Cycling, Suffragettes and Steep Descents

Ghost Peloton Sustrans Blog - Shyla Lee n2


Shyla Lee, Independent Film Producer and Ghost Peloton Rider on cycling, suffragettes and being the only Asian woman in the event …

I was born in India and brought up in Singapore and Brunei till I was 15, after which I lived in India for 16 years, before moving to Britain/Yorkshire/Keighley. I think I’m quite lucky as my parents taught me to appreciate the good in any culture, and that what was more important than any specific religion or culture was human values.

A few years back I made a short film called The Bedlamites about fell running in the dark, so I was inevitably drawn to apply to join a Ghost Peloton of illuminated cyclists. I was very nervous at the audition as I didn’t know if my bike handling skills would be up to the challenge. I was overjoyed when I was selected.

I came late to cycling. Being a runner I’d never found the motivation to ride a bike. However I was forced to pick up my bike in 2013 due to repetitive injuries from running. As a novice on the road and new to drop handles I joined The Ilkley Cycling Club to develop some confidence. I fully expected to be the odd one out. I don’t know how many middle aged British Asian women rock up at a cycling club with no idea what they’re doing … but everyone was really friendly and welcoming.

On my first group ride I found it difficult to brake on steep descents and the experience was incredibly frightening, but I wanted to get better. I wanted to go further. I wanted to explore more of the beautiful countryside on my doorstep, that I’d never seen before. I persevered and I started to get better on the descents. Soon I started going out on solo rides – it was a liberating experience, and now I’m one of the Ghost Riders!

It was difficult at the early rehearsals to get a sense of what the Ghost Peloton would look like on the night but when we first rehearsed in our light suits in the dark, we started to get a feel for it. It was a remarkable and surreal experience and I can’t wait for the actual performance. I’m aware that I’m the only British Asian Woman in the Ghost Peloton and that’s not something that sits comfortably with me. I’ve always been quite vocal and challenged suppression of women’s freedom when I was in India. When I came to the UK I thought the Asian population would be freer as they didn’t have restrictions like they did back in India. But I was surprised to find that in a lot of the cases the story was the same.

The bike played a key part in the suffragette movement in both the UK and the USA. The American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, wrote in 1896: “I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”

I’d love to see British Asian women use the bicycle as part of their ongoing emancipation. The few things we need for good physical and mental health are a balanced diet, sunshine, a good social network and exercise. Cycling helps me to get that exercise and sunshine. It lets me get out into the fresh air and be able to see the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. And unlike India, the roads here are fantastic for cycling and there are some beautiful off-road tracks to run on.

There is so much freedom here in our country. I think people should take advantage and live to their fullest.

In partnership with Sustrans
In partnership with Sustrans


  1. Beautiful writing, Shyla. Really looking forward to seeing the ghost peloton. Think it might be the image of the whole festival.

  2. This captures the spirit of cycling so beautifully, it brings us new adventures and amazing experiences, Ghost Peloton is unique, the vision it’s creators had for it surreal. As a fellow Ghost rider I am so proud of what we have learned and trained for. I am sure everyone will enjoy the performance.

  3. Hi Munny – I loved reading this – it’s good to have the ‘elephant in the room’ mentioned. I met a couple of Asian women in Ilkley CC women’s Monday rides but they don’t seem to have continued though not sure what their reasons were. There have been initiatives in Bradford to get young Asian women cycling – they would be brought to the park in Saltaire from Manningham to learn to ride in the park and along the canalbank but I’ve not noticed that it led to them cycling arond Bradford – are there Asian women riders in Keighley? My great-grandad’s pamphlet about cycling mentions the large numbers of women who bought bikes from him and regularly rode in clubs and on tracks in the Brighton area in the early twentieth century – it’s a shame that things seem to be going backwards. See you tonight ghost, Liz

    1. Sustrans are working across the Bradford district;

      On infrastructure improvements (notably CityConnect who sponsored this blog page) and behaviour change initiatives (e.g.

