Women On Bikes Series: Suzanne Forup

Meet Suzanne Forup-
My 'day job' is at a national youth work charity, Youth Scotland, where I support our member network of youth clubs and associations and advise on child protection.

I also manage a cycling development programme called 'Bike Club'. I also work part-time for CTC, the national cycling charity in the UK, to develop community-based cycling projects across Scotland such as Belles on Bikes and Play on Pedals.

In my spare time I like to get out on my bike with my husband and son in the local Scottish countryside.
I also blog about returning to cycling after becoming a parent.

When did you first start riding a bike?
My dad taught me to ride a bike, a blue Raleigh Budgie, when I was a child. But I can't say that I really started to ride a bike until after university, when the boyfriend of the time bought me a bike to do my short commute to work. I've been through a few bikes (and boyfriends) since then so, apart from a couple of years off the bike when I had my son, I've ridden most days in the last 16 years. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Different phases of my life brought different motivations. Sometimes my bike provided me with a cheap, quick and exhilarating journey to work and at other times it just helped me feel like 'me' again. I set up a leisure cycling club in London as part of a work project and that was what made me fall in love with cycling, not just see it was a vehicle to get me from A to B. Cycling for leisure, exploring the backstreets and greenspaces of somewhere I thought I knew really opened my eyes to what else cycling can give you - a different perspective on the world. 

You had to take a break from cycling after you became a mom. How did you know it was time to get back on two wheels?
Many women cycling cycle very happily during and straight after pregnancy, but I didn't feel able to do that. Our son was born prematurely and for many months I felt very anxious about his health and wellbeing. When he was around 18 months the fog of fear and anxiety started to lift and I began to think about my own identity, outside of being the parent of a premature baby. We live in a small town with a very active community cycling group, so when I saw the poster about the upcoming Spring family rides I knew it was time to get back on my bike, but this time with a new bike accessory - my son.  

What advice would you give to mothers of young ones, on incorporating cycling back into their lives (with their child) What are some accessories you find vital and other tips that can make for an easier transition?
Be prepared (very prepared!) and carry a good selection of snacks for everyone! 
Before I was a parent I had no idea how hard it was to leave the house with a small child in tow. Nappies, wipes, spare clothes, snacks, water, other snacks, hats, soft toys... The first time we left the house on the bike my pannier was full of his possessions before we even got to the equipment we might need in case of mechanical failure.

Choosing the right equipment - from cargo bikes to trailer or toddler seat is probably the most vital (and most expensive) aspect of cycling with little ones. In June this year I co-hosted a 'Bike Curious Family' workshop for families in Edinburgh to try out different cycling equipment and chat to other families that were already cycling. I would have found this very helpful so I've just applied for grant funding to run a series of them! If you can't find a local event like this, contact your local cycle group to see if they have families that can offer some advice or even a 'try out' of their equipment.

I found that cycling with a group of other families really helped my confidence, as well as seeing how other parents coped with difficulties. It also means that if you forget something (I always forget sunblock due to the fleeting nature of sunshine in Scotland) someone else is likely to have it. Then you can start to put together your own packing or accessories list. We only cycle together for leisure but if you cycle commute with children you're likely to work out what works for you quite quickly.

What inspired you to start blogging about getting back on your bike?
I felt I wanted to document the experiences we'd been through as a family since the birth of our son and our extended hospital stay. I wrote the first piece, 'from incubator to bike trailer', last summer as a platform to express how grateful we are to have a National Health Service (NHS) and as an opportunity to thank everyone involved in supporting us. My cycling life has changed dramatically since I became a parent, as have my views about how to engage people that don't use a bike, so it felt natural to link the two and write about my new cycling experiences.

What do you enjoy about blogging?
I enjoy being able to explore what I think and feel about cycling and my experience of it, as well as engaging other people in discussion about the issues that I'm writing about. I'd written an old school paper journal for many years so it's quite a novelty to write online and have people respond! 

You also manage a bike club for Youth Scotland-what does the job entail and why do you enjoy it?
Bike Club is a partnership between my two employers, CTC and Youth Scotland and I manage Bike Club in my role at Youth Scotand. In this phase of Bike Club we are working with young people aged 16 to 24 to develop Bike Clubs in their communities. The young people that we work with are from backgrounds and communities that can face significant barriers to cycling, such as disability, culture and economic circumstances. 
We provide a development pathway, including training and mentoring to support the young people to become leaders in their Bike Club. My role is to maintain and manage the funding and reporting for the project, manage the development staff and ensure the profile of the programme remains high. 
As I'm one step removed from the real work with young people the highlight is hearing about the impact of the programme. We've worked with over 6500 young people in the last four years and the stories from the development staff can bring a tear to the eye. 

