This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 147.
Keep calm and carry on riding! Cycling has often been a force for good during the pandemic – enabling volunteers, giving children new independence, boosting local businesses and charities and helping many of us stay active and support our mental health during a difficult time. Here are just a few good news stories…
Volunteers and Fundraisers
Bury St Edmunds Rickshaw
Bury St Edmunds Rickshaw started in 2018 when the town and district councillors gave us grant money to purchase a Christiania Taxi trishaw. We recruited and trained 20 volunteer riders, and were soon offering free rides around Bury for people stuck at home owing to limited mobility or social isolation. The bike has eight speeds and electric assistance and is easy to ride, although it does require a bit of effort to get it uphill fully loaded. We got permission to ride round the Abbey Gardens and Arc shopping centre, where cycling is usually prohibited. Most passengers choose to go round the Abbey Gardens for their ride, but we will go anywhere in the town. Some passengers like to see the area they grew up in, or bits of the town that have been recently developed. We collect people from their home or day centre, and take them back after the ride.
The rides have proved very popular, and the rickshaw is busy every day in the summer months. We covered 4,000 miles in our first two summer seasons. This winter we took the seat out and used the rickshaw as a cargo bike for moving surplus supermarket food for Bury Drop-In (a homelessness project) and the Best Before Project (that tackles food waste). We also did deliveries for Bury’s two foodbanks and the Women’s Refuge. Some hardy senior citizens still wanted to go out in the cold weather, so we continued rides for them as required, albeit with blankets, woolly hats and mittens for them to use.
With the coronavirus outbreak, the volunteer riders shifted their efforts to moving goods for self-isolators – shopping, medication and other essential supplies – using the rickshaw to carry bulky shopping, and their own bicycles for smaller items, whilst maintaining strict safety protocols and social distancing at all times. Volunteers collect and deliver prescriptions from all of Bury’s pharmacies, shopping that has been ordered by phone or online from any shop in town, and Foodbank donations and parcels. We’ve done around 500 deliveries in the month since lockdown started. Some riders have trailers or cargo bikes of their own, and these have been useful too. Thirteen riders have joined us to help with the prescription deliveries, using their own bikes. The biggest pressure has been dealing with phone calls and allocating jobs to the riders.
Cycling Deliveries for Cambridgeshire Scrub Hub
The Cambridgeshire Scrub Hub is part of a national network of volunteers, sewing scrubs for healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Local organiser Tricia Sutton and her team of over 600 sewers have produced thousands of sets of scrubs since beginning the project in April, supplying them to Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust, Addenbrooke’s Hospital and local care homes. Tricia wanted to ensure eco-friendly deliveries wherever possible, so several Camcycle members stepped up to join the team of cycle couriers delivering fabric to the sewers and scrubs to the healthcare workers. Thank you to all those who helped with this vital work!
4000 Miles From Home: A Sponsored Ride for Romsey Mill
The 4,000-mile journey began on 16 April 2020. We had been in lockdown for a couple of weeks. Just prior to lockdown I had started cycling again following quite a nasty bicycle accident in February, but with lockdown I wasn’t able to cycle into work anymore as I was working from home every day.
I am a severe asthmatic and cycling has been a really positive thing in keeping me healthy and active. It helps my breathing and I am healthier than I have been for some years. So, I decided to combine my love of cycling with doing something positive for Romsey Mill, a local Cambridge charity that I have been involved with since 1992 and for which I currently work. Romsey Mill has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. The loss of vital funds from the hire of community rooms, and the closure of the charity shop and Cara Coffee shop, alone amounts to over £25,000 a month.
From 16 April, there were 260 days left until the end of 2020 and I worked out that if I cycled 15.5 miles every day, the distance of my combined journey to and from Romsey Mill, I would cycle 4,000 miles by the end of the year. As a severe asthmatic, this is quite a challenge, but one I am determined to complete – 4,000 miles to raise £4,000 (or hopefully more) in what is Romsey Mill’s 40th birthday year.
