The transforming power of cycling
Seeing the impact inclusive cycling has on those with disabilities even after just a few hours is a heart-warming experience at the best of times. This week, I helped out at an event at Alice Holt Forest and it is a day I will never forget.
As a monitoring and evaluation officer, I don’t often get a chance to see the real impact of inclusive cycling. I’ve visited a couple of wonderful sessions, but an event at the Cycling UK-affiliated Alice Holt club really moved me and was very emotional for all involved.
I joined inclusive cycling officer, Tim Janes and session volunteer Peter Jeans at the Alice Holt Forest where we spent a good hour getting the cycles ready. I had a great time trying out the range of cycles available and even went on a mini tour of the forest on the back of the tandem, with Tim in the driving seat.
Our riders finally arrived and soon everyone was cycling or waiting their turn for the bike of their choice. The side-by-side tandems were popular as the riders could cycle with their carers. Those in wheelchairs got a chance to cycle round the forest, too!
The smiles and excitement I saw in their faces was apparent all day – even the girl who told me that she "didn’t like cycling, sorry" had the biggest grin on her face as she and her carer whooshed along the cycle track on the side-by-side tandem.
Despite the possibility of heavy rain, they kept cycling. At the end of the session the group sang and chanted 'We don’t want to go' and 'This was the best day ever' and we were overcome with hugs and thank yous.
Kay Lakin, Cycling UK Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
Speaking with the group afterwards it was evident that just these few hours had created a change in their thoughts to cycling. As an 18 year old in the group said: “I think this is so special. To give disabled an equal chance." All of the carers were shocked and emotional as they saw the faces of the group light up when they realised they could have a go at cycling.
Many of those in the group had never had the chance to cycle before, believing that it was something that they couldn’t do. The charity leader for the group said: “One 12 year old – who suffers from cerebral palsy - cried when getting off the bus to come to the cycling session. She said, ‘Why are we going to a park to ride bikes if I cannot ride one?’ When she did get onto one of the bikes, she cried again. She was so emotional. She just couldn’t believe that she was riding a bike for the first time in her life. It brought tears to my eyes."
On that day, everyone of them, regardless of their disability, age or previous cycling experience, was given the same chance: to get on a cycle and ride through the forest, and they loved it. Do I think they’ll be back? Oh, yes!
Alice Holt is one of over 40 Cycling UK-affiliated inclusive cycle clubs in England. The club forms part of the newly-established National Inclusive Cycling Network which was set-up in partnership with Cycling Projects, and is funded through the Big Lottery Fund.