Meet our volunteers: Sue Booth, Chester Fabulous Ladies

Sue Booth founded Chester Fabulous Ladies 15 years ago and has seen the group go from strength to strength
How did Sue Booth, a Cycling UK volunteer from Chester, manage to increase the number of women cycling in her area? A runner-up as Most Inspiring Individual in our recent Going the Extra Mile Volunteer Awards, she explains how her dedication has made such a difference to the lives of so many women

5 Miles to Fabulous

Her nomination for the award reads: “Fifteen years ago, the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC, the former name of Cycling UK) launched the ‘5 Miles to Fabulous’ initiative to get more women cycling. From this the Chester Fabulous Ladies Cycling Club was born. This leisure and social cycling group for women is a sub-group of local member group, Chester and North Wales CTC Caer a Gogledd Cymru.

“From the early beginnings, Sue has built up a club for which the aim was to encourage women to cycle. The rides are on a Saturday morning and are typically between 20 and 30 miles – always with a café cake stop in the middle. The emphasis is on the ride being fun and sociable, not on speed and Lycra. Any standard of cyclist is welcome and no one is left behind.

“Numbers have grown, which allows graded groups to go out on shorter or longer routes. Sue’s group has seen hundreds of women participate at some time or other; some have gone on to become ride leaders, while others have outgrown the Fab Ladies and gone on to join more serious clubs or form their own groups having grown in confidence and meeting like-minded people through the group.”

Sue has been and continues to be a true inspiration by providing a safe and friendly space for women to experience and enjoy group cycling

Nomination for Most Inspiring Individual, Going the Extra Mile Volunteer Awards

The tributes continues: “This year, the Fab Ladies reaches its 15th anniversary and Sue’s enthusiasm for the group is as strong as ever. She has barely missed a ride in the 15 years but can do so knowing that there are now other leaders to deputise. She has been and continues to be a true inspiration by providing a safe and friendly space for women to experience and enjoy group cycling.”

Fantastic at what she does

“Sue, who was nominated for Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling in 2017, has encouraged numerous ladies back onto their bikes. We are a very active group meeting monthly and have an annual weekend away. She organises the monthly rides and often leads the group and also organises the ride lists for the main Chester CTC group – two Sundays every month and weekly evening rides during the lighter evenings.

“She has also been involved in the organisation of the annual Bob Clift memorial ride for many years. Sue dedicates so much time to both groups while working full time. She is just fantastic at what she does, I certainly wouldn’t be cycling if I hadn’t joined the ladies’ group.

“Sue is brilliant in her organisational skills and promotes all in the group to join Cycling UK. She also encourages less able cyclists and those with disabilities to join in the rides. We have a partially sighted lady who regularly joins our rides on a tandem.”

Surprised and humbled

When she heard she had been nominated, Sue said: “I was both surprised and humbled!

“Fifteen years ago, I noticed that there seemed to be far fewer women riding an event than men, even though in my earlier years of cycling the numbers had always been more balanced. The CTC had a ‘5 Miles to Fabulous’ initiative in about 2008, so I thought I can do this as an event.

”After the ride I thought I can probably do this once a month, and so set it up for when my children were in drama club and Chester Fabulous Ladies Cycling Club was born.”

"We meet once a month, so actual riding time is from 9:15pm to about 2pm, which is when I usually get back. But there is more time spent with social media, and as I take a lot of photos and do a blog, this is a few more hours.

Once a year, I think back (and look over my spreadsheets!) to cafés we have not been to for several years – we have been to more than 50 in about a 10-mile radius of Chester! – or new ones as we do like a new café, and plan the following year.”

Sue’s impact

Sue’s influence spreads further than the group rides she organises. She continues: “We have a small number of women who sometimes have gone on to other riding, or may meet in their own smaller groups. We have had a weekend away most years.