I am 40 days and just over 600 miles into the challenge. I have managed to cycle every day and it has been positive in many ways. I am keeping fit, I am seeing and hearing things I wouldn’t usually see and hear. Perhaps the most positive thing is the thinking time that cycling every day gives me. I ponder as I pedal and I am thankful that I have so many riches, despite feeling that so much has been taken away over the last couple of months. We all know that physical exercise can help mental health and this has certainly been my experience during the lockdown period as I have ventured out each day to do daily exercise on my bike.
I am logging my personal journey by writing a blog that I have called ‘4000 miles from home’, which can be found at 4000milesfromhome.org where you can find details of how to support my rides. Further information about Romsey Mill can be found at www.romseymill.org
Children and Families
New Independence for Under-Sixes
Fears had reached a peak. For weeks, we’d worried about getting groceries, having enough exercise and whether or not our household relationships could stand being cocooned together. We’d been anxious about people living on their own, the acute loneliness that months of isolation will bring, and how best to help them. We’d feared for vulnerable children who may not be sheltered by school at the moment, and all those who are missing out on next steps in their education. And, throughout the pandemic, the people on all the front lines have been a constant source of concern.
Mercifully, as a mother to small children, one of my daily fears was alleviated. News that the government supported daily cycling was met with relief in our house. Our children both love being out on their bikes so there was one activity we could still enjoy together. Our five-year-old son rides a pedal bike and his two-year-old sister has a balance bike. Since our son started school in September, we had been tentatively giving him experience of cycling on local roads. It feels important to give him opportunities to learn how to be a good cyclist – how to think and make choices with consideration for others. He’s been riding with us since early infancy and has developed a lot of road sense. However, there have been times when, seeing him pedal along sections of Chesterton Road and Milton Road (among others), the squeezing feeling in my chest has been almost too much to bear. He’s still so small – even on his ‘big boy bike’ – while the traffic is so substantial and so fast in comparison.
Since so many cars and other motor vehicles stayed at home at the beginning of lockdown, road space completely opened up for vulnerable riders. Consequently, the space inside my chest grew easy. As a family, we were able to cycle together every day, incorporating as much of Cambridge as we could in our daily loops. Even sections of Newmarket Road and the city centre featured – places our children know well but would never normally cycle.
It struck me how easily people of all ages and abilities could cycle in this environment. There was considerably less for them to have to take in so they could focus on the mechanics of their bikes and the route they were taking. Without the pressure of others crowding them, they could go at their own pace and were less likely to make a panic stricken move. Cycle lanes became irrelevant because there was much more space, so people were not stopped in their tracks when a section of red surface ended abruptly. Junctions were a breeze: people could safely learn to indicate and manoeuvre without fear that there would be no proper space to wait. Importantly, inexperienced cyclists could acquire skills for mounting curbs and turning. I have always been nervous watching my son turn sharply or try to mount the kerb of a raised cyclepath, knowing that if he got the angle wrong, he’d probably come off his bike. Recently, though, it’s been much safer for him to make those little learning mistakes because there were fewer vehicles adding risk. Although not strictly necessary for cycling, another happy outcome was that we could enjoy a bit of conversation while cycling together because there was so little noise. Surely we can say that this, combined with cleaner air to breathe, is important for the wellness associated with cycling?
I’ve experienced the inherent safety of cycling, and seen how much my boy has grown with the opportunity to be responsible, make his own choices and enjoy the freedom of cycling
While I watched my little boy learn to ride more skilfully, I was also learning. After just two weeks of lockdown, I’d learnt he would consistently stop at a stop line, indicate and look both ways before deciding when to turn. I knew he would check over his road-side shoulder before overtaking a slower road-user and hug the kerb if a faster bike was approaching. Of course, I was always close by, checking his decision-making, but I tried to keep my mouth shut if he’d made a good choice. I’ve experienced the inherent safety of cycling, that the danger really is almost all external – that is, from motor vehicle drivers and their toxic emissions. Most profoundly, I see how much my boy has grown with the opportunity to be responsible, make his own choices and enjoy the freedom of cycling. Now, my concern for him riding is whether or not he’ll start to worry more before making decisions as motor vehicles return to share the space.
