Book loving student writes her own story through cycling

19 May 2021    

“I haven’t stopped smiling since the day I could ride the bike”

“If I had any idea of what I was missing, I would have learnt cycling ages ago” says Rabaha Arshad, a PhD student in Education (Children’s Literature) at the University of Glasgow who learned to ride a bike just a week before her 32nd birthday.

Having returned to Glasgow from her native Pakistan, she was inspired to learn to cycle during her time quarantining in her student accommodation. With the support of Bike for Good she has developed essential cycling skills and found new self-confidence to explore the world.

Growing up, Rabaha did not have the opportunity of learning to ride a bike.  She mentioned a lack of available space and access to bikes as the barriers to what, for many children, is an essential rite of passage.

a woman on a bike on a cycling path

The inspiration to learn

Having completed her Masters at the University of Glasgow a few years ago, Rabaha returned for further studies in January 2021. This meant a period of Quarantine was required upon her arrival. It was during this time in isolation and time spent staring out of the window that Rabaha drew inspiration from a female cyclist who parked outside her accommodation every morning. “Here I was, sitting by myself, desperate to go out in the city I had missed all these years, and here she was, this woman, braving the weather, roaming around the city on her bike. That’s when it occurred to me, you know, that it’d be fun to cycle all around Glasgow just like her. I made it my birthday goal to learn to cycle.”

Finding Bike for Good

Web searches led her to Bike for Good, a Glasgow based charity that teach cycling, bike maintenance and sell second-hand bikes. Rabaha was encouraged to learn their founder Greg Kinsman-Chauvet learned to ride a bike aged 30: “These people must know what they are talking about, I thought to myself. After all, Greg learnt at the age of 30. If he could do it, there was hope for me!”

Importantly for Rabaha, lessons were offered one-to-one, “I was relieved I wouldn’t be the only adult in a class of kids.”

Lessons begin

Bike for Good were able to provide all the equipment Rabaha needed and after a couple of initial challenges – “I literally started from zero. I didn’t know how to even put on the helmet and I couldn’t even walk the bike to the practice spot in Kelvingrove properly” – Rabaha’s journey began.

While balancing came naturally to her, pedalling did not. “I couldn’t push the pedal hard enough even on lower gears! I was so disappointed in myself. Lucky for me, my instructors were very encouraging. They never gave up on me, even when I questioned whether I could do it.”

Growing skills & confidence

As her skills grew from gliding along the pedestrianised Kelvin Way, to mastering the first pedal strokes and exploring Kelvingrove Park with her instructors, Rabaha’s self-image evolved, along with an overall sense of wellbeing.

Rabaha cites this new-found self-confidence and overall happiness as the greatest benefits of her cycling journey. “I haven’t stopped smiling since the day I could ride the bike. Other people get starstruck. I guess, I’m just bike-struck”. A benefit she didn’t expect was greater strength in her legs and increased stamina: “I started off as someone who couldn’t complete one pedal stroke on the easiest gears, but now I can ride up and down the hills of Kelvingrove and beyond without feeling tired”.

a woman cycling in the park with cherry blossom trees in the background

Exploring new horizons

Cycling has helped Rabaha discover new parts of the city and how they connect. “I have loved discovering the cycle paths in Glasgow, finding spaces with no traffic lights or cars has been a great relief. I wish every road had a cycle path attached. I’d love following it all around Scotland.”

Keen to make up for lost time, Rabaha is aiming high with her cycling ambitions, targeting trips to Loch Lomond and Edinburgh in the future. For this bibliophile, her story in cycling has just begun.

Learn more about adult cycle training and the other services offered by Bike for Good.