Published: 31st May 2024 Images: Scottish Cycling

Celebrating ten years of Breeze in Scotland

June is the birthday month of Breeze, and this year Scotland is celebrating ten years of Britain’s biggest women’s cycling programme. It is also Volunteers’ Week, and we are giving thanks to the input from our incredible volunteers, at the heart of Breeze, bringing the joy of cycling to more women.

Launching in England in 2011, Breeze came to Scotland in 2014 through British Cycling’s partnership with Glasgow Life. Its aim is to support more women (back) into cycling, by offering free-to-attend community cycle rides, planned and delivered by locally-based female ride leader volunteers, known as Breeze Champions. The first Breeze Champion training course was held at the Glasgow Bike Station, now known as Bike for Good, attracting 15 women, all of them gaining a British Cycling level one Ride Leader award.

The first organised Breeze ride attracted four sign-ups, but two places were cancelled in advance and there were two no-shows, so things did not get off to the best start. But not put off, the ride leaders organised a second ride two weeks later, meeting at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in the East End of Glasgow. This time four women turned up, ready for the 16-mile planned loop in South Lanarkshire, and Breeze rides were finally underway in Scotland. In its first year there were a total of 32 Breeze rides, four in Glasgow and the remainder in Fife, with a total attendance of 111.

In the following year there were two further Breeze Champion training courses in Glasgow and an additional 18 women gained a level one Ride Leader Award. More Breeze rides were delivered, increasing attendance by 170%, but they remained concentrated around Glasgow and Fife. Rides were a mix of easy-going and steady, cycling an average of six miles. February proved to be the busiest month in 2015, with 18 rides and 52 attendees. It also had the longest ride, departing again from the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, venturing 18 miles along a mostly traffic-free route to Strathclyde Park in North Lanarkshire.

Rides and numbers continued to grow in 2016 and eight women attended a Breeze Champion training course in Glasgow. Tayside got their first taste of Breeze, on an eight-mile ride starting from Carnoustie, but sadly rides in Gretna Green and Stirling failed to attract any participants. The first challenging-rated rides were posted, with the longest cycling 45 miles along an almost traffic-free route, from Glasgow Green to the banks of Loch Lomond. Nearly 2,000 miles were travelled on the 198 Breeze rides that took place that year, and 843 places were filled; the momentum was building, and more women were getting involved.

Investment was provided in 2017 via the sponsorship by HSBC, and the reins and funding for Breeze in Scotland were handed over to Scottish Cycling. By August a full-time Programmes Officer, Melanie Toner, was recruited, joining one part-time Breeze Area Coordinator, to oversee the development and delivery of Breeze north of the border. One of the first things Mel did was to sign-up to train as a Breeze Champion herself, attending the first course to be delivered outside of Glasgow, in Dunfermline in Fife, alongside nine other women, all successfully gaining the level 1 Ride Leader Award.

More courses in other locations followed, with women training in Edinburgh, Galashiels, Inverness, Dumfries and Dundee during 2017 and 2018. By the end of 2018, a total of 164 women had gained a level 1 British Cycling Ride Leader Award, attending one of the 18 courses delivered at eight different locations in Scotland since 2014. Breeze rides and overall attendance in 2018 more than doubled from the previous year, and there were rides starting from 20 different local authority areas; Breeze was on a roll.

HSBC funding meant resources could be allocated to supplementary projects, for example mountain biking, and in 2018 Breeze supported three leaders to gain their Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership award (L2MBLA). Overall, Breeze provided bursaries to ten volunteers, supporting them to gain their L2MBLA, but sadly the heady days of HSBC sponsorship was not to last; in February 2020 it was announced that the banking giants were exercising a break clause in their contract and withdrawing their support four years early.

Back to 2018 and the Breeze staff team in Scotland were expanding with the recruitment to two new Area Coordinator posts, covering the north and south of the east side of Scotland. Since then, the Area Coordinator staff team has continued to grow, and we now have five Coordinators covering all areas of Scotland, each employed on a part-time, flexible basis, to provide local support for the promotion and delivery of the programme.

