11th May 2016 by

Working with the Otesha team to get a women’s bike maintenance project up and running has been the highlight of 2016 in my world: here’s the story:

wfiWomen-Fix-It came about whilst cycling across Portugal solo. I had the map reading down, chunky calves, panniers, and a sweet touring bike – what more can a woman ask for? Ah yeah… the knowledge that is needed to put your bike back together after it’s been in a box. Alex a good pal helped me to box it up for the flight over to Portugal. Yeah I’ll remember all this – easy…

I’m not saying that as I stand looking at my handle bars off at a peculiar angle, the brakes are rubbing on the wheel and I’m unnecessarily covered in grease. Frustrated, I begrudgingly head to the nearest bike shop, where 2 guys attempt to teach me bike basics in Portuguese. I felt pretty stupid with my ignorance, not to mention scared that I had to keep the steed in one piece for the next 3 months. I couldn’t but notice that it was always men serving me in bike shops, or I’d likely ask a male friend to help out with bike related stuff. Pedalling up and whizzing down the mountains of Portugal I was lucky to keep my bike in one piece – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head as to why I didn’t know to fix her up.

The more I discussed this with other women who liked bikes, it became clear that I wasn’t on my own… reverberations of the same comment kept coming back to me: “I feel uncomfortable to ask stupid questions” “I always feel pretty silly when I go into bike shops” “I wish I knew more about bikes” “I’m just not very good at it”.

I felt happy that it wasn’t just me… but also sad that so many strong, independent women that I knew and loved had the same block as me. I wanted to learn with other women and to be taught by a non-judgemental woman who could share her knowledge. I searched around my local area in South London and struggled to find that space, but alas it was not there.

A friend put me in touch with Bikeworks – a fantastic social enterprise delivering community based cycling activities across London. They took me onto a course in Level 1 bike mechanics and I commenced a journey totally out of my comfort zone… loads of tools, jargon, and a good dose of testosterone. I was feeling the need for Women-fix-It in my life.

It seems fitting that this project is a collaboration with The Otesha Project UK, as it was this wonderful charity that has empowered hundreds of young people to cycle hundreds of miles and educate thousands of people in issues of environmental awareness, sustainability and social justice. As tour alumni, tour coordinator and workshop facilitator with Otesha, It felt like the right time to join forces to run Women-Fix-It. Winning a bid to Transport for London’s Cycling Grants, the project finally got legs.

Camberwell Subterranea offered us their garage workshop for us to run 3 week maintenance courses from Feb-June 2016. The project aims to work with women from diverse backgrounds, bringing together women from all over South London. It is important that it’s a safe and comfortable environment for all to enter into. We’ve run 3 courses so far, working with 27 women to teach them the basics – an m-check, parts of the bike and how they fit together, punctures, brakes and cleaning/ general maintenance.

wfi1The essence of the project is that we want women to go away with enough skills to keep their bike safely on the road. If it needs to go into a bike shop, then they might have a better idea of what’s going on. We want women to feel empowered to ask those “stupid” questions that we might not normally ask. Courses will continue until June and we’re running women’s social rides around South London this summer.

Fancy finding out more, or want to be involved?

Check for updates on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenfixit/

Bi-monthly Challenge – March 2014

17th March 2014 by

It’s Challenge Time!

At Otesha, we like to challenge ourselves (and our readers) to live more sustainably. That’s what our cycle tours and all our other programmes at Otesha are about! Regular readers of our musings will know we set a challenge with each newsletter. We want your ideas, the challenges you want to take part in – or have already tried! Email info@otesha.org.uk to give us some suggestions!


This month, though, a sustainable transport challenge, with a few options…

1. If your bike’s rusting away - get it out, give it some love and get it (and your lovely self) back on the road. (If you need help, pop along to our free Dr Bike workshop at our office on Tuesdays 5-6pm!) If you want some cycle training, lots of local councils offer free sessions, they can be a great way to feel confident on the road. We’d love to see photos of you and your trusty steeds. Email them to us or tweet @OteshaUK

2. If you’re a regular bike commuter - try something new. What about a mini-weekend bicycle tour? It’s a great way to see the UK, a wonderful, cheap holiday, and you’ll feel so alive! Or go and get skilled up in bike-maintenance so you can be a self-sufficient cyclista. (You could also sign uP1060484p for an Otesha tour!)

