Bringing girl power to Banbridge Cycle Club

Laura McAleenan
Laura McAleenan

Back in the 1950’s Banbridge Cycling Club was a popular organisation with a lot to offer, but it lacked just one thing - lady members - until brave Laura Battersby came along.

Reminicing on the times she spent cycling, Laura now in her 80’s tells of how she became the first lady member of Banbridge Cycling Club.

It seems that Laura (now Laura McAleenan) was destined to cycle, beginning to learn at the age of 11.

“I had no bike of my own to learn on, so I suppose I just borrowed here and there from friends and neighbours and whoever would let me have a go, and from then on I knew I loved it,” said Laura.

“I didn’t get a bike of my own until I was about 16 or 17 years old. I still remember it - my mum had bought me a beautiful, black, shiny ladies bicycle. I suppose it was a stretch for my parents to afford it but several of my friends had got bicycles and as I was the only one who didn’t, my mum didn’t want me to be left out.”

Pleased and all as Laura was with the new bike though, a problem quickly arose.

“I’d made friends with some of the guys from Banbridge Cycling Club. At that time there were no female members and they were encouraging me to join the club, but I knew I couldn’t join with a ladies bike”.

Undeterred, Laura went to the owner of the bicycle shop to enquire if he would take her bike back and exchange it for a racing bike. Kindly he agreed.

“I’m sure my mum wasn’t too pleased with me” Laura laughs, “but she went along with it anyway.”

Full of adventure in her youth, Laura said: “I’m sure my mother wouldn’t be too happy to admit that I was a bit of a tom-boy, but I suppose I was.”

After Bertie Heathwood, the president of the cycle club gave assurances that any female members would be well looked after, Laura signed up.

“The club was glad to have girls joining and I was welcomed. Soon after two other girls joined too.”

And indeed it seems the girls were well looked after. Laura said: “I remember when we got a puncture we were able to sit down and rest while the boys fixed it for us - they were true gentlemen then.”

Laura loved the freedom and fresh air that came with cycling and said: “I really just loved getting out and about, but not competing or speed. I loved climbing in the mountains and quite often we would have cycled to Newcastle and then went on up into the Mournes. We always brought a picnic with us and took time to stop and take in the views.

“Somehow the weather always seemed to be good” said Laura, although she admits this is probably a rose-tined memory as she also recalls the large capes they used to cover themselves with, in wet weather. “Perhaps I just don’t remember the bad weather”.

While the traffic on the roads was much quieter in the 1950’s, Laura says the roads also seemed narrower.

“You just never knew what was round a tight bend and if you weren’t careful you could easily have landed in a ditch”.

Laura still loves walking in the countryside and while it’s been 5 years now since she last climbed a mountain, she says it’s been a lot longer since she rode a bicycle, though she doesn’t mind.

“Things change” she said, “and there came a time when family came along and it was just easier to get about by car.

“The memories of the good times live on in your mind though, and you just get on with it and do what you can now. I’m still involved with a local walking club and still love getting out into the countryside for walks”.

Laura has passed her love of cycling onto her children though, with a son who is involved in mountain biking and a daughter who followed in her footsteps to became the first lady member of the Apollo Cycling Club in Lurgan.

Since the 1950’s Banbridge Cycling Club has gone from strength to strength and today has over 140 members of all ages and abilities, making it one of the largest clubs in Ireland.