Ride with us: the community groups who are making cycling for all
Cycling UK believes that cycling is an activity that everyone should be able to enjoy. You might think that a bike is all that’s needed to open up almost limitless opportunities to improve health and fitness, save money on transport and have fun. In practice, however, if you’re not an able-bodied, heterosexual white man, you are much less likely to cycle.
The reasons for this are many and varied, but Cycling UK has a number of Community Cycle Clubs and affiliated groups that are making cycling more accessible in their local areas. I spoke to three of them to find out what they are doing to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups in cycling.
St Augustine’s Centre
St Augustine’s Centre works with asylum seekers and refugees in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Last year its Community Cycle Club was born, offering bike repair and maintenance workshops as well as led rides to support members into cycling and to enable them to embrace active travel.
Initially, it also repaired donated bikes to give to members, but changing to a bike library setup has allowed it to create a community of new cyclists.
Premises manager Paul Clarke told me: “It’s easy to give a bike away but harder to create a regular cyclist who feels part of a community. Before, we didn’t know how people were using the bikes, or even if they were using the bikes at all.
“Due to the transient nature of the sector, sometimes people are told to move quickly, without enough time to return the bike. Or it may be that they get a puncture and don’t know how or can’t afford to fix it.
“Some people may not have cycled since childhood and need a helping hand to work the gears, or they may not be confident to ride much in an unfamiliar area. We can help with all of that.”
Since moving to a scheme that provides short-term bike loans for free in 2023, Paul and his team have been able to build relationships with members who are repeat visitors, to offer them further support with cycling as well as introducing them to suitable activities taking place there.
“We don’t want people to just come and get a bike then wave goodbye to them. We want to encourage them to take part in music, football, dancing, boxing, art or one of the many other activities we offer, to give them a chance to socialise with others and enjoy themselves.”
And, of course, cycling is a big part of that, with weekly led rides and repair sessions attracting healthy numbers. These activities are possible thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers, some of whom took part in training courses offered by Cycling UK through the Community Cycle Clubs programme.
St Augustine’s has also delivered events funded by Cycling UK’s Big Bike Revival and Active Calderdale. Its involvement with Cycling UK extends to referring a number of community members to West Yorkshire’s Cycle for Health programme, which is run jointly by the charity and West Yorkshire Combined Authority to engage people with long-term health conditions in cycling lessons.
With 705 people in the area seeking asylum, Paul feels there is a real need for what St Augustine’s is providing. “Just as important as ensuring our community members are safe is the need to engage them in meaningful activities like cycling, which helps their health, offers free transport and means they aren’t sitting alone in a hotel room,” he said.
Dalby Forest Cycle Hub
It was a chance encounter that led Rob Brown into inclusive cycling. He had taken an accessible approach to delivering Bikeability in schools in the Scarborough area by providing bikes to enable children who didn’t own one, or couldn’t transport it to school, to take part.
When it became clear that some children who initially refused to take part were interested but unable to ride, Rob started doing learn-to-ride sessions. Then one day, a teacher mentioned that one boy wouldn’t be taking part as he was a wheelchair user. Rob was determined to find a way to include the boy, even though he had no idea what that would be.
Rob said: “It seemed so unfair that this boy would be left out while all his classmates were going out on bikes. I found a tag-along trike, which I attached to my bike, and that worked well as it helped him with balance while allowing him to pedal.
“I told him that I would just be the engine and would follow his commands. He loved it, and I realised that one simple thing like that could make a big difference.”
Word spread and soon Rob was asked to provide cycling sessions for other children in the area with mobility impairments, gradually building a fleet of non-standard cycles and gaining experience.
Around five years ago, he joined forces with local bike shop Big Bear Bikes to take on the cycle hire business at Dalby Forest, enabling visitors to the forest to hire regular or non-standard cycles to explore the miles of trails and fire roads.
“The high purchase cost of non-standard cycles means that they are unaffordable to many, so we think it’s really important to offer them for hire alongside the regular mountain bikes for much the same cost. We don’t know of anywhere else that does that, but it’s only right to open up the forest to everyone, as everyone has the right to enjoy it.”
Dalby Forest Cycle Hub CIC, which is an affiliate member of Cycling UK, now boasts an impressive fleet, with recumbent e-trikes, an e-handcycle, side-by-side tandems, a wheelchair transporter and more. As well as individuals, the adaptive cycles are open to use by groups.
“We have volunteers who take groups into the forest on the network of fire roads, as the singletrack trails are too narrow for them. It’s great for social interaction, in fact we call the side-by-side tandems ‘talking bikes’ as they are so good for that. People love riding together and it also means they don’t get lost in the forest!”
No Limits to Health
Sam Henry’s parents couldn’t afford to buy him a bike but when he was given one by a friend at age 13, it changed his life. With that in mind, many years later in 2020, he founded No Limits to Health after a career in youth work demonstrated the difference that engaging people with the outdoors can make.
He vowed to spend the rest of his life enabling others to experience the joys and benefits of cycling for physical health and mental wellbeing: “Since we’ve been going, people’s lives have been changed.”
No Limits to Health CIC now has two hubs in Wolverhampton, which offer cycling activities to everyone and also support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into competitive cycling.
As well as being one of Cycling UK’s Community Cycle Clubs, No Limits to Health has been funded by Cycling UK to run Big Bike Revival events, with the focus in summer 2023 on learn-to-ride sessions and led rides, along with some Dr Bike sessions. Sam has seen for himself how these events widen access to cycling.
“I can tell you that Big Bike Revival works. In my opinion it’s one of the best things that Cycling UK has done as you’re putting money where it’s making an impact. The Cycling UK development officers I have worked with have been so wonderful and helpful – I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.”
These events form part of the social enterprise’s Summer of Cycling, which also includes weekend rides and longer tours across Wolverhampton and the Black Country. Events run in spring and autumn.
“The tours give us a chance to show local people that right where you live are paths which will lead to beautiful places that you didn’t know existed, and you wouldn’t know from driving past; you only discover them on foot or by bike.
“There are some amazingly green routes in the heart of the West Midlands – canals which are teeming with nature. You don’t have to travel to Spain or Portugal or anywhere else to see beautiful places. We have them right here!”
Sam is now in a position to advocate for more and improved cycle routes in the area, in his role as bicycle mayor for Wolverhampton. “Thanks to the work of Cycling UK and others, the UK Government is now realising that if we’re going to get more people on bikes, we have to improve the cycling infrastructure. And more and more UK councils are getting on board with the idea of a bicycle mayor.”
As a spiritual person, the humble bicycle wheel has special meaning for Sam. “People don’t realise how spiritual the wheels on a bicycle are. If you read the Bible, Ezekiel chapter one talks about the wheel within the wheel. The wheel is eternal – as long as it has bearings inside, it will keep rolling forever.”
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