Wheeling our bikes into the cycle shop, the three male 'assistants' just stared. They had no idea that we'd heroically changed a puncture on the side of the road and just needed a little extra air. Despite our black, greasy hands, their badly hidden smirks seemed to predict we had no idea what we were doing.
To be fair, they were kind of right. I'd never used a wheel-holding contraption whilst pumping up my tyres before and it took me a while to even work out what the thing was. To the seasoned cyclist, that's probably quite funny to see. That's fine. I don't mind being giggled at, it happens often. But it was the unwillingness to help that got me. It made being in the shop quite intimidating – not great for someone who's already quite wobbly when it comes to bikes.
Luckily, I arrived under the wing of Tami, a Breeze Network ride leader who's used to brushing off such nonsense. She’s keen to get more women cycling and her confidence-boosting, friendly rides are certainly a great way to start. The women only national initiative offers a non-intimidating environment for all levels of cyclist, where they can learn new skills or simply add mileage to their training schedule.
I was after both. And once my wheels were fully inflated, they both seemed to come surprisingly easily. I stifled my initial feeling of having inept legs and the fear of cycling next to a Central London bus, and actually started to enjoy the ride. The regular halting for traffic lights stopped being a hazard as I pulled in panic at my caged feet, instead each pause became a chance to practice confidently flipping my pedals and placing my feet in without even a glance toward the floor.
Our route took us from Marylebone (via Camden for air) along the canal and up a beastly hill, before finally arriving home in Ruislip Gardens 25 miles later. I did the last half a mile on my own, not scared, not upset, but ecstatic that I'd finally fallen in love with cycling again! All because of the confidence boost from some support. And with great ride leaders like Tami and women only events like the Liv/Giant maintenance evening where I gained my puncture fixing knowledge, support for female cyclists is in high supply.