Getting Out and Staying In

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

‘Women on wheels’ Jackie Leonard and Angela Platt talk about the origins of the group and Angela’s cycling history

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We are in Angela’s kitchen to talk about health, fitness and exercise in relation to women and cycling. I met Angela Platt through ‘Women on Wheels’, a twiceweekly cycling group, with the emphasis more on the social side than clocking up the miles. As she points out: ‘the rides are short [we finish around 12.15 pm], so you have the rest of the day to do things’. Fittingly, we are enjoying tea and cake, a staple of all our Wednesday and Saturday bike rides.

Cycling is a family tradition. Her dad was a cyclist until he was 87 years old and now at 90 enjoys hearing his stories told back to him. She shows me a scrapbook of some of the competitions she has been in and a picture in the local news (1973) of her family cycling, entitled ‘Pride and Joy’ (‘Joy’ being Angela’s maiden name). Angela is married with three daughters and for both environmental and financial reasons (‘we paid off the mortgage’), as a young family they always relied on cycles for their transport.

Angela’s love of cycling started when she first learned to cycle properly on a Raleigh bike at 10 years old. She remembers the sense of freedom as she took off. In her early teens she competed against boys, winning her first international race in Holland. There were few races for girls and at 16 she had to race with men.

I ask her how much things have changed for women. Angela remembers one particular competition when she and other female cyclists were referred to as ‘prima donnas’! She notes there has been a massive improvement since then, both in terms of sponsorship, races for women and respect for women’s cycling generally. ‘The cycles are also a lot lighter!’, she adds.

Her achievements in competitive cycling have included women’s road races and local and national time trials. She has also taken part in the World Masters Championships (2001) at the Manchester velodrome (‘the track’) and has completed the Etape stage of the Tour de France

Cycling is good therapy, she says. It feels like meditation when you cycle on your own, or, if you are in a group, it is social

There have been challenges along the way; she had a cycling accident three years ago and was off work for 10 weeks on crutches. This coincided with sleepless nights, as she helped her daughter following a difficult birth. Having suffered depression previously, she lost the motivation and energy to cycle, and even up to a year ago was on medication.

This all changed when last year she offered to be the main driver at the training camp for both the Cambridge Cycling Club and Cambridge Triathlon Club, in Mallorca. There she helped people with mechanical problems and, as a nurse for 25 years, any first aid as needed. She cited being around other cyclists as reigniting her enthusiasm for cycling once again.

‘Cycling is good therapy’, she says. ‘It feels like meditation when you cycle on your own or, if you are in a group, it is social’. She now feels she has regained the same feeling of freedom and enjoyment experienced as a teenager, citing the benefits of ‘all-round good exercise’ and the social aspect – ‘meeting new people, making friends’. ‘For retired people this is particularly important’, she adds. She also practices yoga, walks regularly and her social life often involves cyclingrelated activities.

I ask her what are the main things she enjoys about cycling: ‘fresh air, moving, being self-sufficient, and the freedom. The fitter you get, the easier it is’.

  • Women on Wheels meet on Wednesdays at 9.30am at the Red Cross Lane/Nightingale Avenue junction and on Saturdays at 9.30am at Clay Farm Community Gardens Pop-up cafĂ©.
  • All are welcome to join their Charity Ride on Sunday 14 June. The sponsored 100-mile ride will be raising money for Caring Together, a local charity that works with the carers of those with Alzheimer’s. Find out more by emainlig angela.platt@ntlworld.com

Russell Dunn explains why, as a fit man in his 30s who loves being outdoors, he spends most of his pedalling hours in his garage

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For a number of hours each week, I cycle. I go out of my back door, across the lawn, and into my garage. I switch on my three monitors, slip my feet onto the pedals, and cycle.

The set-up is fairly simple. My bike is mounted directly onto a turbo trainer. Connected to this via a wireless dongle, I have a computer and three screens which control the turbo to add realism and difficulty using a number of different software programs. All you actually need, though, is a bike, a turbo trainer and a tablet as some programs work via Bluetooth. There is plenty available on the market to make the system more complex and it’s worth doing some research. For example, you can gamify the process using software such as Sufferfest or Zwift, or bring the real world indoors using Road Grand Tours or Fulgaz. Though I keep my set-up fairly simple, I understand why people develop more complex systems: five hours pedalling in the garage could be dull!

Cycling like this is relatively new to me. I’ve been on two wheels for as long as I can remember, mucking about on a bike as a child and using one to get from A-to-B. In my twenties, I started taking cycling seriously. Throughout university, I was a rower and many of my friends also cycled. Rowing and cycling are complementary sports because some of the same major muscles are engaged. I became interested and, when I got a job, bought myself a fancy bike for the daily commute. I went out cycling in the evenings, too, and did increasingly long rides at the weekends. For ten years, I did 30 miles a day, every day. Since then, I’ve done well over 150,000 miles and logged more hours than I can count.

Wherever I cycle, the benefits are both physical and mental. Cycling gives me time to switch off my brain and focus meditatively. Most of my life has been rooted around the practice of one thing or another. When I was younger, my existence revolved around a relentless dedication to music, with hours a day spent practising, and I’ve never really lost the capacity for that mindless persistence. It translates well to repetitive sports and has been a valuable asset as I’ve grown in strength and fitness through cycling. There are times when I have almost no recollection of training sessions because I’ve zoned out for the duration! Increased ability has also enabled me to cycle some challenging routes including several of the iconic mountain rides in the Alps that have been really rewarding. I was able to spend hours pounding the tarmac, alone but for my bike and the mountain. There’s a special sort of serenity that comes with climbing a mountain.

Wherever I cycle, the benefits are both physical and mental. Cycling gives me time to switch off my brain and focus meditatively

Aside from knowing and understanding the health benefits of staying fit and healthy, cycling is central to my lifestyle and identity. Sadly, opportunities to get outside for long, challenging rides are few and far between now because I have a young family and a full-time job. But it feels really important for me to continue with the sport even as life’s pressures increase. I’m very time-poor so the key benefit of my garage set-up is that I can keep fit on the bike when time is limited. Though I miss the outdoor routes it still feels worth it: they say that a mile on the turbo is worth two on the road and I definitely feel as though I have a good work out.

As well as garage cycling for fitness, the bike continues to be my primary mode of transport. I commute on it – albeit a much shorter distance now and mercifully entirely off road – and carry my son on the back. Perhaps it’s the addition of another life on my bike which makes me recognise the safety benefits of doing most of my biking miles indoors. When I commuted on the roads, I experienced many near misses when drivers weren’t paying attention or were taking risks to reach their destinations more quickly. Despite being a very confident and experienced cyclist, I’m more risk-averse these days and feel that training regularly on the bike in areas shared closely with motorists simply isn’t worth the risk.

I’d like to think that the long-distance, scenery-rich solo rides that gave me so much pleasure could be part of my lifestyle again one day. And there’s no doubt that I’m happier when regularly out on my bike. However, provision for the safety of Cambridge cyclists would need to be much more of a local priority for me to consider swapping my garage for the roads any time soon.