Caught between two clashing cultures, the only time Fozia Naseem felt free as a child was when she was out on a bike. Now she has combined cycling with psychology and is helping other Asian women go up a gear in their own lives by teaching them to love riding too. ANILA BAIG reports

Fozia Naseem is a powerhouse of energy. She is currently teaching a biking session in Spenborough in the blazing heat and dozens of women – some of whom are 75 and some of whom wear the niqab – are hanging on her every word.

Most of us can relate to feeling caught between cultures but for Fozia, 49, the feeling was more extreme and began at a very early age.

The passion emanates from her as she describes how biking helped break the cycle of abuse in her life.

“I was born in Bradford but we lived in Wyke which meant that schools in Kirklees were closer to us. My brother and I would be the only Asian people in the school and this became an issue. At home I was brought up in a very strict Muslim way – nowadays Islam is practised with love but back then it was about fear – and at school I wanted to be like my western friends.

“I was about seven years old and remember being so confused and scared and I wanted to run away. Instead I jumped on my brother’s bike and felt this sense of peace and freedom for the first time. That’s when bikes became a huge part of my life.”

As she got older there were more times she had to get away on the bike.

“Mum and Dad thought I was too rebellious and influenced by western ways. I went through most of my childhood feeling worthless, unloved and lost.”

Matters came to a head when Fozia was 15 and two years later she was married off.

“I was rushed into marriage as my parents thought this would calm the situation but that didn’t work and the marriage was annulled.”

At 21 she got married again – her choice this time – but it wasn’t long before things soured.

She initially thought her family would disown her as she had made the choice to marry her aunt’s son but they supported her and her two children.

She married again for a third time but that marriage also failed, leaving her with five children.

“I made bad choices because of not feeling worthy of anything good and by the age of 32, I really wasn’t in a good place.”

Despite the personal trauma she was holding down a full-time job in marketing for Help the Aged but in her personal life things were at an all- time low.

“I was going through an incredibly difficult time. I had to have panic alarms installed at home.”

Again, going out on a bike gave her peace.

“I saw the world from a difference perspective where I connected with nature and found it grounded me and gave me a sense of belonging. I felt at peace and I was grateful I that I had my health and a body that served me well. It gave me self-respect.”

For the first time she began to look at the therapy side of cycling and realised that whatever had happened in the past was not her fault.

When her youngest daughter became very ill Fozia decided to take voluntary redundancy.

“It was a wake-up call. I was working so hard to provide materially for my kids but I wasn’t physically there for them. I re-evaluated my life and decided I wanted to spend more time with my children.”

She began to read self-help books by authors like Deepak Chopra and Anthony Robbins and became fascinated with Neuro Linguistic Programming as practised by the likes of Paul McKenna. It was then she realised that biking had been a form of therapy for her and she should combine cycling with self-help.

She undertook training and began working in schools at first but she wanted to go further.

With two women from a similar background, she set up Hop On, a not-for-profit social enterprise. All three women are qualified life coaches combining cycling with psychology.

“It’s not just about getting on a bike and enjoying the physical healthy side of it but it’s also got a psychological element to it.”

The sessions have been so successful she’s had to turn women away.

“I’ve never advertised, it is all word of mouth and there are on average 50 to 60 women who come to me on a Saturday morning at Lister Park. Ages range from two up to 75 and a few ladies wear the niqab.”

She also arranges day trips with the women where they can ride around beautiful countryside.

“We went to Sherwood Forest last year. I think some of the people there were a bit stunned to see all these Asian women- some in face veils- riding on bikes but after a few moments of awkwardness it was all very friendly.”

Fozia, who also is a qualified yoga instructor, has been recognised for her work and won a British Muslim award earlier this year.

“That was very unexpected, I nearly didn’t go to the event and it was really nice to be recognised. Sometimes you can wonder if you are doing the right thing but I feel very blessed. The aim is to help other women as much as I can.”

For more information go to