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Growing girls’ confidence through cycling

Growing girls' confidence through cycling

Varndean Girls’ Bike Club was set up in April 2021 with the aim of creating a supportive and fun environment for girls to ride bikes. A judgement-free space for them to build confidence on the bike, learn new skills, meet new friends and explore new places by bike.

This Girl Can Sussex Ambassador, Tess Agnew, was the lead bike trainer for the club. She kept the sessions loosely structured and let the participants have their say in what they wanted to do. They started every session with a bike check and warm up around the basketball court – the girls seemed to enjoy this consistent start each week.

The group practised skills such as one-handed riding, riding up kerbs, slow race, fast race, gear practice, bunny hops, track stands, standing up on the bike, cornering etc. and lots of riding the hills.

The participants in the group had mixed abilities – some were very confident and had their own bikes, others were complete beginners, and the majority somewhere in the middle. The club tailored the activities for each level to give everyone something to work on, and give the more confident girls opportunities to help lead the sessions by suggesting routes and demoing skills.

For the few girls who joined the club unable to ride, they tried to work with them individually to help them.

It’s been an absolute joy to run this club, and see the girls’ progress and confidence grow, both on and off the bikes. We’ve built a really friendly and supportive environment where the girls can feel able to try new things and help each other learn. It’s also been the most fun ‘job’ I’ve ever had and it lights me up every single week, especially when I hear shouts of ‘I love bike club!’ as we ride around the school. 🙂 I wish I had clubs like this when I was a teenager!

-Tess Agnew, Lead Bike Trainer

Participant case study

The participant’s real name has been omitted for privacy.

NAME was first made aware of the bike club at Varndean when she was invited along to a presentation about the club. This invitation was at the request of the Inclusion Unit staff who felt that NAME would really benefit from joining the club.

NAME has an Autistic Spectrum Condition, and is particularly sensitive to any sudden changes in her usual schedule. As such, the presentation which explained exactly how the club was going to be run and by whom, enabled NAME to get a clear idea of exactly what membership of the club entailed. In addition to this, the club’s instructors were made aware of all the pupil’s individual needs, and were careful to:

  • Ensure that session plans were shared with pupils at the start of the session so that the stress caused by ‘surprise’ activities were kept to a minimum.
  • Ensure that future plans (e.g. a day-trip of cycling on the South Downs) were given plenty of warning, and openly discussed with the pupils.
  • Develop a culture of ‘open dialogue’ in the club so that pupils felt able to contribute to the plans of the club so that they felt that the club met their needs rather than being a set of activities that was being offered for their consumption. For NAME, this meant she was able to express preferences about the types of activities that were done.
  • Contact was made with NAME’s mother, so that home was clearly aware of the club’s plans. This meant that if NAME had any anxiety or questions about the club that she expressed at home, this anxiety could be quickly dealt with by email, rather than growing in size before the next club’s session.
  • Ensure that NAME was aware that she could take a self-selected ‘time-out’ in order to manage her stress, or simply come and talk to one of the instructors in private about anything she was worried about.

Using the strategies described above it has been wonderful to see NAME’s confidence grow week-on-week in the Bike Club. Her skills and strength as a bike rider have grown considerably over the weeks, as she’s learned a range of skills, including: setting up her saddle height correctly; M-check her bike; select appropriate gears for the terrain; ride in and out of the saddle; control the bike at slower speeds; ride one-handed; etc.

NAME has said that the confidence she gained from being in the bike club also helped give her the confidence to join in with the school production rehearsals after school.


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girl cycling on cycle path
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