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Sunderland group got women cycling

women cycling as a group

The group held regular women-only led rides throughout Sunderland

women with their bikes
8 March 2018

A community cycling group which has helped hundreds of women in Sunderland get active and healthy through cycling and walking has released its final results for International Women’s Day.

Our Bike Belles Wear Moving project, which was funded by Sunderland Public Health, held 297 cycling and walking activities with 2395 attendees in Sunderland between 2015-2017, according to final results published today.

Women said the weekly cycling and walking events, such as social bike rides, maintenance workshops and training sessions, helped them lose weight, get fit, improve confidence and tackle chronic physical and mental health issues. On average respondents said their physical activity increased by an average of three hours compared to before they joined the group.

Nationally almost three times as many men cycle than women, while in some Northern European countries like Denmark, where cycle lanes separate from traffic are the norm, women on bikes slightly outnumber men.

Bike Belles was born out of a Sunderland Wear Moving Project, which had a programme of activities to encourage staff to cycle to work. A six-week women-only indoor cycle class proved particularly popular and demonstrated that many women are put off cycling in mixed groups.

The group began a series of led bike rides and workshops for women and their families from the Bike Dock in Sunderland, supported by an active network of 20 volunteers which helped to lead the events.

Lucy Fenwick, our Project Officer for Bike Belles said: “The Bike Belles has provided a fantastic support network for local women to get fit and active at their own pace. Several women in the group are living with chronic health conditions, including Fibromyalgia, Functional Neurological Disorder and mental health issues, and through cycling they’ve been able to improve their fitness and confidence, whilst making new friends and exploring the local area. There are so many beautiful easy cycle routes around Sunderland so there’s always somewhere new to discover.”

When Marilyn Ward first joined Bike Belles in 2016 she suffered from high blood pressure, angina, lower back pain and bursitis of the hip. Her mobility was poor, she was overweight and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Since she joined she has lost over two stone in weight and is fitter and more confident.

“Since Joining Bike Belles I have become much healthier and more mobile. My angina and blood pressure are under control and my diabetes has improved so much that I'm below the level for diagnosis.  I have grown in confidence and my self-esteem has also improved. I really enjoy cycling, it's wonderful being able to get out in the great outdoors and meeting new people, and not having to sit in traffic jams.”

Volunteer Andrea George said:

“I first got involved with Sustrans through the Sunderland Wear Moving Bike Project at Sunderland University - the spin classes, and the online workplace team challenge were particularly motivating and fun.  Watching your team's position move up and down the league was definitely inspiration to commute by bike more.

“From there I became a volunteer at Sustrans and I've truly enjoyed every activity that I've been involved in.  I've made loads of new friends, and of course improved my geographical knowledge of local coffee shops!”

Andrea George received our Volunteer of the Year Award in the North for Outstanding Commitment to Volunteering.