Cycle Stories: Em and Ben

Stories from those who cycle with us.

This is the third article in our new series, by Charles Critchell, which explore every aspect of our London-based cycle sessions and led rides. Since our cycle operations started in 2007, our impactful programmes have helped thousands of Disabled people to try cycling in a safe and supportive environment. This has led to participants experiencing a range of health, wellbeing, and social benefits. This series is designed to bring our collective skills, knowledge, and experience together to create better opportunities for all who want to try inclusive cycling. 

Charles Critchell is an active travel professional and a non-Disabled cyclist. For this series, Charles worked closely with Wheels for Wellbeing to learn more about the charity’s cycle sessions and led-rides with the aim of sharing the experiences of its staff, volunteers, and cyclists.

“It’s great to be part of the fabric, part of the scene”. Cyclist Em tells me what involvement with Wheels for Wellbeing means to her as we sit amid shipping containers which form the enclosure at Herne Hill Velodrome. Em is one of many cyclists who began cycling with Wheels for Wellbeing at one of the charity’s weekly, track-based sessions but has now progressed to participating in led-rides. Another led-ride regular is Ben, who I interviewed outside the velodrome’s pavilion. Both Em and Ben have been attending cycle sessions with the charity for several years, and tell me that the opportunity to advance their cycling through a variety of led-rides has provided them with a whole range of benefits, some which they had hoped for and others they could not have foreseen.

Photograph of two cyclists on a wide tarmac path with trees in the back ground. One is riding and upright trike - he is a white man, and the other is riding a recumbent trike - she is a white woman.
Ben and Em with their trikes ready to set off on a led ride.

As other cyclists move unhurriedly around us, Em explains that she moved to Beckenham in 1996, at the time of her illness. Until she began cycling with Wheels for Wellbeing in 2020, she hadn’t cycled since she became ill and had relied exclusively on her car to travel to and from places. To help improve her health, she googled hypermobility and was surprised to find that inclusive cycling was listed as an option: “I had no idea that non-standard cycles existed, so this came as a huge revelation”. She relays that aside from offering her the raw thrill of cycling – something she had not experienced in over 20 years – sessions and led-rides soon became an important social outlet which enabled her to build strong friendships with fellow participants and Wheels for Wellbeing staff.

Photograph of a white woman riding a recumbent trike. She is wearing dark glasses and smiling at the camera.
Em getting ready for the led ride.

Unlike Em, Ben first heard about Wheels for Wellbeing by word of mouth. In 2018, Ben’s swimming instructor recommended that he should consider inclusive cycling to complement his swimming and gym work. Born in London, Ben tells me that he has always cycled, including in Manchester where he studied prior to moving back home following his graduation. Ben was unsure that he’d be able to cycle again after his stroke, but was delighted to discover that Wheels for Wellbeing offered both a range of cycle-types and a suitable programme which could enable him to return to the road: “The staff have been very supportive, especially in helping me to develop my confidence through the led-rides”.

Ben says that he restarted cycling at weekly sessions where instructors immediately paired him with a red Pashley trike. The trike proved to be so well suited to Ben’s requirements that he has since purchased one – pointing it out to me as we speak: “I’m able to store it here (at the velodrome) so I can use it for both sessions and led-rides”. Like Ben, Em also started at Herne Hill’s weekly cycle sessions, though unlike Ben, staff paired her with different cycles based on her evolving needs: “I started on a non-battery cycle then switched to an e-assist which helped me with led-rides”. Em additionally highlights that when she fractured her leg in 2021, instructors provided her with a suitable cycle so that she could continue to join in led-rides.

Photograph of a white man on an upright trike. He is wearing a cycle helmet and an orange high-vis vest.
Ben getting ready for the led ride.

While both cyclists had specific motivations for beginning cycling again, they tell me that the wider benefits they have experienced from their association with the charity has been invaluable. For Em, the sense of community which comes from participating in rides including the 2021 International Women’s Day Ride, has been transformational: “It’s provided me with a whole new dimension of enjoyment to everyday life”. Furthermore, she says that she’s been able to engage with other people at the charity, notably the office staff including Director Isabelle Clement and Campaigns and Policy Manager Kay Inckle. Isabelle helped Em to resolve potentially sensitive issues concerning session car parking, while Kay has provided her with insights and advice on accessible travel to foreign countries.

Ben also has experience of Wheels for Wellbeing’s wider personnel: “I initially volunteered at cycle sessions but soon began to support office staff with research and fundraising; I did that for several months”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, championing community and helping others is important to both Ben and Em. Ben tells me that he volunteers for a London-branch of FoodCycle, a leading UK-wide food charity which helps to reduce food poverty and aims to end loneliness. Em is a member of a women’s group which works to help disabled minority ethnic women to cope with the pressures of securing, and retaining, benefit payment with local councils – something she has first-hand experience of: “Councils are constantly requiring proof of how payments are related to disability, which takes time, energy and can stop you living your life”.

Both cyclists acknowledge that their association with Wheels for Wellbeing continues to be important in supporting them to live the lives they want. For Em, cycle sessions have provided a huge boost for her confidence, while led-rides have helped her to travel to places and interact with people she may not have otherwise: “It’s great to actually see these things, and to be seen”. Ben has formed strong friendships with other led-ride participants, who offer him lifts to and from the velodrome and with one who he regularly meets for a coffee and a catch up. Em, who herself was initially unsure as to whether attending a cycle session was for her, has only one piece of advice for those considering it: “Just do it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain – the freedom, the benefits – it really is brilliant”.

If you’re interested in attending one of our cycle sessions or led-ride, please contact to discuss your requirements


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