A CYCLING group for women is going from strength to strength. I spoke with members of Breeze Durham

The Northern Echo:

When was the group founded and how did it come about?

Breeze Network Durham is part of the British Cycling "Breeze" Initiative to encourage more women to cycle, the national campaign asked for women to train as leaders in 2011 with the aim of providing local rides aimed mainly at newcomers, women returning to cycling and those wanting something very sociable. Our first ride in Durham was a snowy cycle across to Finchale Priory in March 2012. We were one of the first groups to be established and we're really proud that it has gone from strength to strength and now has more than 600 followers on our Facebook page.

Prior to this what was your involvement in cycling?

The group was set up by Jacki Patrickson, whose previous experience was mainly recreational, touring and trying to save the planet by cycling to work. She was inspired by the programme to invite other women to share the joys and freedom of life on two wheels. Jacki was quickly joined by Audrey Christie, a good friend and accomplished cyclist, having cycled from Durham to Cape Town in South Africa on tandem before her two daughters came along. Audrey also has an encyclopedic knowledge of cycle paths and bridleways in Durham and together, the pair set about organising one or two rides per month for Breeze.

The group now has seven active ride leaders from a range of backgrounds who bring enthusiasm, practical support and a great sense of fun to all our rides. Some of us have cycled all our lives while others have come through Breeze and the County Council’s cycling initiatives.

Do you think enough is done to promote cycling for women?

We know that there are proportionately more inactive women than men and involvement in cycling reflects these sorts of differences. Women make three times less cycle trips than men and cycle four times less miles. Our experience suggests it’s often a lack of confidence that puts women off – where to go, breaking down, personal safety and women aren’t so good at going off and cycling alone.

We think British Cycling have done a great job of encouraging and promoting the positive benefits of cycling and we know of many women's groups around the region that are out of the spotlight.

Road safety and the lack of feeling safe on our roads has a big part to play in why people don't choose to cycle more. We need to really change our road user culture to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure sharing the roads. We are blessed in Durham with a fantastic off road network for cyclists, much more could be done to promote this.

What response did you have to the initiative?

Initially, Breeze was a challenge to see how many people we could encourage to come out and ride. The success has been fantastic as firstly friends, and then friends of friends came along to support and then kept coming. We worked quite hard on our social media and advertising in the early days and now we use the Letsride.co.uk website and our own Facebook page, Breeze Network Durham, to promote our rides and also advertise the fun and adventure that we have. It seems to be working!

What were your aims and aspirations and what have you been able to achieve?

More women out there cycling is our aim with aspirations to grow numbers and ride more. Over our seven years we’ve had about 200 different women ride with us, making up about 1,500 bookings. We have been able to show riders new routes all over Durham and are always looking for new places to visit to give people more options and greater confidence to explore by themselves or with their families. We spent much of 2018 retracing the steps and wheel treads of suffragettes around the region and learnt a lot in the process.

You have led rides all over Britain and into Europe, what do you get out of this and how have you been able to help participants enjoy cycling more?

The group rides we’ve organised have been extremely inspiring. We’ve enjoyed devising training programmes for riders, that have improved their stamina, strength and hill climbing ability as well as bicycle maintenance knowledge. We've had to deal with a lot of different problems over the years and have learnt a great deal as a result! Like a lot in life, practice makes perfect and riders have amazed themselves as to what they’re capable of. They’ve risen to the challenge and being part of a group has given added incentive to succeed as a team. We have made many new friends through Breeze and there is also the added bonus of getting to do rides that we have on our own lists with a really good group of friends, such as London to Paris in June 2018 - that was a fabulous trip.

What plans do you have for 2019?

Breeze Durham will continue to offer regular rides from five to 50 miles a couple of times a month as well as some regular evening rides in the summer. We like to introduce new experiences so will be organising a mountain biking taster and also a trip to the new velodrome in Middlesbrough as well as our normal programme. Many riders have joined since we cycled our first c2c in 2014, so we have organised another one for May for those who want the challenge and the thrill of completing this great route. Our more experienced riders will be pedalling from Durham to Cologne over a long weekend in the June as well as a 100-mile in a day Annan to Tynemouth trip to celebrate Audrey and Jacki reaching their 100 Breeze ride totals in summer 2018.

If people want to get involved how can they contact the group?

Breeze Durham welcomes any women who can ride a bike. We are very used to helping people master their gears, find their perfect saddle height, gain strength and stamina on hills and can fix most straightforward mechanicals. Anyone not so confident as to how far they can ride should try out a shorter 15-mile ride as a starter. Our forthcoming rides are found on letsride.co.uk and we also keep them listed at the top of our Breeze network Durham Facebook page. We can be contacted at durhambreeze100@gmail.com.