3. Help someone else get on their bike. Let’s face it, some of us couldn’t cycle much more if we tried. So why not support someone else to start cycling… you could join a campaign or give more practical support with bike maintenance, or join someone on their commute to work to help them feel more confident on the road. You could check out organisations like this, this, and this, for a place to start!

4. If cycling isn’t for you, switching your travel habit, to foot, bus, or train is super too!

Spring Fever

24th April 2013 by

Spring is upon us… finally!  You may vaguely recall that for the first day of spring, which was the 20th March, there wasn’t much hope in the air. These past few weeks however, have put a ‘spring’ in my step and a smile on my face as I get on my bike and ride.  So with that in mind, I’ll jot down a few spring tips to get into the groove.

Spring Tips:

1. Tuning up your bicycle
bike04You may think that the first thing to do when you read ‘tune up’ is to take your bicycle to the shop but wait – that might not be necessary at all. Here at Otesha, we’re big fans of doing it yourself or at least having a good go.  If you’ve been riding all winter long, the first place to start would be to give your bicycle a good clean.  It will do wonders!  Some of us have even been known to take our bikes apart and clean all the little bits as well.  It’s a joy having a gleaming chain.  Don’t knock it till you try it.

The next tip would be to make sure you take a good hard look at your tyres and your brakes. Make sure the tyres are at the proper pressure and test out your brakes.  You can do a search for tips online although I particularly enjoyed this article.

And if you want a hand, come along to our free Dr Bike sessions at our new home, Workshop 44, 44 Marlborough Avenue, E8 4JR. We’re here to help on Tuesdays 5-6pm.

2. Spring Cleaning
Some of us, and I do emphasise the word some, enjoy a little spring cleaning when the sun’s out.  That could include a wide variety of activities.  Generally though, I’m a big fan of de-cluttering my closet, and wiping down those barely seen corners of the room.

We’re a big fan of using our very own cleaning products.  Did you know that everything you need to disinfect and clean your home is probably already in your store cupboard? There is a silent genius lurking on the supermarket shelves.  Click here for some ideas and recipes to make your own.

In all the cleaning flurry, also consider our new and improved “3-Rs”:

  • Rethink: Do I need this?
  • Refuse: “No, I don’t need a bag (I brought my own).”
  • Restore: Try to fix things instead of just throwing them out. Or better yet, transform things into something else.  We’ve mastered the art of turning a tetrapak into a lovely wallet.
  • Reduce: Get library books instead of buying new ones, and buy vintage clothes instead of new gear. If you’re a woman, you can also reduce your waste by buying yourself a keeper, mooncup or luna pads.
  • Reuse: Scrap paper, lunch containers, etc.
  • Rrrr-Compost: It’s like reusing food.
  • Then, only when you’ve exhausted all the other options: Recycle!

3. Plant something
As “Otesha” is a Swahili word that means “to plant something and make it grow”, try your hand at plantingp-stmaryssecretgarden.jpg.270x270_q95_crop--50,-50_upscale something.  It can be something as small as a sunflower seed to growing your own veg.  For those with small spaces, I absolutely adore this inspiring site based in Newcastle Vertical Veg. And if you want further help, sign up to our Bimonthly Bemusings newsletter here.  May’s newsletter is coming out shortly and includes great links to our challenge to plant a seed.

4. Go through Otesha’s Fun Action List
It’s been a while since we’ve gone through our Fun Action List so try it out. There are great things to do in and around your house, some you may have forgotten about.  See how many you can tick off.

Have any more tips for us?  Drop us a comment below.

Happy Spring!


Knowledge (and getting greasy) is power

6th December 2012 by

It was about 5 years ago that I decided it was time to end the humiliation of having to take my bicycle to the bike shop each time I had a puncture.  It was time to stop being so ignorant – and so fearful – of how to tinker with my beloved steed myself and fix its simpler ailments. So I signed up for a Level 1 maintenance course over a whole weekend, and got myself schooled in the basics of brakes and inner tubes.