“I think the fact I have a consistent formula – regular meet-ups in the same location – goes a long way to instil confidence for women to join us and keep coming back. I cannot do this alone, and have several reliable and supportive women who help out with leading and really help to keep me grounded. I think we have had over 300 women altogether out over the time we have been meeting.”

A group of women with their bikes in front of a countryside scene

Cycling adventures

When asked what she enjoys most about running the group, Sue replies: “Meeting lots of women, the conversations we have in and out of the saddle, and reminiscing about cycling adventures and rides we have done. Introducing people to the quiet lanes and tracks, and the lovely views we have; sharing my favourite places with others. It is all about the social side of riding; there is usually something unique about each ride we do.”

Challenges overcome

However, there have also been challenges along the way. Sue says of the biggest ones she faced “would have to be the pandemic, with the changing rules. Chester is on the border with Wales so when you could not cross borders at one point we were a bit stuck, as several riders live over the border.

“We set up rides each side, and it was fortunately not too often we had to do that. We also had to limit numbers at other times, so I tried a few free booking systems and we used that to keep options open and still enable new riders to join us.”

What she is most proud of

Sue adds: "A couple of times we have had a charity ride – our rides are usually free but on two occasions I have asked for a donation of a minimum £1 to go to the charity. One was Sport Relief, and we did a relay around seven cafés; another was ‘Smartworks’, who support women back into employment.”

The impact of volunteering

Sue says volunteering in cycling has had a big impact on her life: “I have made some very good and long-lasting friends; it also encourages me to go out at least once a month because it is planned in.”

She also has sound advice to those following in her wheel tracks: “Pick a group you enjoy riding with and ask the leaders about helping out.

If setting up a group from scratch, be clear about what time you can give and how you can maintain the momentum. So spend some time with local clubs in the same organisation, and how they function – we have a committee and informal groups – and don’t be afraid to ask for any help or advice.”

How to start your own cycling group

Cycling UK has a wealth of resources for people wanting to set up their own cycling club.

These are some of the reasons you might want to:

  1. Groups that join Cycling UK can obtain insurance through us that covers their ‘officials’ – ride leaders, event organisers and so on – for up to £10m for claims against them, subject to terms and conditions
  2. You can take part in the kind of riding that suits you: you decide on the location, distance, time or pace you prefer
  3. Benefit from having access to advice, support and resources with Cycling UK’s groups engagement officer
  4. It’s easier to find people to ride with who share your passion for cycling, whether you prefer leisure cycling, mountain biking, road riding, touring – or a combination of all of these. (Note if your group wants to take part in races, it will need a British Cycling racing licence)
  5. You’ll have the satisfaction of bringing together like-minded people and providing opportunities for taking part in a healthy, life-enhancing activity and may make friends for life
  6. Share your knowledge and improve your skills – in riding, technical ability, navigation, socialising, organising, life and more
  7. You’ll have the camaraderie, the encouragement and the mutual support that comes from riding with others
  8. Choose a group name that reflects where you’re based or the kind of activity you take part in; it’s your group – the choice is yours
  9. Having a name and a more formal structure means your group can recruit new riders more easily and have a presence on social media via, for example, a Facebook group or a Cycling UK publicity page if you join us
  10. You can design your own kit, or decide whether or not you actually want to ride in club kit. Ordering kit as a group means you can sometimes benefit from bulk discounts or negotiate special rates at bike shops and so on
  11. You may be able to apply for grant funding from charitable or other bodies, sometimes subject to your group having a certain kind of constitution
  12. A more formal structure may mean you have to commit to riding on a particular day and time every week. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it will make you more likely to turn up come rain or shine – it’s much harder to talk yourself out of a ride if you know others are relying on your
  13. Once your group is up and running, you may find there is enthusiasm for organising rides or taking part in events that you may not have thought of before. Perhaps even tours and weekends away in other parts of the world? BBQs and quiz nights? Meet ups with other groups and clubs? The possibilities are endless