Getting Scotland cycling in 2021

man with cargo bike making delivery of flowers to woman at door of house
Shift enabled a florist in Strathaven to try cargo bike deliveries
As the project year comes to an end, Cycling UK head of development in Scotland, Suzanne Forup, takes a look back at what was achieved in our goal to get more people in Scotland out on their bikes

"Life changing," and "brilliant" are just some of the comments from people who have taken part in the projects that Cycling UK ran across Scotland in 2021. With the project year coming to a frantic end, before launching straight into the next one, I want to celebrate just some of the impacts that the behaviour change and development team have made over the last 12 months.

Our work is focused on reducing inequalities, supporting those that are further from starting their cycling journey or have more barriers to overcome. We start from where people are, whether in a group or as individuals, building relationships and an understanding of what they need to help them start – and stay – pedalling.

While infrastructure is a significant part of what enables people to cycle, we know that access to a suitable bike, the confidence and competence to use it and the motivation to keep riding through wet, cold and windy weather are all vital parts of Scotland achieving its long-term ambitions for increasing active travel.

As lockdown lifted last year Cycling UK launched two new programmes in Scotland. These built on the relationships and learning achieved in previous projects, using the experience gained from those to help us enable thousands more people to discover the joy of riding a bike – from short, everyday journeys to leisure or adventure rides.

Rural Connections launched in May, with new colleagues in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Moray, Caithness, the Scottish Borders and Argyll and Bute. Equipped as quickly as the pandemic allowed, with a fleet of cycles, including non-standard cycles such as tricycles and e-bikes, the team delivered more than 100 bike sessions and some 270 bike loans. Following a bike loan and confidence building session, one participant now cycles instead of driving for commuting and most local journeys, which really shows the difference that Rural Connections can make.

Amazing, actually life changing in thought process to planning my routes and commute. I’ve saved a fortune in fuel and feel better mentally and physically

Rural Connections participant, Caithness

The programme has also enabled Cycling UK to understand more about the unique challenges rural populations face in using cycles for short everyday journeys and how we can build active travel into every community.

The Shift programme launched in June. It has funded 100 local community organisations to help them support people to cycle for short, everyday journeys. Port Downie Community Action had eight new ride leader volunteers trained to expand the number of led rides the organisation can lead in the Falkirk area.

The Aviemore and Vicinity Community Council also used its funding for led rides, as well as two maintenance sessions to teach more people how to fix a puncture or a chain coming off during a ride.

All of our sessions were well attended and had waiting lists. At the bike maintenance sessions everyone commented on how much more confident they felt

Aviemore and Vicinity Community Council

As well as helping individuals get cycling, we've funded organisations to explore innovative cycling solutions for their businesses. For example, Carr Gomm in Argyll and Bute is a social care organisation. It has been exploring the use of e-bikes for its care staff to help them make home visits in a way that improves staff health and wellbeing as well as reducing carbon emissions.

After an initial trial with Ardrishaig Bothy bike loans last year, Carr Gomm has already bought two e-bikes that staff members in Mid Argyll use. In 2021, Shift has helped the organisation trial whether e-bikes could work for the team in Rothesay and to roll out further across the area.

Later in 2021 we opened the doors of Access Bikes, working with two credit unions on an innovative scheme to help support people on low incomes to access an interest-free loan. We are delighted that people benefited from the scheme in the few months it has run; however, we engaged with many more that wanted a cycle but couldn't afford loan repayments of any sort.

It's clear that with the increasing costs of living we need to provide individuals on the lowest incomes with free access to a bike. We hope that Access Bikes in 2022-23 will pilot a scheme that will enable us to support those that don't have the means to purchase a bike.

It's been my goal to get a bike for ages but didn't think I could pay for it all at once. I got my new bike today and I'm absolutely delighted with it. I also got a baby seat and it will let me take my wee girl on days out to get her out of the city. I wouldn't have been able to get my bike without Access Bikes

Access Bike loan recipient

The Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme went live again in November 2021, with a £1m repair fund to disperse in just five months in the season when people are thinking the least about cycling. Despite these challenges the team managed to deliver all the funding, working with more than 320 bike repair organisations the length of Scotland.

Repair data is surging into the system, but we expect to have funded some 20,000 repairs by the end of May; 30% of those are people living in the 40% most disadvantaged areas of Scotland, so we know we are reaching those that need help the most.

The Bothy programme was the inspiration for Rural Connections and is now a network of five linked projects in Aberdeenshire, Ardrishaig, Dunoon, Golspie and Inverclyde.

Loaning cycles, teaching people to ride, leading health walks and connecting communities across their regions, the Bothy development officers support anyone in the area that wants to get active outdoors. We were delighted that our team in Inverclyde won the prestigious Health Walk of the Year award, a richly deserved testament to their hard work.

Inspired by our Bothy work, we also ran a pilot in partnership with the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Cairngorms Trust exploring e-bike loans for residents of the national park area, resulting in two-thirds reducing their car use.

Our long-established preschool and family project, Play Together on Pedals Glasgow, has been delighted to get back into nurseries, reaching 537 children and their families this project year.

Sessions have been brilliant. Being able to learn how to cycle in a safe, fun and engaging environment has allowed both my children to develop their skills and confidence on their bikes

Parent, Glasgow.

With the launch delayed by an entire year in 2020, we were so pleased that we could finally start In Tandem, a project enabling blind and visually impaired people to get pedalling across the west of Scotland, as lockdown came to an end in June 2021.

Since then, tandem pilot training and stoker taster sessions have been offered throughout Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Glasgow. So far 46 people have attended one or more of the training sessions and there have been 26 visually impaired participants.

One of our Glasgow based riders commented:

I love being on the tandem as it gives me a sense of freedom. Being outdoors and meeting other people is a great experience

Glasgow based rider

I'm incredibly proud of what the team has achieved during another hard year, when so many of us had additional caring responsibilities and concerns outside work. We're delighted to see our work change lives and we're grateful to our funders for enabling us to do it.