Why we cycle: Phoebe Sneddon

What do you do and where are you based?

I am a paediatric doctor and I have recently started a new job in Chesterfield. I care for very poorly children ranging from premature babies right up to the age of 18. I am also a Mum to Sabine who is aged 3. I live in Tansley near Matlock in Derbyshire.

How long have you cycled for?

9 to 10 years, properly. My Dad is a keen cyclist, and for many years I rebelled against it as a Dad in Lycra wasn’t cool! Then, in my third year at Nottingham University I had a dissertation to do over the summer. All my friends had gone away and I started cycling again, to go to cafes and to go and visit Dad. When I met my ex-husband, he encouraged me to get into racing. 

Sabine started coming on my bike with me from as soon as she could sit unsupported, either in a bike seat or a trailer. She has been whizzing round the kitchen on a toddle bike since before she could walk properly, and now she’s learning to pedal. She’s still a little nervous about pedalling, but when she’s with her friends she’ll zoom around: responding to a bit of competition I think.

Why do you cycle?

My job is really stressful; I have come to appreciate how much it takes out of me emotionally, and cycling is a kind of therapy, and it gives me that release. I love being out in the fresh air, especially in the Peak District and it gives me time to process stuff from work and then leave it out there. Also it keeps me fit and allows me to eat cake!

Where is your favourite place to cycle in Derby?

I like to go out towards Hathersage on the road bike. On the mountain bike I like Black Rocks. 

What is your best piece of kit?

My best bike is my mountain bike; that’s the one I like riding the most. I have also recently invested in a really good waterproof jacket; a shake dry, gore tex one. Everyone was banging on about how good they are, but I resisted because of the expense. Eventually I succumbed and now I take it everywhere with me and wear it all the time so it was well worth the investment.

What do you think could help more girls and women to cycle?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and trying to work out ways to encourage more women and girls to cycle. I think it’s important to be more visible, to have ordinary women to relate to rather than Olympic athletes who make it seem so unobtainable. Seeing normal women going out there and enjoying themselves makes a big difference. We have done a lot of work to encourage more women to get into racing and cyclocross is the easiest competitive element to get into. Although it’s quite kit heavy, it is the most accessible in terms of just turning up and having a go. With road racing, if you don’t have the fitness or skills you can end up being spat out the back and having a rubbish day. On a cross bike you can go at your own pace, develop the skills, get off and walk when you need to and it’s less pressurised. We had some skills sessions alongside the kid’s ones where Mums could have a go: that was really good, with about 10 women having a go, and hopefully more will try next season.  Women sometimes lack confidence on the road, or perhaps you could say they are more sensible to the dangers, so off road can be a really good option. Women at work ask me about cyclocross and I encourage them by taking them along with me and they really enjoy it. Women’s mountain bike sessions, run by British cycling, are also popular and Derby Mercury has also done a lot of work with British Cycling. 

There has been a lot of interesting research done as to why many girls stop cycling during their teens. A lot of it has to do with the sexualisation of women and how they are made to feel when they reach puberty. It’s about feeling embarrassed in Lycra, and about body shaming: we need to stamp that out. We need to make sure that the young girls who’ve been competing for a while retain the confidence to continue.

How do you feel when you cycle in three words?

Pain, free and content!

Additional comments:

The message I would like to get across is that I was the least sporty person at school, I was not interested in sport, I was weedy and I didn’t go through puberty until the age of 17. However, I now race at national level, so if I can do it anyone can. Last summer I did some really big bike adventures with my friend Nat, things I wouldn’t have even contemplated before. It’s opened up a whole new world and it is addictive.

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