In lockdown, many of us rediscovered a passion for cycling.

But for Leanne Farmer, it turned into a full-time job with her bike-based tour company A Wee Pedal seeing huge demand since launching last April.

Ms Farmer, 41, takes groups of sightseers biking around Edinburgh – to nearby landmarks like Musselburgh beach and Rosslyn Chapel – providing not only bikes and helmets but also acting as a tour guide, describing points of interest and local history along the way. Her multi-faceted role is certainly quite a departure from her previous career as a PE teacher.

“I spent 12 years teaching in an international school in Asia but then we came back to Edinburgh to give my son a secondary school education in the UK,” she explains.

“I thought I would continue teaching but I wanted a new challenge. I started volunteering to offer free, women-only bike rides and I loved it so much that I realised I wanted to do it as a career, so I did various training courses to get qualified. 

“I posted my rides through TripAdvisor and got bookings quite quickly so I thought, right I’m going to try and make a business out of this. I was buying all these alternative guidebooks and my husband and I would go off and discover Edinburgh, practising the routes, and doing, literally, a lot of legwork.”

Such legwork is certainly a requirement of the job. During peak season in the summer, A Wee Pedal is booked out six days a week, with Ms Farmer cycling for three to four hours on each tour. And this year, as coronavirus impacted dramatically upon on tourist numbers in the capital, she began offering additional family-friendly tours and ‘confidence builder’ rides. 

“I have had to think outside the box,” she says. “At the beginning of lockdown I serviced more than 40 bikes for key workers for free, just to feel like I was helping in some way. I also started picking up a lot of Edinburgh-based families who were looking for an alternative, safe, active day out. I bring them out for four hours and take them, for example, from Edinburgh to Musselburgh beach on an 18 mile loop. 

“The parents can sit back and enjoy their kids cycling and not worry about getting a puncture or getting lost. I take care of that, I bring all the tools with me, I plan the route, I make sure that the kids have enough energy and they are kept busy along the way. I get a lot of families returning. I don’t see myself as delivering a bike ride but an experience.”

Parents are also reassured by Ms Farmer’s intricate knowledge of Edinburgh’s cycle lanes and quieter roads. She said: “I never take my tours through busy roads. If you know the cycle path network in Edinburgh it is very easy to stay on a cycle path most of the time, you just have to know how to link them together. And that’s what I see my job as.

“I also do women-only bike rides, with ladies right up to aged 70, where I build their confidence by helping them discover quiet roads or cycle paths they don’t know about. 

“A lot of them dusted off bikes during lockdown that had been sitting in their garages for 20 years, then realised that they preferred it to the car and that they wanted to keep healthy by cycling. 

“But some are now scared to cycle in traffic or on the roads, so I take them along traffic-free routes that they can then use by themselves once they’ve had the initial ride with me. 

“I also deliver classes where I teach them how to deal with punctures or fix chains. Women want to feel empowered, they don’t just want to rely on the man of the house for bike maintenance, they want to be more independent.”
Yet by showing people the hidden cycle lanes of Edinburgh, then teaching them to carry out their own bike maintenance, does Ms Farmer worry that she is making her own business redundant?

“Once people do one tour with me, I actually find that they come back several times, they come again with their kids to do a family tour. And yes people can go and find the routes by themselves, but having a guide to show you the history of the place adds a whole experience.

“And above all, I get enormous satisfaction when people improve their confidence. My goal is to get more people cycling, for a healthier lifestyle, and get families to do something safe and healthy and Covid-safe. I want to help more people experience the pure joy of being on a bike.

My youngest client is four and my oldest is 70 – cycling is there for all.”