Broadening our Family Adventures
Before the lockdown, our family was already in isolation suffering with symptoms of coronavirus, and I was particularly hard hit. My first cycle ride (a three-minute trip to the post office) felt like a real triumph and I’ve had to build up effort and distance slowly as my lung capacity has recovered. Weeks later, I sometimes still sense a tightening in my chest, particularly when tired or in areas of higher air pollution.
Leisurely rides with the family on the weekend have been a great balm. Previously, we cycled mainly for utility reasons (going to work, the shops, the dentist etc), but in lockdown that all changed. The fun returned!
We’ve enjoyed cycling our new (to us) trailer bike down a silent King’s Parade, searching for geocaches on the Busway cycleway, exploring the 1930s cycle lanes on Wadloes Road, racing on the dirt track at Milton Country Park and riding to Wandlebury to spot newts and dragonflies. Our horizons have broadened not just because of the difference of this time, but also because of the difference of the streets. With fewer cars, the city has opened up to family cycling; as we emerge from lockdown, let’s work together to prevent motor traffic closing down all the wonderful opportunities to explore.
Time and Space to Learn to Ride
I know the lockdown is hard and all, but I have found that some good things have come out of it, like me learning to ride my bike. I’m certainly not a pro yet but I can now go round my local park (which is 450m). I’m feeling quite pleased with myself because before lockdown I was pretty scared of falling off and didn’t quite believe in myself. If you’re feeling scared to get on your bike then I have some advice for you, be confident and look ahead to where you want your bike to go, and in your head you’re always a star, remember that. I hope we all get through this in good health. Goodbye and good luck!
Isobel Bispham (age 8)
More Happy Kids on Bikes!
Susan van de Ven, A10 Corridor Cycling Campaign
The A10 corridor has felt wider than it ever has, with all the spurs off the A10 cycle path, connecting into links between outlying villages and more villages beyond them, largely free of motor traffic and safe to roam. There are far more bicycles than motorised vehicles on our country roads, which in fact are just the right width for this level of mass cycling – and of course, originally these roads were tracks, not designed for motorised vehicles in the first place.
Many people on bicycles are out for the first time in many years – decades even – with declarations of ‘I’m on my bike for the first time since…’ echoing around. Others are roaming much further than they ever had time for, or thought they could manage, quickly realising that a few more miles is not really very much, and quite easy in fact. The desire to extend the period of the day set aside for permitted fresh air and exercise, combined with the joy of observing spring unfolding in slow motion, and the addictive feel-good factor, has meant many a cyclist pushing themselves just that much further.
For people living on central village streets as opposed to the edge of countryside, the social distancing dance is much more of a necessity and points often to the narrowness and unsuitability of pavements. So, some cars heading out to country lanes are those of shielding residents seeking a safe and open space to walk or ride. Finding some way of using village street space for more walking and cycling would help people to stay local if they wish and reduce the need to drive out on country lanes.
Key workers at Addenbrooke’s and other health providers are often opting to cycle to work rather than take the train, and there’s been a surge in feedback about which segments of the A10 corridor core cycle network urgently need widening: the narrow Harston-Hauxton stretch and the tiny Hauxton-M11-Trumpington track (for any night shift workers, when the unlit Trumpington Meadows diversion loop feels much less inviting) are two prime examples.
Many key workers at Addenbrooke’s are opting to cycle to work and there’s been a surge in feedback about which segments of the A10 corridor urgently need widening
Signposts from the A10 path to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus are almost absent: upon reaching Trumpington Park & Ride, it’s not clear where to go if you’re a first-time user. The campus itself is a maze with almost no walk/cycle signposting.
