Brenda Mitchell: Bike Biz Pioneer – Woman of the Year 2015
We love to feature inspiring characters on Love Velo cc which leads me to introducing Brenda Mitchell who I was lucky enough to meet earlier this year at the Bike Biz Cycling media Awards. Having walked into a crowded room on the evening of the awards and knowing not a single person, I was quickly relieved to start up conversation with Brenda and her husband Rod from Scotland. Brenda had been nominated for the well respected ‘Cycling Advocate of the Year’ Award alongside finalists Boris Johnson and Chris Boardman. It didn’t take much for us to get talking and I felt lucky to have met such a welcoming couple. I since then arranged to speak with Brenda to find out a little more about her background to cycling and the good work she is doing.
First we discuss cycling, a common love and a topic of easy conversation. I ask Brenda about how she got into cycling. “I have always cycled, but I really started cycling when we moved down to the Scottish Borders when Rod and I first got married. My first present from my new husband at Christmas was a giant mountain bike and of course he bought a bike for himself too!” Brenda tells me. ” Then five years ago I thought I’m going to try this road cycling malarky and so I bought a Bianchi bike with an incredibly hard seat! I started going out on my own initially and loved it. The next step was moving onto being clipped in and doing cycletta’s (all women sportive’s). That was a way to meet other women who were cycling also. I really enjoyed riding with my husband but he would be miles ahead and then would wish me well done at the top of the climbs!”. Brenda is laughing at this point.
“I got involved then with ‘Belles on Bikes’. This is a group we set up to encourage women of all abilities to take up cycling. We go as fast as the slowest rider and the most important thing we are concerned about is the standard and quality of the coffee and cake! There are 150 ladies riding in the Scottish Borders now, we post up rides and get around 7-8 in the group on most rides. So many like myself are totally hooked on cycling and going out on rides as much as possible. As a group we share a lot of information about sportives or rides in the area and all pick and choose what we do. We organise and run maintenance classes too. I think if you have some bike skills it helps your confidence but overall we have had such fun as a group. Women are naturally quite supportive of each other and I think its important that women have the chance to do their own thing away from the family sometimes. For many of the women riding with us thats their time to go and do their thing.”
“The beauty of Belles on Bikes is that its informal. Its a group of likeminded women who want to go out on a bike ride. Its just quality fun and its exactly how cycling should be, its just great.”
Cycling and bikes also form part of Brendas career. “I have been a lawyer specialising in personal injury for around 28 years. As well as being a cyclist I’m a motor cyclist also. In 2011 when I started road cycling I set up a business, Cycle Law Scotland and also Motor Cycle Law Scotland. The motive behind it was to provide a special service to cyclists and for cyclists. It’s a service from a special solicitor who is also out cycling who can understand actually what its like. At the same time I launched the Road Share Campaign which is a campaign to introduce presumed liability through Scottish law. The Road Share campaign is really important and something that I do on a voluntary basis in order to give something back. I’m massively keen to see improved safety for cyclists on the road. If we are to get more women out there on the road cycling we need to do something to make the roads safer.”
Brenda continues how she believes we should learn and take note from our European neighbours. “All of them have some kind of presumed liability which then actually protects those who are vulnerable on the roads. When you’re riding a bike you’re vulnerable, yet as a car driver you are potentially driving a dangerous weapon. Its right we protect those who are vulnerable to injury. What we are doing is asking our governments and our politicians to look seriously at this issue in order to better protect cyclists. If you are going to get people to take up active travel, walking or cycling then they they need to feel protected and the law can be very powerful in this way. The bottom note is that we need to improve safety on the roads. we need to get away from drivers believing its their space of tarmac only. But there are good and bad cyclists, and good and bad drivers too.”
The nomination and shortlisting for the Bike Biz Cycling Advocate of the Year 2015 is not Brenda’s first taste of success either. Last year she also was nominated and won Bike Biz Pioneer – woman of the year award on the basis of the work she has done to improve cycling safety. Cycling safety is a topic many of us as cyclists are aware of and its an important and critical issue so to hear of the good work Brenda is putting in and the results she is achieving, its a positive thing. When you discuss these topics with Brenda her enthusiasm really shines through. I tell her this, to which she replies “I have always loved what I do for a living and I do feel I can make a difference. That ability to change someones life is what drives me on and is the reason I set up road share.”
We then move onto discussing aims for 2016 and Brenda like myself will be attempting her first triathlon, both of which will be in March and just for fun. “Im having a go just to see what its like. I swim every morning, I get out on my bike but can come up with every excuse why not to run. I will get out there!”. This is a comment made full of determination! Brenda continues ” I then have lots of sportives planned with Belles on Bikes. the first is 100 miles on closed roads. Im looking at doing as many sportives as I can. Hopefully two a month. I have ridden 100km before and so the 100 mile will be my first century. I’m not sure if I can as everyone has a limiting point but i want to give it a go.”
You can support Brenda’s good work by signing the Road Share petition by visiting the Change.org website.
By Lucy Sturgess
Love Velo cc