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Championing The Cause Of Women’s Cycling

I became a ‘Breeze Champion’ last October.

To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of British Cycling’s HSBC Breeze initiative before I went on the course. My motivation to attend was that I had recently qualified as a Level 2 Cycle Coach and was starting up my own coaching business. I thought it would be useful to also have a Level 1 Ride Leader qualification. A Breeze Champion course would give me this and was running in Edinburgh. It was free and involved a day out on a bike – what more could I ask for?

Since rather blindly getting involved with Breeze, it has come to be really quite important to me on several levels.

As a Breeze Champion I lead two or three rides a month. I also now have a casual job as Breeze Area Coordinator for South and Central Scotland. I am also training to deliver the Breeze Champion training.

But Breeze has come to be important to me as more than just something I do. It has also come to be important to me as something I believe in. It has become something which I talk about an awful lot.

Those who regularly read my blog will know that I have an interest in getting more women on their bikes. Women are still in the minority of those who cycle, whether that be racing, riding to the shops, or anything in between. If that were because women are simply not as interested in cycling as men, then fair enough. But I do not believe that it is because women do not want to ride. I think that there are practical constraints around women cycling, such as concerns about appearance, transporting children, and a lack of segregated cycle paths. I believe that for many women, a lot comes down to confidence.

This is where Breeze comes in.

Here in Scotland, Breeze is still in its infancy. There have been great things going on in and around Glasgow for a while now. Around the country there are a number of very dedicated folk putting on rides in their area. But there is a long way to go for Breeze to reach its potential in Scotland.

Breeze is simply not very well known in Scotland yet.

My usual blog posts have no agenda. I just write what I feel like writing and writing is often my own way of thinking things through.

This blog post has an agenda.

I am hoping to spread the word about Breeze through this post. I am hoping to inspire more women to get involved. Get involved as a participant, spread the word to anyone you can think of who needs a gentle nudge to get on their bike. Even more importantly, become a Breeze Champion and help to champion the cause of women’s cycling!

Did I mention post-ride coffee and cake?!

What is Breeze?

According to British Cycling, Breeze is:

‘The biggest programme ever to get more women cycling for fun and fitness.’

Very simply, Breeze is a network of women who volunteer as ‘Breeze Champions’ to lead bike rides for other women. These rides are always free.

Rides are advertised through the Let’s Ride website. Breeze rides can be advertised as ‘easygoing’, ‘steady’ or ‘challenging’. The free one-day training course gives Breeze Champions a Ride Leader Level 1 qualification. This allows you to lead rides up to 50 miles. Individual Champions are free to organise whatever kind of rides they choose (within the constraints of the insurance conditions).

Personally, I want to get more women starting out on their bikes. I want to see more parents doing the school run by bike. Because this is my interest I mostly run easygoing rides of around 5 miles, taking around an hour and I am very fortunate that my local school is happy to help me to promote these. I have riders who push their bikes to the meeting point because they are too scared to ride on the roads on their own – this is exactly who I am aiming at.

Who Can Become A Breeze Champion?

In short, any woman who is competent handling their own bike on roads and paths. You do not need to be an expert or handle a bike like Sagan. You do not need to be super fit. You do not need to be able to fix bikes. You just need to be able to ride your bike.

Any kind of bike will do. Road bike, mountain bike, hybrid bike, folding bike, e-bike. Take your pick. Because I choose to lead some of my rides between nursery drop off and school pick up, I lead these on an electric cargo bike.

As a Breeze Champion you do need to wear a helmet when you are leading rides. Adult participants are advised to although it is not obligatory. Leaders must. This is not a point of principle – it is a point of insurance. If helmets are not for you, then leading Breeze rides is not either.

You do have to be a woman. However, if there are any men reading and feeling left out, look up HSBC UK Guided Rides.

How Do I Become a Breeze Champion?

To become a Breeze Champion, you need to go on a one-day training course. The course is free to attend and involves a bit of indoor chat about the principles and practicalities of being a Breeze Champion, and a ride to practise leading.

These are held around the country. You can find planned courses and sign up for them here. If there is not a course coming up near you, you can register your interest. This allows the planners at British Cycling to see where there is demand for courses and to put them on accordingly.

You will need to take along your own bike and helmet and your lunch. That is pretty much all you will need.

You do also need to have a basic first aid qualification. You can do this before or after the course, but you cannot lead rides until you have it. If you do not already have this, British Cycling organise courses which you can attend for free, or can contribute to the cost of an external course. Your local friendly Area Coordinator (there are three of us, we are all very helpful!) can help you to get this organised. You can also co-lead rides with another Champion who has their first aid qualification in the meantime.