In the years since then I’ve probably saved myself a pretty penny, and earned a smidgeon of self-respect, as a result. But working at Otesha, where people bleed bike lube if they cut themselves, I decided recently it was time to go to the next level. That’s, er, Level 2 – keep up!  I was also fresh from reading The Case for Working With Your Hands by Matthew Crawford and was feeling inspired by its call for ordinary bods to exercise the parts of our brains and personalities that get deep satisfaction from understanding how things are put together and being able to repair them ourselves.

So off I went to Bikeworks, the splendid bike repair and bike shop social enterprise, for a full day of getting intimate with brakes and gears, determined that I’d leave being able to look squarely at (and even touch, maybe even fix) my cassette and my gear cables without feeling like a chimp with a spanner let loose on the Large Hadron Collider.

Our tutor was Jelil, who was really clear and approachable, didn’t mind being asked dumb questions (a teacher’s most important quality) and went at a manageable pace, and he was joined by his dependable and knowledgeable wingman, Raj.

We started with the most thorough M-check I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s the basic roadworthiness check you should be able to do to make sure you’re getting on a bike that’s basically safe before you ride off into the Wild West that is our roads. This was no M-check Lite.  No, we went deep. Not content with warning us about how to recognise dodgy-sounding rattly headsets and so forth, Jelil and Raj showed us exploded cross-sectioned bike components to explain the role of ball bearings and how – if you’re bold enough to do this much disassembly – to recognise when they’re in need of replacing.

Then on to the main business of gears – replacing cables, checking for wear, simple maintenance tips, and then – ulp! – fiddling with the barrel adjuster and the rear derailleur screws, which is how we can deal with some instances of slipping or reluctant gear changes. Yes, I can now say that my derailleur is no longer a terrifying alien landscape but rather somewhere I feel confident I could at least have a go at trying to put things right. I can tell you, that feels good.

We also learned a good deal more than I knew before about changing and adjusting brakes, and we even squeezed in time for a go at wheel tuning, using a spoke wrench, which is an oddly satisfying tool and task.

What really made the session, though, was Jelil’s passion for empowering cyclists to take control and save themselves money – rather than taking the word of a bicycle industry he was surprisingly scathing about, accusing it of routinely putting profit before the needs of cyclists.

Even when you’re faced with a problem you may not be able to fix yourself, you can still arm yourself with enough knowledge to judge whether bike shop staff are pressuring you to have work done on your bike that’s not actually necessary. For example, he said, bike mechanics will often claim that your chain is worn out and needs replacing – but by equipping yourself with a simple chain-checker tool you can verify this for yourself, and potentially save yourself a significant amount of money. But better than money-saving, even, is the feeling you get when you can diagnose, twiddle, tweak and fix all on your own-ee-o.

So get yourself down to your local bike class, get equipped, get greasy, get empowered!

Besides the classes of the kind I went on, Bikeworks has a FYOB (fix-your-own-bike) session on Thursdays, last entry 7pm, where you can bring your own bike, hire a bike stand at £8/hr (minimum £5) and get access to the tools you need – and guidance from expert bike mechanics, so that you can ease your way into bike repairing while knowing you’re in good hands. You can also access Bikeworks’ stock of recycled parts.

If you’re in London and want to check out the kind of class I took at Bikeworks, contact cycle.training@bikeworks.org.uk or call Jo on 020 8980 7998 – it’s £60 for a six hour session and the co-op has two sites, one in West and one in East London. Upcoming dates are:


Sunday 17th February – Level 1

Sunday 3rd March – Level 2


Sunday 20th January – Level 1

Sunday 3rd February – Level 1

Sunday 17th February – Level 2

Western Quest goes West Country proper!

8th October 2012 by

After a wonderful stay at the West Town Farm in Ide, Exeter, it was sadly time to move on and head further West to the gorgeous hilly countryside of the Dartmoor National Park. After a difficult start to the ride (anyone who knows the giant hill to Dunchideock leaving Ide will know what I am talking about) the rest of the 20 miles to Ashburton were relatively flat and really beautiful, a wonderful ride. On arrival at The Husbandry School, a few miles outside of Ashburton, we were greeted by yet another steep climb to the farm itself but were rewarded  by arguably the best view of the whole Western Quest cycle tour at the top.

