions; they provide encouragement, advice and inspiration for all our cyclists.

They also give a lot of time to learning routes, which enables us to offer a wide variety of destinations and show our members the best of the local area we live in. They are the lifeblood of the group and ensure the group remains sustainable.”

The support from ride leaders, their enthusiasm for cycling and the diverse people you meet makes Cycle Sisters special

Asma Waqar, volunteer ride leader

The model of providing supportive led rides, alongside being able to refer people to instructors from within the community, has had brilliant outcomes, with people starting as beginners, progressing to buying bikes, cycling independently and getting their families cycling. An impressive 93% of Cycle Sisters said that participating in the rides has greatly improved their cycling confidence.

The ride leaders have been trained and Cycle Sisters tries to provide opportunities for development where possible, whether this is bike maintenance training or skills development sessions.

The group has an incredibly dedicated volunteer admin team which ensures the rides run smoothly through everything that happens behind the scenes – the booking process, maintaining an active WhatsApp group, liaising with new riders and developing and maintaining procedures that they need in place as the group has grown.

Rides and events

Cycle Sisters rides take place every Wednesday morning from a start point in Walthamstow or Leyton (Low Hall depot, Leyton Jubilee Park or Lloyd Park). The group sets off at 9.30am and is back by 12 noon; the rides always include a café stop.

They offer Saturday intermediate rides in partnership with FECycle once a month for those who aren’t able to participate during the week.

From February 2019, they will also be offering a longer ride from 9.30am to 2.30pm once a term, which will allow them to do a ride of 20 or more miles to places such as Forty Hall in Enfield, Fairlop Waters and into the city.

They also encourage members to take part in local cycling events such as Ride London, Tour de Waltham Forest and Tour de Salah.

Favourite routes and cafes

Sarah says: “Our favourite off-road route, and probably the route we’ve done the most, is from Low Hall depot to the Olympic Park through Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes.

“On road, our route from Leyton Jubilee Park to E5 Bakehouse in London Fields is always popular and also includes our favourite coffee stop! We ride there through the Olympic Park and Victoria Park and head back through the Quietways of Hackney on a lovely circular route.

“E5 Bakehouse does amazing brunches and we all stock up on their sourdough bread!”

Describe the group in three words

Sociable, Supportive, Sisterhood (of cyclists!)

Advice for other groups who want to grow and thrive

When we asked Sarah what advice she would give to other groups, she said: “Our recommendations would be, most importantly, to value and invest time in your ride leaders and to take the time to find the right people as they are the heart and soul of the group. Always ask for feedback, listen to your members’ ideas and don’t be afraid to be criticised.

“And finally don’t try and do too much too soon – grow organically and take the lead from your members.”

Thanks Sarah and Cycle Sisters – sound advice indeed.

Cycle Sisters in the snow