What Is Expected Of Breeze Champions?

Once you have done the course, there are a few things which are asked of you. After all, there is rarely any such thing as a free lunch. There is no avoiding the fact that getting involved in Breeze will take up some of your precious time. However, if you stick to the basics it is not that much. If you can manage to do more than the basics then fantastic, but we are all busy and everyone has to be realistic.

This is what is expected of you.

Lead 8 rides per year:

British Cycling asks Breeze Champions to lead a minimum of 8 rides per year. As described above, the distance, speed, days and times are entirely of your choosing. Once a month except the winter, or once a week over the best of the summer months. It is up to you. If Champions choose to do more, that is fantastic. But 8 per year is enough and it really isn’t that much.

Cargo bikes and little people welcome

My advise for anyone wondering how to fit it in is to plan the rides which suit you. As a Breeze Champion, the kind of rides you organise is entirely up to you. Pick the times, dates and formats which suit you. Fit in with your own training. Use your commute. Organise a lunchtime ride from your work as an excuse to get out of the office. If you have children who are anything like mine about going to bed, organise an evening ride and use leading it as a wonderful excuse to get out of the occasional bedtime circus! Or you could always take the children with you.

You are free to choose whether you want to lead rides on your own or find a Breeze ‘buddy’ to co-lead with you. You are insured to take up to 8 participants on your rides. With 2 leaders, you can take 16 participants. If you fancy leading with someone else, you might meet someone you can buddy up with on your training. Alternatively, your Area Coordinator can help get you in touch with others.

The first ride you lead can seem a little daunting. Again, ask your Area Coordinator if you want support

You need to use the Lets Ride website to post your rides. This is where participants can find your rides and sign up to them. Suffice to say that once you get the hang of the website, it’s fine. You can log on to see who has booked onto your rides and you can download a register from there on the day of the ride. If you are just getting started, just post one ride at a time and see how you get on.

Risk assess your rides:

You also need to risk assess your rides. If you do not have experience writing risk assessments, do not panic. It really is not difficult at all. You will need to recce your rides to do this, but that does not necessarily mean extra work or time. The rides I lead use the roads and bike paths which I use all the time on my cargo bike, ferrying my kids about. I never ride a route specifically to write a risk assessment because I ride the routes I use all the time. I simply read over my risk assessment before each ride to see if anything needs to be added or changed. Your friendly local Breeze Area Coordinator can also help you with risk assessments.

You will need to run your rides in accordance with British Cycling guidelines. This is nothing too complicated. Keeping to the distances you are qualified to lead, keeping your group together and using the safety guidelines you will learn on the course, doing a simple bike and helmet check at the start of your rides, carrying a first aid kit, simple things. This keeps British Cycling insured, and therefore keeps you as a Champion insured.

Post-ride admin:

You need to complete some post ride admin. This takes around 2 minutes. Who came along and were there any problems, that’s it.

What Do I get Out Of It?

The satisfaction of knowing that you are doing something positive and hugely influential to promote women’s cycling is wonderful.

You will also come to feel more involved in your local cycling community and will have some fantastic chats with people with whom you might not otherwise have socialised with.

But more tangible rewards are great too.

As a Breeze Champion you will receive very smart long and short sleeved Breeze jerseys so you can look the part when leading your rides. You will also get a first aid kit and a bag to keep it in.

 

You also get British Cycling membership for the year (and for any year in which you are active as a Breeze Champion). This is the basic ride membership, but you can upgrade it by paying the difference. British Cycling membership isn’t cheap and this saved me around £40 when I got my silver membership and race license this year.

A Final Word

To me, the best thing about Breeze is that it can be pretty much whatever you want to make it. You choose the type of rides you want to lead. You choose when to run them. You choose if you want to start or join a local Facebook page to promote rides in your area. Take the training and the guidelines and make it whatever you want it to be.

Breeze is a British Cycling initiative and British Cycling has not always been synonymous with women’s cycling. Anyone who has read Nicole Cooke’s autobiography or even some of my own blog posts may well have criticisms to make of British Cycling. However, times are changing and British Cycling is changing. Change takes time. Change also takes the involvement of those with an interest. British Cycling is here to stay and those of us with an interest in cycling in any form need to make sure we are involved. We need to make sure that the organisation becomes what we want it to be.

Be a part of the change. Get involved.