Looking from Trumpington southward onto the A10 network, the lack of a safe cycle/pedestrian connection from Royston up to Melbourn, over the Herts/Cambs border at the A10/A505 roundabout, could be addressed for the time being through a temporary traffic light system at the roundabout. While this sits technically in Hertfordshire, it lies within the funding geography of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, now incarnated as part of the Combined Authority Business Board. This could be funded. Better still, let’s build the permanent bridge which has been planned in detail and is essentially shovel-ready.
From the A505/A10 roundabout to Melbourn, a distance of two miles, an off-road cycle/pedestrian path needs constructing as a matter of urgency – to replace the dangerous track that too many people brave because there’s no other option. The creation of the path goes hand-in-hand with the creation of a safe passage over the roundabout. Royston provides a significant housing supply for those employed in Cambridge and South Cambs, and the Royston-Melbourn safe cycle link project is strongly backed by Johnson Matthey, Sartorius Stedim, AstraZeneca and TTP at Melbourn Science Park.
Finally, spurs off the A10 and link roads between villages could be much safer with a significant reduction of speed limits from their default 60mph, and some kind of demarcation to denote wide cycle path allocations of available space, following a Dutch model.
While conflict continues to arise from car vs bicycle on rural roads, it only points to the urgency of safe space for each.
Steve Biddle, Ely Cycling Campaign
This year the London Marathon has been postponed, leaving a big hole in the charity fundraising market. The 2.6 Challenge has been promoted to fill this gap, with the idea that almost any challenge involving 2.6 be used to raise £26 or more. Initially, I thought I could cycle 26 miles locally but on reflection thought this would not be in the true spirit of the current lockdown guidelines. I decided to see how many miles I could cycle in 26 minutes so off I went! The chosen Sunday afternoon was breezy on the largely deserted Fen roads so I had my work cut out with a head wind. My Garmin showed 8 miles at the end of my 26 minutes. I dutifully sent off my donation to the East Anglian Air Ambulance as I thought it would be good in current circumstances to support an allied health cause.
D H Thomas Opticians
D H Thomas closed its Hills Road practice during lockdown, rescheduling appointments and dealing with emergencies remotely. To help those needing supplies, leading optometrist Sean Rock turned his skills to cycle couriering.
‘Since lockdown began, I have been using my bike to deliver ocular supplies safely and promptly to our clients. People of all ages and in many different circumstances have needed replacement contact lenses, spectacles and contact lens solutions. I cycle to their address, leave the items on the doorstep, knock and then step back to a safe distance. In this way, I can deliver the goods and we can conduct a conversation without either party being at risk.
‘The service has given me the opportunity to cycle all over Cambridge city and further afield to places such as Sawston, Shelford, Grantchester, Histon, Fen Ditton and other nearby villages. It is proving to be very good exercise for me and seems much appreciated by our clients – many of whom also enjoy a chat!’
Outspoken Cycles has remained open during the lockdown period, keeping cyclists in the city moving. Sales of e-bikes and children’s bikes have been strong and the business has been offering free labour on repairs for NHS workers, plus a new pick-up and delivery scheme for those who aren’t able to bring their cycles to the shop. They’ve also been helping healthcare workers start riding by servicing cycles donated by local businesses for free – get in touch if you have one to pass on.
As the region starts to emerge from lockdown, Outspoken will be working with businesses on new pool bike schemes, ensuring that shared bikes are regularly disinfected and serviced. They’ll also be registered for the new government voucher scheme which will provide up to half a million people with £50 towards maintenance and repair.
Click It Local, a new cycle delivery service for independent businesses is offering good-value, same-day delivery to local residents. The organisation has partnered with Zedify to offer zeroemissions deliveries which support the local economy from just £3. Retailers signed up to the scheme include Jack’s Gelato, the Cambridge Cheese Company, Emerald Foods, Norfolk Street Bakery and Byard Art.
Many other new and existing Cambridge businesses have been out and about delivering by bike too including the Wee Quiche Company (launched in April), Bookish Cambridge (normally found on the market) and the Flower Project (launched in March). Get in touch if you deliver by bike – we love to find new cycling businesses!