Thanks to Jonty and Carole we immediately felt welcomed and at home on their lovely farm and were treated to the luxury of a bath and comfortable night’s sleep – much appreciated with an early start and hilly six mile cycle to Landscove primary school the next morning. Despite our fears, the six mile cycle across the Devonshire hills to Landscove raced by at 8am, due to the lack of trailers, tents and panniers weighing us down.


We were immediately welcomed at this small but friendly rural school in Landscove and enjoyed performing our play to the whole school. Although the play is aimed at students aged 8 and over, the years 1 and 2 really seemed to enjoy it and some of the songs had the best audience participation of the whole tour – a great start to the morning. After the play we split into two groups and led workshops on transport and energy. The school were impressively already taking many ‘green’ measures, such as an energy saving campaign and signs around the school informing us to switch appliances off when not in use, a small allotment in the playground where students were learning to grow their own vegetables and school lunches made from ingredients from a local organic farm. The students were therefore very receptive to our workshops, which seemed to both refresh and embellish ideas on what action we can take in our everyday lives to be more sustainable.


The energy workshop was interesting to build on the work the school was already doing and the students enjoyed energy charades and were very surprised at which electrical appliances use the most energy. After doing an energy audit of the school the students had many great ideas on how we can continue to reduce our energy consumption, at school and at home, which we were really pleased to hear. The transport workshop with year 6 also went well, with students eagerly learning about different forms of transport and which are least polluting. As a result of the workshop many students pledged to use public transport when possible and car share to school with people who lived near them. They also said that they felt more confident to maintain their bikes, which we were really happy with.

All in all, we had a great experience at the small but pro-active and welcoming school, which was really interesting both for the students and us. We happily left the school to meander back to The Husbandry School, along the country lanes in the September sunshine, filling our tupperwares with blackberries as we went; a wonderful and inspiring morning’s work.

Starting as we mean to go on

26th April 2012 by

Before every Otesha bike tour,  members gather for a training week. Aside from offering a chance to meet fellow change makers (and start lasting friendships) it is a time to prepare for what’s ahead, forging a strong team to bring real, lasting change wherever they ride to. It’s a bit like starting a day with a hearty breakfast.

For me, training week was a real buzz because it confirmed that I had made the right decision in signing up for an Otesha tour – a choice that was going to be a real catalyst for positive change in my life and outlook. We began with practicalities – first up was bike maintenance. I soon learnt my Dad’s ‘technique’ was way over generous when oiling chains and I was shown punctures really don’t take 3 attempts to stick (as well as tips to avoid them in the first place). Workshop completed, I was confident and able to maintain and safety check my bike. A further session on group riding shared best practice of how to ride as a group safely on the road.

That done, we moved on to discussions and workshops on sustainability, group living and consensus decision making. Being able to speak openly and contribute fully to discussions and decisions enabled the group to respond positively to any situation. Early on, I felt consensus decision making could take an age – but once the ground rules and hand signals were in place, each decision was explored fully and consensus was soon reached. Any extra time taken was easily paid off by knowing it the group was behind the decision, everyone has had a chance to contribute and importantly, that the right action had been taken. Writing our food mandate was the first real test of the teams consensus decision making skills.. the mandate acknowledges the fact that the food we eat has wider impacts, and also that different people have different needs with the food they eat. We shared opinions, practicalities and debated issues before agreeing on a a mandate that would dictate what the team ate for the weeks ahead.

Then began the rehearsals. I am no actor. When my friends heard I was going to be  in a play, they were eager to see me to perform – if only to confirm that I am not an actor. Luckily a role in an Otesha play simply requires enthusiasm, a sense of humour and a bit of bravery –  no sonnets, monologues or dramatic stage falls required (except when making the Banana Pirate walk the plank).

This year, the tours are starting from suitably inspirational places. Walking the talk is a core part of our ethos, and so we’re happy to be hosted by projects with shared values.

For Western Quest, the tour will be hosted deep within the beautiful Wye Valley, at Highbury Farm. It is the home of Stepping Stones – a Co-operative inspired by a vision of finding ecological and socially sustainable ways of living together as a community. At the moment they are exploring ways to manage the land without the exploitation of animals. As the site is reliant on a spring for water we will see how important saving water is, especially relevant as much of the UK remains in drought.

