Brum residents who break cyclist mould gearing up for gruelling 100-mile challenge

  • 25 community club cyclists offered free Vélo Birmingham & Midlands places
  • Women from Saheli Hub are also set to ride ten-mile stretch during Ramadan
  • Vélo B&M has teamed up with The Active Wellbeing Society and Cycling UK
  • Organisers committed to making sportive one of Europe’s most inclusive events

A diverse group of Birmingham residents, many of whom break the cyclist mould, will attempt to complete Vélo Birmingham & Midlands, a 100-mile closed-road sportive, thanks to a partnership with The Active Wellbeing Society and Cycling UK.

Twenty-five members of community cycling clubs, set up around the Second City by The Active Wellbeing Society and national cycling charity Cycling UK to get more people on bikes, have been offered free entries by the organisers of Vélo Birmingham & Midlands, the UK’s second-biggest closed-road event taking place on Sunday, May 12.

In addition, 18 members of the Saheli Hub, formerly known as the Saheli Women’s Group, have been given the green light to ride ten miles of the route, which starts and finishes in Birmingham City Centre, as the event coincides with Ramadan.

The organisers of Vélo Birmingham & Midlands’ commitment to making the sportive one of Europe’s biggest and most inclusive cycling events is reinforced by its partnership with The Active Wellbeing Society and Birmingham City Council, which offers community cycling club members access to free bikes through its Big Birmingham Bikes scheme.

The new-and-improved route will take cyclists on an unforgettable journey through the heart of Coventry, the 2021 Capital of Culture, plus Solihull, Warwickshire, Dudley and Sandwell, where they will encounter stunning countryside, panoramic views, picturesque villages, iconic climbs and tens of thousands of residents lining the streets to cheer them on.

Organisers are also aiming to make the event one of the UK’s most female friendly sportives, setting the ambitious target of increasing the number of women taking part to 50 per cent by the time Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2022. More information on the campaign can be found here.

While all 17,000 places for the 100-mile event have sold out, spaces still remain for a shorter 42-mile route which starts in Birmingham City Centre and finishes in the shadow of the historic Coventry Cathedral, on University Square.

The Saheli Hub runs female-only cycling activities, for women of all ages and backgrounds, in Balsall Heath, Ward End Park, Saltley and Handsworth. Some cyclists have progressed from complete novices into committed riders who are keen to tackle the full 100- or shorter 42-mile routes. But as many will be fasting for Ramadan when Vélo Birmingham & Midlands gets underway, event organisers have granted them special dispensation to cycle a ten-mile stretch.

The Saheli Hub encourages women to cycle in outfits that make them feel comfortable and several of their Muslim members will be riding the event in hijabs and jilbabs.

Seven community clubs that service Small Heath, Longbridge, Cannon Hill Park, Nechells, Ladywood, Kings Norton, Sheldon and Bromford will be represented among the 25 free entrants. Many of the riders derive from BAME communities while the Small Heath-based Leisure Forum Club provides cycling opportunities for people with mental health issues.

Vanessa Morris, Cycling UK Community Clubs Development Officer in Birmingham, said: “It’s an amazing achievement for our community club cyclists to even consider tackling a 100-mile ride, especially as some of them hadn’t even ridden a bike before they joined.

“It just goes to show that anything’s possible and sends out a really clear message that anyone can do it, and that you don’t need an expensive bike or be dressed head-to-toe in Lycra. 

“That’s not to say our members, who come from a diverse range of age groups, backgrounds and cultures, haven’t been training hard. Many of them have joined our clubs because they love cycling, others because they want to cycle but don’t have access to a bike and others who have never even ridden a bike before and want to try it.”

Naseem Akhtar, Saheli Hub Project Manager, said: “We’re really pleased the organisers are letting us cycle part of the route – we’re calling it the Ramadan special!

“We’ve got a real mix of abilities. Some only learned to cycle this year. Others are keen to do the full event but can’t due to the timing. This will give us a taster and we’ll then have plenty of time to train and hopefully do the full 100 miles next year.

“We’ve been pioneering women-only cycling for ten years now. From learn-to-ride sessions to 25-miles rides, we run weekend sessions for all abilities in Ward End.”

Vélo Birmingham & Midlands also provides an important charity fundraising platform. In 2017, Vélo Birmingham participants raised a staggering £2million for several charities, including Cure Leukaemia, NSPCC, Alzheimers Society and Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, all of whom remain as headline charity partners in 2019.

Vélo Birmingham & Midlands will also once again feature the Business 100 corporate challenge, which will aim to attract 100 Midland based companies to sign up teams of four and enjoy an unrivalled VIP participation experience.

Adeel Khan
Author: Adeel Khan