With the RideLondon cycling weekend returning at the end of May, we thought we’d look back at the first time cyclists from Wheels for Wellbeing took part in the RideLondon events, and the regular Dare to Ride group cycle rides that grew out of it.

A group of individuals using non-standard cycles including Velo-plus style ride on with wheelchair cycles sit together in Dulwich park.

In 2019, our cycling instructors thought that some of our session cyclists might, with a bit of extra training and support, be capable of taking part in the shorter RideLondon rides. They led some extra training rides each Friday evening for three months, to give some session cyclists the chance to go longer distances and cycle away from sessions. In retrospect, three months was probably not enough to build up to the 19 mile RideLondon ride, but participants enjoyed the training rides and each cyclist still took part with their own supporters.

“Before attending the cycling sessions, I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a child.  The sessions are brilliant as there are always cycling instructors that give good tips and guidance.  I would never have had the courage to cycle on the streets of London, and Emma and team have made a way for that to happen, keeping us safe whilst we journey. It’s more than a fun ride, it’s about adding value and quality to life as well”

Parent of Disabled Child

Due to the success of the extra rides in 2019, we decided to apply for funding to repeat the rides in April-August 2020, both as training for cyclists hoping to take part in the shorter RideLondon ride, and for those who would enjoy cycling outside of a sports centre and might take part in the RideLondon Freeride. Those plans were disrupted by COVID-19 and the cancellation of the 2020 RideLondon, but rather than abandon the training rides we used the funding for weekly led rides from Ladywell Day Centre and Herne Hill Velodrome.

Once we started doing weekly ‘Dare to Ride’ rides, they became far more than just a training opportunity for cyclists in the run up to the RideLondon cycling events. They became an important social event and an opportunity to gain confidence in cycling for a wide range of Disabled cyclists, and their family and friends. Participants at our Ladywell inclusive cycling sessions regularly had access to Ladywell Park, providing them with more variety than cycling in the Ladywell Day Centre car park and sports hall. Non-Disabled family members and supporters also learnt to ride in order to join the Herne Hill Dare to Ride sessions around Brockwell Park. These weekly sessions aren’t as long as the original Friday evening cycle rides, but they have a wider range of participants.

“[My daughter] has been cycling with Wheels for Wellbeing for years at the Herne Hill Velodrome, a purpose-built sports venue hosting adapted cycling around the circular track. Cycling in Ladywell Fields, a park with varied terrain, shrubs and trees close to the paths, clouds moving overhead and passersby on foot was quite different – a truly magical experience for our profoundly learning-disabled daughter with complex and significant neurological and sensory impairments. She “came alive”, shrieking with joy and jumping around (as her wheelchair allowed) with physical excitement.”

Parent of Disabled child

Cycling in groups gives many cyclists from our sessions the confidence to cycle on the road, which has allowed our cycling instructors to lead group rides further afield, or to accompany cyclists from our sessions on bigger mass rides. The cost of non-standard cycles and the difficulty of storing larger cycles means than many Disabled cyclists do not own their own cycle and can only enjoy longer and more varied rides during Dare to Ride sessions. Cyclists have taken part in themed rides led by us, consultation rides with other cycling charities, and in IBikeLondon mass rides. The weekly rides have become an important chance to socialise and support people’s physical and mental wellbeing, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It has become something that’s for more than just Disabled cyclists: it encourages family members and support workers to get out and get cycling, and builds a bigger community of Disabled and non-Disabled cyclists.

A group of cyclists looking relaxed in a park environment, they're using recumbent and non-standard cycles, a couple of them are holding ice lollies, all are smiling.

“In addition to my physical wellbeing it has been a lifeline mentally. Being able to ride in a social setting rather than an organised session has been wonderful knowing that I am among “friends”. It has given me a new lease of life.”

Disabled cyclist

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