Making the most of lockdown with friendly bike rides

By Jane Carlton Smith

Isis Cyclists was founded in Oxford over 12 years ago, giving women an opportunity to get out on their bikes without feeling that they have to dress in sporty clothes, or ride like the wind. It’s free to join and organised via a monthly newsletter with a choice of rides, on a ‘turn up on the day’ basis.  Coffee and cake stops have always been a popular feature of the rides, which vary in length, from less than 10 miles, to over 30 miles.

So what to do when the first lockdown arrived? Unable to organize supported rides, we set up a WhatsApp group to enable members to connect with each other and post details of good places to cycle solo (and where to avoid, such as busy towpaths). Someone also had the brilliant idea of running a ‘Door of the Day’ competition during May, whereby one had to guess which College door was featured each day.  

When it became legal and possible to cycle in small groups, and taking advice from our parent organization, Cycling UK, WhatsApp enabled us to arrange groups of up to six riding out in all directions from Oxford, taking advantage of cafes offering takeaways. We took picnics and discovered many new routes, which we published on our website for all to enjoy; there are now 55 routes with instructions and links to maps.

It became evident that we provided something of a lifeline for people who were feeling lonely, allowing them to meet up with cycling buddies. And those with families also found that going out into the countryside was enormously beneficial, for all sorts of reasons.

The most positive aspect of ‘Isis in Isolation’ has been the ability to link with others, to go out at any time and on any day, by contrast with our formally organized programme of weekend rides. Those working from home have been able to fit rides around their work and get the benefit of exercise during what has for the most part been a wonderful summer.

During the second ‘lockdown’, we were at least able to cycle with one member from a different household, which was a real lifeline, especially as we feel the approaching winter. Getting out and about helps to keep us healthy, both physically and mentally.

The pandemic has presented an opportunity for us to change how we operate in future. The popularity and manageability of small group rides arranged through social media has made us want to continue with this model. However, we are aware that it doesn’t offer enough support to some newer and more cautious riders. We’ve not been able to offer mechanical help because of social distancing and each rider has to have a ‘Plan B’, in case of mechanical failure.  One or two people have identified mobile bike mechanics, getting them out of tight spots.

Another upside is that we have managed to recruit some new riders, both to receive our regular newsletter and to join the WhatsApp group. Some are experienced cyclists who have regained enthusiasm due to the current circumstances, and some are relatively new to cycling and may even have bought a bike this year.

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