Giving moms a little freedom, one pedal at a time

A local organization is getting more moms on bikes, especially those who are new to Canada and have never learned to cycle before.

Some moms new to Canada never had opportunity to learn cycling, says Vélo Vanier instructor

Two women on bikes stand with their instructor in a parking lot
Claire Kiruhira, left, and Christine Uwamwezi, far right, pose with their Vanier Vélo instructor Denise Inglis. It's never too late to learn a new skill, says Inglis. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Before this summer Claire Kiruhira had never been on a bicycle.

Now, after three lessons, she's comfortable making 20-minute trips on two wheels. 

Kiruhira, who is from Uganda and immigrated to Ottawa in February, says in addition to the physical exercise and fun, knowing how to ride a bike is a practical skill that makes shopping easier for her. 

"It's very interesting at my age, sitting on a bike," the 37-year-old mom of three said. "I love it and I'm very grateful ... And I encourage other people to come, other ladies to come and learn." 

She credits her progress to cycling instructor Denise Inglis. 

Inglis is the co-ordinator of the not-for-profit Vélo Vanier, which lends bikes to residents for free and has started to offer lessons catered to moms. 

"The previous co-ordinator found that families would come in to loan bikes and often the moms didn't take a bike. And when she started asking them, she found out a lot of them didn't know how to ride. They had never had the opportunity to learn," Inglis explained. 

The women start on bikes that don't have pedals, they push off with their feet and just steer with the handlebars. 

"I have my methods. They work," Inglis said. "We're learning how to balance first. And then once you can balance, then the pedaling part is easy."

Moms looking forward to riding with kids

Kiruhira has been taking lessons at night with Christine Uwamwezi, whose three kids also haven't seen her ride yet. 

"Our kids know how to bike [and say], 'we don't want to see mom falling down.' That's why we prefer to bike late," Uwamwezi said. 

A woman cycles around a parking lot.
Uwamwezi navigates a parking lot on a bike. She's excited about learning how to cycle. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Uwamwezi, who immigrated to Ottawa in March, rode a bike when she was a girl in Rwanda, but hasn't been on two wheels since. 

"In our country there is a culture that says the bike is for the children. So I actually biked when I was a [child] when I [went] to primary and secondary school. After that, when I became big, I said 'no, bike is for children,'" said the 47 year old.

After arriving in Canada, Uwamwezi noticed women riding bikes. When it came time for her kids to start riding, she got excited about the idea too. 

"It's a beautiful experience. And it takes off the stress because me and Christine do it late in the evening at 8 p.m., when the sun is not there. And we really enjoy what we are doing," Kiruhira said. 

At the end of the summer, the group hopes to go on a bike ride and take a picnic. 

"I would try and imagine what my life would be like if I didn't know how to ride a bike. So being able to show someone that and seeing how it can change their lives, it's a really fun thing to do," Inglis said.

With files from Giacomo Panico