Breaking boundaries on an electric bike: Meet Maria Battul who cycled 400 miles from Bradford to Roubaix

Bradford student Maria Battul hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly a decade when she took on the 400-mile Bradford to Roubaix charity cycle earlier this year.

Despite the growing popularity of electric bikes there are still some misconceptions surrounding them, but among all the myths one thing is clear: e-bikes are opening up cycling to a new audience, people who may never have considered hopping on a bike to work, to the shops or for leisure.

Bradford student Maria Battul hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly a decade when she took on the 400-mile Bradford to Roubaix charity cycle earlier this year.

Worries over distance nearly led Maria not to go on the trip at all, but a last minute e-bike loan from the CityConnect team meant, that instead of sitting at home with regrets, she got stuck in to a life-changing trip on two wheels.

We caught up with Maria to find out more.

A change of direction
As a child I was into everything – running, rounders, cricket – but as I got older I developed problems with my feet and this put a stop to most of the things I loved doing.

I went to the gym but I couldn’t stand for too long and this restricted what I could do – the treadmill was a no, no and so was the stepper.

I went on a walking trip to Scotland and spent most of the time in complete agony, and soon after I decided I needed to take action.

My personal trainer recommended cycling so I started going to a few spinning classes.

I saw an advert for the Bradford to Roubaix charity cycle at the Student’s Union and I thought it sounded like a good challenge.

Wheels in motion
In the days leading up to our departure I came close to pulling out of the event altogether because I couldn’t go the distance, especially on the hills, but as soon as I knew I had the e-bike it gave me the confidence boost I needed.

In early April, we took the ferry from Hull over to Belgium and cycled through France and Holland, returning to Bradford nine days and 400 miles later.

There were around 40 people, split into groups of a dozen or so, and we just had a great time together.

As well as raising money for good causes, the ride was also an opportunity to challenge myself, to see how far I could go.

The e-bike gave me space to concentrate on riding on the road and learning to change gears, which can be difficult on a standard bike when all you can think about is to keep pedalling.

E-bikes are a great equaliser, especially if you have a condition that restricts the exercise you can do.

I didn’t have to spend my time thinking about how far there was left to go I could just enjoy the ride.

And that’s what it’s all about – getting out there and having fun with other people or on your own.

Before Roubaix, I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 16-years-old. I’ve gone from someone who couldn’t even ride two miles to someone who can cycle 400 miles.

I might not be able to walk long distances, or run like I used to. I can’t stand for long periods of time and I can’t use the stepper at the gym but I can cycle, I can actually cycle a really long way.

The onward journey
The trip has refreshed my whole outlook on life – now I know there’s something I can do and something I can enjoy.

As kids we used to cycle around our neighbourhood but as an adult it’s easy to forget how good this feels, the independence it gives you to explore, to go anywhere and to do anything.

Since returning I’ve cycled from Bradford into Leeds along the Cycle Superhighway, which is a great way to travel under your own steam between the two cities.

I don’t just want to start cycling more, I want to train to become a cycle leader so I can encourage more women, especially women from minority groups, to ride bikes – you can ride a bike and still be modest.

It’s not just for men, it’s for everyone. It’s not about being the fittest or the fastest it’s about cycling at a speed and level that suits you.

Cycling lifts your mood, it makes you healthier and it encourages you to do the best for yourself.

We need to encourage our communities to cycle more, not just for their own physical health, but also as a way to relieve stress and for the environment too.

Find out how CityConnect can help you, your business, school and community cycle more