I‘VE been here before, although only in nightmares. It’s late morning in a congested Glasgow city centre and I am sitting on a purple bicycle in the middle of the road, sandwiched between a gigantic 4x4 and an even bigger bus. The air reeks of diesel, car engines are rattling around in my brain and it occurs to me that with one mis-turn of the handlebars, I’d be underneath a lorry. Yet uncharacteristically, I am not afraid.

The reason for my sanguine constitution is gliding a few yards ahead, reassuringly visible in turquoise kameez and brightly coloured hijab. Shgufta Anwar is development officer with Bike For Good, a charity dedicated to getting people cycling. And today she has offered to accompany me on a two-wheeled commute from my southside home to the Sunday Herald’s city centre office, as part of an investigation into the practical steps needed to turn wannabe cyclists into the real thing.

I’m one of those people who think about cycling to work but never do – partly because of laziness but mainly through fear. A keen bike-rider in my youth, I gave up in adulthood and although I firmly believe we all need to pedal more and motor less, I sit every morning on a bus crawling up Hope Street, mentally congratulating the overtaking cyclists but also noticing how vulnerable they look and deciding that I probably won’t be following in their wheel-tracks tomorrow.

Yet now here I am on that very street, a little befuddled by the myriad junctions and road markings but deeply grateful for Anwar’s presence beside me at each set of traffic lights, and for her calm and careful guidance as we make our way up the hill, turn right into Renfrew Street, and finally, take a left into the Herald building’s courtyard.

“How do you feel?” she asks. And I answer, truthfully, that I am a wee bit knackered, but also totally elated.

Bike For Good (BFG) is the brainchild of Greg Kinsman-Chauvet, who was a velo-phobic following a childhood accident in his native France, but conquered his fear in his mid-20s after moving to Scotland and taking lessons with the Edinburgh Bike Station. Inspired by that organisation and struggling to get his bike fixed in his adopted city of Glasgow, he set up a cycle repair and recycling facility in the Barras market in 2010. Eight years on, BFG has a 50-strong staff who offer training sessions and led rides to community groups and individuals from two Glasgow branches in the west end and south side.

It’s in the buzzing south side hub that my own return journey to cycling began just 24 hours before today’s city centre commute. Having heard that females are half as likely as males to cycle in the city, I was keen to find out why and among those dropping in for BFG’s women-only rides I met ladies who never learned as children, often because their cultures didn’t encourage girls to ride bikes, and others like me who are simply put off by urban traffic.

One woman told me she wanted to gain confidence to take bike trips with her children and grandchildren. Another said her goal was to be able to take a cycling holiday. “That used to seem like an impossible dream,” she said. “But after a few sessions here, I’m beginning to think maybe I could do it.” Someone else mentioned health. “It helps my diabetes and depression. It’s very friendly here, and my brain is happy when I’m cycling.”

There was plenty of happiness in evidence in the lush green surroundings of nearby Queen’s Park a few minutes later, as Anwar and her colleagues worked with complete beginners, showing them how to balance by using their feet to propel themselves along a downhill slope. And when one woman finally took off, everybody whooped. Later, a more advanced group practised gear changes and learned signalling techniques by high-fiving with the instructors.

“You don’t have to go on busy roads to enjoy cycling,” says Anwar later, “and we show people that there are other ways to get around using parks, cycle paths and quiet roads. For a lot of women with young children, that’s what they want.”

Pedalling in the park is one thing, however. If Scotland is to become a greener, healthier country with cleaner air and quieter streets, cycling needs to become not just a pleasant pastime, but a serious means of transport. Recent research by active travel campaign Sustrans found that while 68% of women believe their city would be a better place if more people travelled by bike, 73% almost never do so – primarily because of safety fears.

So how do we overcome these, not irrational, concerns and get more people to swap two wheels for four? You can, after all, become the most skilful cyclist on earth and still be no match for a tonne of metal driven by a boy or girl racer who is chatting on their phone. Last year, even Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman said he didn’t feel safe cycling on the roads.

Shgufta Anwar understands those concerns and points out that while active travel infrastructure is increasing (there’s a brand new designated path currently under construction in Victoria Road), so too is the volume of motor traffic. “You hear about families with four cars,” she says.

Her hope is that “the number of safe and aware cyclists we put out there in the community will at some point tip the balance”. Changing mindsets is key, she says. “We encourage people to think of themselves as multi-mode travellers who share roads and paths. So while we teach people to cycle safely, use crossings correctly, not skip lights and be aware of other road users, we also do training courses for lorry drivers and get them out on a bike for a day.”

She’s seen things from a motorist’s perspective, too, having once been ticked off for getting too close to a cyclist while dropping her children at school. “He tapped on the window and said - ‘One false move and you could kill me whereas there’s nothing I could do to you.’ That resonated with me, and now when I’m driving I am more likely to give cyclists space, stay well back.”

Some barriers to cycling have nothing to do with traffic phobia and in multi-ethnic Govanhill, many first-time cyclists who approach BFG are Muslim women for whom dress can be an issue, though as Anwar points out, it’s perfectly possible to find modest clothing that still allows free movement. Others mistakenly think religion prevents them from cycling, but as Anwar explains: “Islam tells people to look after the environment and the body you’ve been given.”