The most successful year for Breeze to date was in 2019, before the world knew about COVID and the pandemic that was looming. A grand total of 969 rides were delivered, attended by 3,335 participants, with rides starting in 25 different local authority regions. Breeze rides cycled nearly 14,000 miles that year; an average of 14 miles per ride, with 10 miles being the most popularly planned distance.

Under the Breeze banner, three Breeze Champions in the Scottish Borders planned a women-only sportive for that summer, delivering the first Midsummer Breeze Sportive on Sunday 23rd June to over 100 women. Despite the disruption of COVID cancelling the event in 2020 and 2021, it returned to higher numbers in 2022, and now appears firmly established in the calendar of summer cycling events.

In August 2019 Breeze Champions from across Scotland gathered in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, to lead out the final day of the Women’s Tour of Scotland. Breeze Champions who had only previously met online were introduced in person, solidifying the sense of community and camaraderie that the programme brings. At the end of the year, many Breeze Champions came together again, this time to experience the thrills of the trails, with a volunteer day at Glentress. Breeze Mountain Bike Leaders, many of whom had been recipients of a L2MBLA bursary, organised led rides for fellow volunteers, providing a riding experience different from what most were used to.

And then COVID hit, and Breeze rides came to a halt. But the roads were empty of cars and many people discovered a new love for cycling. Scottish Cycling convened a COVID crisis group, to clarify and share the guidelines, ensuring all members of the Scottish Cycling community understood and adhered to the COVID cycling rules.

Breeze rides resumed in July 2020 and continued throughout the remainder of the year. As the situation evolved the COVID guidance was updated, and ride leaders were provided with the latest advice. Now hand sanitiser become an essential item in everyone’s kit, and masks were stored in pockets and pannier bags.

Since then, the number of Breeze rides and participants has gradually recovered, and by the end of 2023 numbers were getting closer to pre-pandemic levels; the number of rides 16% lower compared to 2019, while attendance only down by 6%.

The bigger challenge has been the recruitment of volunteers; in 2018 over 80 women applied to become a Breeze Champion, with 52 women training in 2019. Last year a concerted effort saw 40 women join the programme, but at the same time, two courses were cancelled due to a lack of sign-ups.

Despite some of the challenges, Breeze can be proud of what it has achieved since it first came to Scotland in 2014. At the time of writing there have been 4,709 rides, with an overall attendance of 18,078, cycling 65,344 miles, which works out at more than 2.5 times around the world! There have been 44 Breeze Champion training courses, with 347 women gaining a level 1 Ride Leader award.

The growth and success of Breeze in Scotland would not have occurred without the dedication, passion and energy that our Breeze Champion volunteers bring to each and every ride they plan and deliver. We would like to say a huge thank you to each and every one who has been involved since 2014, sharing their time, skills and experience to provide fun, supportive and friendly rides to women looking for opportunities in their local areas to ride their bikes. A million thank you’s to you all.

Our Breeze Champion volunteers are regular women who share a love for cycling and are eager to help other women to (re)discover their passion for biking and we need more women to come and volunteer. If you enjoy riding with others and know how to ride a bike, you’re already well-qualified! You don’t need to be an elite cyclist or wear fancy kit; just bring your enthusiasm and willingness to share the joy of cycling. Full details, including how you can get involved, can be found here.

Full credit must also go to all our Breeze ride participants, many of them women who have not been on a bike for years or have only just learned to ride. It takes a lot of courage to sign up for a group ride when you are feeling anxious or afraid, not knowing the other people leading or attending the ride, worrying that your fitness or skills might not be up to scratch. But Breeze is all about creating the right conditions where everyone can feel welcome and enjoy the ride. There is a category of ride to suit everyone, and no one gets left behind. Come and find out for yourself by signing up to your local ride today:

If you have any questions or want to discuss your interest in Breeze in more detail, please contact: [email protected]