For our food themed tour – Tastetastic, we are being kindly hosted by the folks at Breadmatters. They passionately champion the lost practice of home baked bread through workshops, books and by producing some fantastic bread. To say Thank You, we’re planning to build a solar dryer to dry produce from their small holding without consuming electricity. Excellent!

By demonstrating the best of sustainable innovation with practical and positive steps, our hosts will provide a perfect base from to launch this summer of change making tours.

If you or someone you know wants to saddle up and change the world then applications are still open – see the Cycle Tours page. or email us at cycletours@otesha.org.uk.

Monthly challenge: Revive your ride

2nd April 2012 by

It’s officially spring. And that means lovely cycling weather.

Now perhaps you’re a committed year-round cyclist (if so, hold tight for your challenge). On the other hand if, like many people, you haven’t exactly been riding all winter, before you dust off your panniers and break out the high vis you’ll want to show your bike a little love to get it ready for the road.

So this month, we’re challenging you to revive your ride: get your bike shipshape for spring or help a friend do the same.

If you’ve had a little winter break (and who can blame you? It’s been cold, dark and wet out there) your bike is likely rusting in a shed or languishing in a basement with a puncture that’s gone unrepaired since last November. Sound about right? If this situation doesn’t sound familiar (you hardcore winter cyclist you) then it probably describes at least one friend, family member or colleague – or heck, probably dozens of people you know. Instead of making your own bike road-ready, we’re challenging you to help a friend do the same.

But where to start?

If you’re not a regular DIY expert, never fear – there are plenty of places where you can get bike-fixing help and advice. At bike kitchens spring up around the country, you can rent tools, a bike stand and anything else you need for a pretty small fee. And if things get out of control & you find yourself standing there with a derailleur in your hand and no idea how to reattach it, you’ve got expert advice on hand.

DIY bike repair spaces around the UK

  • The Bristol Bike Project, which has a weekly DIY bike kitchen alongside their more traditional bike repairs and sales
  • The (brand-new) London Bike Kitchen, where you’ll have access to their tool library, space to fix your own bike and even WAG (women and gender-variant)-only classes
  • The Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op (which also has locations in Newcastle, Aberdeen, Leeds and Manchester) also run more traditional maintenance courses.

If you don’t have DIY bike repair facilities near you, then you can also take your trusty steed to a regular old bike shop. You never know, they might have maintenance classes or DIY evenings – or be persuaded to start them up. You’d be surprised how far asking nicely can get you!

And if you know of any other DIY bike spaces around the UK, please leave us a comment so we can add ‘em to the list.

Super Summer Cycle Tours

7th March 2011 by

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in London town.  It might not be quite warm enough for me to cycle to the office without losing feeling in my toes, but have no fear – if you join one of our cycle tours we can guarantee you six weeks of beautiful, warm sunshine*.

Just in case you don’t know already – this year we’re heading on two terrific tours.  Northern Soul will be visiting Wales, England and Scotland, and Tartan Trail will be winding its way around Scotland.

On tour you can expect to:

– get skilled up and learn loads about everything from bike maintenance to consensus decision making, sustainability to group living

– perform our play and deliver workshops about sustainability in schools, youth clubs, and festivals up and down the UK

– have more fun than you could imagine

But hurry, the places are disappearing, don’t miss out – you can find the online application form right here.

*Unfortunately we don’t quite have the power to control the weather, but you will feel the warmth and beauty of making many new and amazing friendships.

Cycling with one hand!

15th July 2010 by

After my last cycling with confidence session at BikeWorks (and the little mishap of falling off the bike and twisting my ankle, read more here), I was not so keen on this second session. My only worry being “will I fall again?”; luckily that did not happen and with that out of my mind I was able to go to the next stage of the session. The cycling session itself went brilliantly and the next challenge I faced was cycling with one hand.
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Cycling Without The Fall

22nd June 2010 by

At the moment I would describe myself as a new cycle enthusiast. Still learning how to cycle, getting to grips with the bike and hopefully, sooner than anticipated, a cycling star.

One of the main issues I face is cycling on the road on my own, building that confidence to become a good cyclist. So to overcome that, I have registered and took part in my first session of cycle training with Bike Works.
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