Perceptions of cycling as a low-status activity can be another inhibitor, particularly among better off women who are used to driving big cars and view getting on a bike as a step backwards.

Having previously run cycling projects for the charity Al-Meezan, Anwar found health to be an important motivator among Asian women. “There was a group of ladies who were coming out on bikes to improve their health and their families’ health. But when they got into it and began hearing the climate messages they were saying – wait a minute, this is in line with my faith. So they started commuting a couple of times a week and some of them still meet for bike rides on Saturday mornings before their kids and husbands get up.”

If they can do it, so can I, I decided as I set out on this guided dry run to my workplace earlier this morning. Having consulted the City Council-produced Glasgow Cycle Map, Anwar planned our route using designated paths, quiet roads and parks wherever possible.

I’ve been heartened by the fact most of the drivers we’ve encountered seem considerate and careful; nobody cuts us up and cars generally seem to be holding back and giving us space. (Cycling friends have told me, however, that this isn’t universal so I heed Anwar’s advice to stay visible and avoid shrinking into the left hand side of junction bike boxes, thus inviting motorists to sneak riskily past.) And by the time we begin our return journey to the south side, I am mentally raking through the garden shed for an old bike that could be resurrected as a commuting vehicle. Back in the BFG hub, I ask Greg Kinsman-Chauvet what needs to happen for Glasgow and other Scottish cities to become truly cycle-friendly. “I think we need to change the mentality, but in my experience you can’t do that by preaching at people,” he says “I always say we are not a campaigning organisation but what we try to do is help people get into cycling by showing them how to fix their bike or feel confident on the road. And hopefully, slowly, we will eventually reach a tipping point where there are so many cyclists that the government will have to prioritise that.”

I mention Amsterdam, where up to 70% of inner city trips are made by bike, the infrastructure is first-class and speed limits are rigorously enforced. “In Holland, motorists are so considerate,” he says. “They see you 100m away, they slow down, they give you space. Why? Because everybody rides a bike. These drivers actually cycle themselves and even if they don’t, they know the cyclists might be their neighbours or friends, so if you hit someone it might be someone you know because everybody cycles.”

This morning, Kinsman-Chauvet is accompanied by his two-year-old son Leo. Will Leo cycle to school when he’s older? “Hopefully by the time he is six there will be more cycle paths,” says his father. “But the truth is, unless the cycle path stretches all the way to school I won’t be happy about him cycling to school, even if he is confident and fearless.” Why? “Because of the mentality of drivers. They are not aware of cyclists and it’s too dangerous.”

Yesterday morning in Queen’s Park, I heard someone express the hope that while Glasgow isn’t yet Copenhagen - a city with five times as many bikes as cars - “give it a generation and we will get there”.

It sounded optimistic. But I’m beginning to think a generation is far too long to wait. Having grown up roaming freely on my bike then raised my own children in a congested environment that made me fearful of letting them cycle, it seems to me that we owe it to our kids, and ourselves, to stop waiting for change and start making it happen. Back in 2010, the Scottish Government’s stated vision was that “by 2020, 10% of all journeys taken in Scotland [would] be by bike”.

In the latest 2017-20 Cycling Action Plan, it said it “remains committed” to that “shared vision”, but with only two years to go and just 1.2% of journeys currently made by bicycle, it’s not looking likely. The Scottish Green Party want to see 10% of the transport budget dedicated to active travel and a default speed limit of 20mph in all residential areas, and that sounds sensible to me.

“Things only go fast when there is a crisis,” observes Kinsman-Chauvet. “We are about to reach an environmental crisis that will accelerate things.” But as he points out, we surely need to act before disaster engulfs us – whether that’s in terms of global warming or an intolerable number of cyclist deaths.

Walking home through the park, I find myself relishing the fresh, exhaust-free air and pondering the fact that Scotland’s transport revolution is being hindered by the old chicken and egg conundrum. Until more people cycle and start demanding infrastructural improvements, local and central government won’t commit more resources. But until roads are safer, getting people to cycle will be an uphill struggle on a rusty old boneshaker with no gears.

At just over three miles, my commute took about 30 minutes each way – around 30% slower than a seasoned cyclist’s time, but faster than a bus or train journey including walking to and from the stop or station. A rush-hour car journey, including parking, would have taken longer – and been much less fun.

And that’s a crucial factor. Because the biggest revelation from my Bike For Good experience has been that cycling is actually great fun. In the 30 years I’ve been getting on and off buses, I’d forgotten that.

So will I do it again? I’ll certainly heed Shgufta Anwar’s advice and get more expert instruction before braving the roads on my own. But after that … I’m game if you are.

To find out about cycling lessons, repairs and other services near you visit www.bikeforgood.org.uk (for Glasgow), www.thebikestation.org.uk (for Edinburgh and Perth), www.recyke-a-bike.co.uk (for Stirling), www./velocitylove.co.uk (for Inverness). For further information about walking and cycling visit www.sustrans.org.uk