      We’re also working with local primary and secondary schools including Feversham college (a Muslim girls school) and Newby Primary school

      So hopefully Shyla Lee won’t need to be in the position of being an inspirational role model in the near future…

      @Shyla since you are an inspirational role model can we book you to come and talk to at our schools about being a Ghost Rider?

      1. Thanks for your messages. I’ve tried getting Asian women into running in the past but have failed. Maybe they were hesitant to be seen in running gear by members from within their community. There seemed to be a lot of pressure about what other members would think of them if they were seen running on the streets of Keighley!

        I’ve never considered myself as a role model to be honest. However, ever since I discovered running and cycling it seems to have become my mission to try and inspire others to run/cycle and experience the same pleasure and freedom that I get when I’m out and about.

        @ Sustrans: I’m happy to help but not sure I’d be any good talking to a school. I might not know what to say! 🙂

        1. Hi Shyla, I’m sure we’ve met some where…

          I live in Keighley and learned to ride last year having taught my daughter to ride a bicycle when she was young only knowing the theory of it! I decided to take up cycling because I needed to add more exercise to my life beyond running and walking, as an asthmatic I needed to manage it better.

          My daughter taught me how to ride in the local park next door to my house in the heart of the Asian community in Lawkholme Lane, that’s where I also learned to walk on Powerisers, while the elderly community members watched and asked why I was doing it, some of the women wanted to try them in theory, in reality were nervous they’d break a bone or two. It’s the same when I’m seen out on my bike, women like the idea in theory…

          The clothes can be an issue due to the desire for modesty within the Muslim community, Having said that I’ve seen a young Muslim woman in a headscarf cycle along the canal tow path in Riddlesden in perfectly acceptable modest loose exercise clothing. I just suggest that they wear a longish baggy top with leggings or trousers with cycle clips.

          I’m really pleased you did Ghost Peloton I watched it wishing I’d had the time to be a part of it, but as a freelance artist and single mum there’s never enough hours in the day to do everything!

          I ride mainly on a hybrid, and tend to go out on my own, I used to ride a lot with a friend in the early days, now a lone rider more and more, not really out of choice but just schedules weren’t compatible. I love it now and go out regardless of weather, I’m the same with running I love running in winter because of the rain, snow and cold, I find it much more exhilarating.

          It’s fantastic that you do what you do and yes I think more women and girls are getting into it, I think in 5 or so years Asian women on bikes will be a much more common site even if it is a slow start to begin with!

          Take care and happy cycling!

          Shanaz Gulzar

          1. Hi Shahnaz,

            Yes, we’ve definitely met before… at some film related event. Yes, I understand the problems faced by the women from the Muslim community. I saw a young Muslim woman running in Leeds the other day She wore a head scarf and some baggy clothes. I thought she was absolutely amazing. People like her will change the world.

            Interesting that you’re a runner and cyclist as well! I don’t think I’ll be able to run again, well at least not in the near future due to my injuries. But at the moment I am really enjoying my cycling. I love pushing myself to the limits. I went out with a friend from Ilkley Cycling club recently and he introduced me to some steep hills around Keighley and that was it! I have been training on those hills ever since. I’ve got onto strava a couple of weeks back and have been monitoring my rides closely. I’ve already been trying to break records on certain hilly segments. I’ve got the ‘Queen of the Mountain’ status on one very steep segment near Sutton but I’m determined to get up there faster!

            The only problem with cycling for me is rash drivers that have no respect or patience for cyclists. But having said that, it hasn’t stopped me getting out on my bike. I was really scared to cycle on the main roads when I first started but now I cycle through villages and towns without any problem. I did the White Rose Classic 85 mile sportive recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. My next challenge is the Bronte Buster which is 88 miles and has 9400 feet of climbing!

            Be good to meet up sometime maybe for a bike ride?

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