Cycle Sisters is an award-winning charity which aims to inspire and enable Muslim women to cycle. It has a network of Muslim women’s cycle groups that meet for weekly women-only social rides in London. We interviewed Khadijah Zaidi, Cycle Sisters’ Trustee and Ride Leader to find out more.    

What is your project about? What are its aims?

Cycle Sisters aims to inspire and enable Muslim women to cycle. We aim to get more Muslim women to cycle by offering regular led group cycle rides in their local area. We offer a range of levels from beginner rides for people who have just learned to ride a bike, to challenge rides covering a much longer distance than we usually do.

We really want to make cycling as easy as possible and empower Muslim women to realise the benefits of cycling in their lives. We offer bikes available to borrow for free so anyone can join as long as they know how to pedal. We have a very active Whatsapp group in which many of our riders get information from others on any cycling questions they have, and support and encouragement when they have been out on a ride.

When and how did your project start?

Cycle Sisters started in October 2016. Our founder Sarah Javaid, who had recently started cycling again as an adult, realised how Muslim women’s groups offering supportive and sociable rides could open up cycling for other Muslim women. Cycle Sisters was set up in response to a need for a suitable space for Muslim women to cycle without having to compromise their cultural or religious beliefs.

Sarah spoke to the local council in Waltham Forest and organised free use of their pool bikes for the rides. She then found some good local routes and spread the word that there would be regular Wednesday morning rides. The group expanded organically through word of mouth into what it has become today. We are now a group that to date is offering rides in two London boroughs, with rides on different days, and with five more groups about to start in other areas of London.

What are your biggest achievements to date?

This is a very hard question to answer! We are very proud of what we have achieved and Cycle Sisters’ pioneering work has been acknowledged locally and nationally as normalising cycling within Muslim communities. Sport England has found lower levels of sport participation by Muslim women and we feel very passionate about trying to change this.

Cycle Sisters has won a number of awards including Cycling UK’s Best Cycling Programme 2019, London Cycling Campaign’s Best Ride and Ride Leader 2019, Finalist in the National Diversity Awards for Community Organisation, Race, Religion & Faith 2019 and Women’s Cycling Awards Volunteer of the Year 2020 for Sarah Javaid (our Founder).

However we feel our achievements are best measured by the changes we make in individuals’ lives. This year our activity has been very much affected by Covid, but in 2019 there were 49 rides with 458 participants. That’s 458 instances of someone taking some time out from their day to day lives for a bit of self care, which has a huge impact not just on their own lives, but causes a ripple effect in the lives of their families and the community.

Seema, one of our riders started out joining the rides and then became a Ride Leader and Project Coordinator of Teen Bikers (our rides for teenage girls), describes this when she describes the impact Cycle Sisters has had on her life:

“Over the 2 years since I joined I’ve got my own bike, (become) confident cycling on the road, become a ride leader and more importantly recruited my children, husband, family and friends into cycling”.

How has COVID affected your project/organisation? Have you amended your offering?

The impact of Covid was and continues to be huge. At the time of writing, we are living under national lockdown restrictions in England and all group rides are cancelled. When the first national lockdown happened we had to cancel our group rides, with no idea of when they could restart, as is the case now. We have now gone through what feels like several cycles (excuse the pun!) of restarting rides as lockdown eases, then stopping rides again as restrictions tighten. 

We have offered a range of alternative activities to support our riders. We launched a Bike Buddies scheme, in which we helped riders to match up with another rider to cycle with. We launched a Destination of the Week in the summer and in the November lockdown, in which we recommended a different route each week to inspire our riders. When rides have been allowed, we have had to make them Covid secure by limiting numbers of riders, sanitising bikes, and adapt the rest breaks we have based upon the hospitality rules governing cafes at any particular time. 

Whatever the restrictions have been or will be in the current pandemic- so long as cycling is still allowed in some shape or form, we will continue to see how we can help Muslim women to cycle. 

Do you currently have any voluntary opportunities in your organisation? How can people get involved?

We regularly have voluntary opportunities, which we advertise on our social media platforms and our website. We often recruit ride leaders within our different groups, and also sometimes have committee roles within each of our groups. If anyone wanted to get involved and support our organisation they could always get in touch at any time by emailing us at salam@cyclesisters.org.uk.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to others who are involved in/starting social projects?

With the requirement for social distancing in the current pandemic, finding other ways to socially connect while staying safe is needed now more than ever. So the first piece of advice would be, don’t give up as you are doing something really important! The next thing would be, find your niche and focus on that. Have a really clear goal of what it is you want to achieve. Don’t be shy to ask others to support your project- local organisations will probably be only too willing to help you make a difference.

To see Cycle Sisters’ listing and contact information, click here.

(Photos courtesy of Jenna Selby/Waltham Forest Council and taken before lockdown/social distancing measures were enforced.)