Do you remember how you felt on your first ride with your child?
Exhilarated and terrified! We were only going a few miles with our community cycling group, but it felt like an enormous logistical challenge. I remember getting him into his seat, strapped in, helmet on, then realizing I couldn't reach the bag I'd put on the ground. It turns out you can't just lean your bike against a wall when you have a child strapped in so I had to shout until my husband came to help. However, once we were cycling everything was fine - my son even fell asleep as he was so relaxed.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
The nervousness disappeared as soon as we were cycling along with everyone else - I had enough to worry about as a fleet of small children were weaving around us, showing off their cycling skills! Family rides can be chaotic but being with group of families on bikes was fabulous and overcame all my anxiety. 

Why is cycling so important to you?
It makes me feel happy, even in the rain.  

What do you feel deters other women from cycling on a regular basis? What do you feel would change opinions?
I think many women have the same barriers to cycling as men when it comes to utility cycling. Sorting out the practical issues - clothing, the weather, bike storage, sweating, childcare arrangements, grocery shopping - can feel overwhelming for people with busy lives. Women often bear a disproportionate burden in terms of family and household arrangements, making it even harder for them to cycle.

Women do cite lack of body confidence, few role models and the issues around maintenance/mechanical breakdown as reasons why they don't cycle. But the fear of cycling on the roads with motorized traffic is the biggest factor for most people, both women and men. You just need to look at the cycling levels in Copenhagen and Amsterdam to see that protected cycle routes make the difference to everyday cycling levels for everyone. Cycling needs to be quick, safe and enjoyable and to be seen as 'normal' for the vast majority of people to consider it as an everyday transport option. We won't change opinions until we change our streets. 

In terms of leisure cycling, I think women just want an atmosphere that welcomes them whatever their experience of cycling is. Some women do love to race, and thrive on discussions about gear ratios, but others want to just relax in the saddle and get a few miles in whilst having a chat. The women's cycling project I'm developing, Belles on Bikes, isn't prescriptive about the style of riding, is just has to be women-led and initiated. 

Concerning the women’s cycling, where would you like to see it in the next 5 years?
Do you mean our women's cycling project, Belles on Bikes? I'd like to see every community in Scotland that wants a group have the support it needs to develop one. 

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I'm a multi-modal commuter these days as we moved out of the city when I became pregnant. The daily irritation of trying to get my bike on the train was solved when I started to use a folding bike. I only have a couple of miles of the other side of the train and half of that is on a mixed use path. My main challenge is getting to the shared path without getting under the wheel of a Lothian Bus, which I do by waving and smiling at bus drivers until I'm sure they've seen me. 
When I had a 16 mile round trip commute I showered at work and took clothes to change into, which was easy then as I only had myself to get out of the door in the morning.

Do you commute/ride even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I would rarely cycle if I didn't do it in less than ideal condition​s - it's dark, cold and wet from November until April! Waterproof trousers and regular tea and cake stops are essential for longer rides. When I had a longer bike commute I just tried to enjoy the feeling of achievement when I cycled in the sleet, snow and rain - it helped that most of my colleagues were astounded that such a feat could be done so I had a warm glow of satisfaction to keep out the cold!  

Have you had a bike accident? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I've only had two 'accidents' - one in London and one in Edinburgh - both times I was doored. I was very shaken, although only slightly hurt. It was hard to get back on the bike, but the alternative was always worse - using public transport. 

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom it brings me; feeling like I can cycle for miles and miles just using my own strength and energy. On a good day it can feel like flying, when the wind is behind you and the sunshine is on your face. I love cycling touring, particularly in warm climates, where you feel like it's just you, the road and the journey. Everything else disappears. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have three bikes.
The folding Brompton is very functional and I appreciate the flexibility it gives me but it's just a tool.
I love my other two bikes! One is a Marin, bought as a present to myself on my 30th birthday, which is now my 'family bike' as it has the mount for my son's toddler seat. It's been great to me over the years and has done thousands of miles commuting with me to work.
My new bike is a reconditioned Dawes Galaxy, bought earliet this year to give me hope that one day soon I'll be touring again. I bought it from a mental health charity in Glasgow that refurbishes bikes, Common Wheel

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
My Ortlieb panniers are an essential, and have been with me for many years. I took them with me to India and they carried everything I needed for a two month tour. One of them bears a scar from a nasty near-miss with bus!
I have a great cycle handbag from Basil, which is great for work. If I came into some money I'd upgrade to this though! 

On my daily ride into work I don't wear anything 'special' for cycling but when I'm out for 20 miles or more I have thermal cycling tights and a selection of merino wool tops. If we win the lottery I'd be straight to the nearest Rapha outlet - great style and functionality.


  1. Oh my god, it's *that* Suzanne! I've heard your name of course via Sally Hinchcliffe, but never made the Pollards Hill Cyclists connections. You had moved away by the time I "joined" PHC and I missed the anniversary rides when you came down to visit. PHC were my baby-steps cycling club when I first started cycling again as an adult.

    I too have left London now but will always look back on PHC and Mark D and the others with fondness and gratitude. So THANK YOU for founding that great little group.

    (My story of starting cycling again, with the help of PHC: http://velovoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/why-i-cycle-for-transport-part-ii-or.html)


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