A Dundee architect named as one of the UK’s most inspirational women cyclists tells Gayle Ritchie about her efforts to encourage others into the saddle…
Like many folk, Alice Turpie’s first memory of riding a bike is accompanied by an image of her dad jogging alongside her, calling out words of encouragement.
“We lived in the countryside next to an abandoned loop of road in Aberdeenshire,” she says.
“My brother, sister and I spent many fun hours cycling safely up and down in the days before games consoles!”
In her teens, Alice cycled to weekend jobs, and then as a student, commuted around Edinburgh on her bike.
These days, she does most of her commutes around Broughty Ferry and enjoys social rides with pals, often concluding with coffee and cake in a cafe!
In July, Alice, 50, was named as one of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling for her inspirational efforts to encourage others into the bike saddle.
It’s a big deal – others on the list include Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey, triple Olympic medallist Victoria Pendleton and TV presenter Angellica Bell.
Alice, an architect at Nicoll Russell Studios in Broughty Ferry, made it onto the list after starting an initiative to help improve her practice’s carbon footprint through encouraging “active travel”.
“In 2016, I added running and cycling to a workplace log to create some motivation and healthy competition around the office,” she explains.
“We added categories to encourage more people, so we have flat cycling, hilly cycling, running, walking and swimming. Monthly prizes are given as incentive.”
While this started as a health drive, Alice soon saw a link to improving staff members’ carbon footprints.
“As architects, we have obvious environmental responsibility towards the buildings we design, but that also extends to our workplace,” she explains.
“All the journeys we make add up, and over the last few years we’ve logged thousands of active travel kilometres in place of car kilometres.
“The project has made us increasingly aware of the need to promote cycling and to include better cycling provision in buildings we’re creating.
“Cycling Scotland liked the way our simple ideas were working and awarded us Cycle Friendlty Employer Status. With their help, we plan to upgrade our facilties and widen the appeal to more family members and office visitors.”
Only 1,000,000 women – just three per cent of the population – cycle regularly, with many more men making bike journeys.
Alice reckons many women are put off because of heavy traffic, and fear showing up for work or social occasions sweaty and dishevelled!
“If you’re lucky enough to have a flat route and you allow time to cycle slowly, this isn’t really a problem – it’s no different to walking,” she says. “Getting an e-bike could be another option.”
While some people worry about wearing proper cycling gear, it’s fine to cycle in “normal” clothes, she says.
“One of my colleagues cycles to work in a suit. Alternatively, there’s commuting clothing which looks good and the design, material and cut is better for cycling. You don’t need to be dressed head to toe in lycra!”
Alice loves cycling because it’s good for the environment and well-being.
“Even though my commute is small, lots of small journeys add up. Cycling means cutting down on fuel usage and doing our bit to reduce the number of cars clogging up the busy streets of Broughty Ferry.
“I feel more connected to the community because rather than being encased inside a car, I can talk to people while cycling.
“I’ve found that other cyclists, posties and bin men will say hello as you pass – it’s more friendly.”
Alice plans routes through Dundee ahead of time to include safer roads and junctions, even if it takes longer, and recommends checking out the Dundee Cycle Map produced by the Council.
“You can improve your own safety by wearing a cycling helmet, a bright or reflective jacket and bike lights,” she advises.
“I’ve found drivers in this area to be considerate – they generally know to give cyclists a wide berth and we’re no longer expected to cycle in the gutter. We cyclists have to keep our side of the bargain too and aim to cycle considerately. I see tolerance between all road users being key to future progress.”
She advises taking time to choose the right bike and improving your cycling skills in a safe place.
“Remember all that Highway Code stuff learned at school about looking over your shoulder and signalling? I had a break in cycling for a while and getting back on felt unnatural. I found a bit of mountain bike training helped with general skills.”
Alice believes cycling routes need to be improved in Dundee, Broughty Ferry and across Scotland.
“More funding and a stronger political will is needed to put active travel – walking and cycling – higher up the priority list.
“Dundee has a good route around its perimeter but it’s very difficult to cross the city north to south safely.”
She would also like to see cycling becoming more “normal”.
“I’ve stopped apologetically taking my cycling helmet off when I nip into local shops!” she smiles.
“People should have the confidence to turn up to a meeting by bike without feeling self conscious.”
Alice joined a number of Dundee cycle clubs for a community ride before the Women’s Tour of Scotland bike race which started from Slessor Gardens earlier this month.
“It was a great event which will hopefully return next year and inspire more women to get into cycling,” she says.
So how did Alice feel when she found out she had made it onto the list of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling?
“Very proud!” she beams. “There are a lot of very worthy people alongside me.”