HEADS turn when the ladies from the Women Learn To Ride Project cycle past with their headscarves fluttering under their helmets.
But the cyclists are unfazed, lost in the fresh air and freedom of getting around on two wheels.
Zara Mohammed, 21, from Glasgow, is a project leader and student. She said cycling has become a perfect chance for women from all races to come together, to exercise and mix.
She said: “We still get comments, like it looks silly to have a headscarf on under a helmet. But our ladies don’t really care, they are having too much of a good time.”
The Women Learn To Ride Project is funded by the Forestry Commission and Cycling Scotland and, although it initially targeted women from the black and minority ethnic communities, it is open to all.
The group’s members are women who can’t ride a bike or lack confidence in cycling.
It is not always easy for women, especially those juggling families, to get out and exercise.
And there are often greater barriers for females from black and minority ethnic groups.
There are dress codes to consider and many are only comfortable exercising with other women.
South Asians also face a greater health risk from conditions such as diabetes, where the risk is as much as five times that of the wider community.
For a South Asian person between the ages of 25 and 75, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is now about 20 per cent, compared with four per cent in the whole community.
A team from Glasgow University discovered that people from the region have muscles that do not burn fat as well as those of Europeans.
That means if a South Asian woman and a European woman were walking alongside each other at the same speed, the South Asian woman’s muscles would be burning less fat.
One way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to do as much exercise as possible.
Backbone, who created the Women Learn to Ride Project along with similar schemes to encourage a healthy lifestyle, set up the group a year ago.
They bought bikes and trained six leaders who will carry the project on when the women are left to themselves.
Zara had somersaulted off a bike and ended up in A&E when she was 13, so she had always been nervous about getting back in the saddle.
Now, not only is she an accomplished cyclist, she also leads a group.
Her parents are UK Pakistani and she said there hasn’t been the same cultural restrictions on her that other women have experienced.
She said: “We have had people going cycling with their husbands, so male objections haven’t been an issue. They’ve been very supportive.”
Now there are white women in the group and that has been a great way to mix communities.
“The best thing has been opening up to the whole community. And the mixing has been wonderful.
“The women aren’t just different races but different ages with different life experiences. And they are all different shapes and sizes.
“It is such a confidence booster, just getting on a bike, learning how to use a gear or getting up a hill.”
Maureen Lonnie: Getting back in saddle has given me freedom and helped my depression
The first white woman to join the project was 45-year-old Maureen Lonnie, from Glasgow, and she said starting cycling has transformed her life.
Maureen suffers from severe depression and when she is down she reacts by shutting herself off from the world, sometimes for months on end.
“I can go into a very dark place and when that happens I stay inside with the doors, curtains and windows closed.” She is also intimidated by being outside and in large crowds.
Maureen said: “I get very anxious and self-conscious.
“Even going outside to put washing out can upset me.”
But she decided she had endured enough and came up with the idea of cycling as a way of escape from
“I had this idea that I would be zooming past everyone too quickly for them to take any notice. I can cycle past people but I can’t walk past them because I get too nervous. It sounds silly but at the same time it is very real to me.”
The last time she had been on a bike was when she was 14 but many of the women had never even cycled at all.
She was hesitant at first and it took all the courage she could muster to get both of her feet on the pedals.
“When I let go and started cycling, the feeling of release was unbelievable. Emotions were flying everywhere.
“I was so happy. I actually cried because it had taken so long and I had achieved it.”
Since she started cycling, her life has changed.
Maureen said: “The bike has given me freedom. It is my own little world when I am on it.
“I am out and about so much more and the cycling has helped my depression enormously. I am not cured. I feel I am still broken but now I am getting fixed, bit by bit.” Thanks to the cycling she has also lost more than two stone and finds it a refreshing change to mix with women of other races and ethnic backgrounds.
“I was the first white girl who was in the club but as quickly as I noticed it, the differences disappeared. It is not an environment I had ever been in before.
“I feel like I have known them for years. Everyone is so nice and supportive.
“I used to sit at the window and watch people cycling by and now that is me out there.
“That really is quite an achievement.”
For original article from the Daily Record please click here.