Rob and Dalby Forest Cycle Hub were recently featured in the Guardian in an article about activities for people with accessibility issues and other needs. “It was Bikeability that got us into the inclusive cycling,” Rob tells us.
Rob has always been keen to help people discover the joys of cycling, and when he became a Bikeability instructor he soon noticed that it wasn’t something that every child could be part of. He found that when he went into schools to organise the training and asked the children who had access to a bike and could get it to school, there were always some who couldn’t and so wouldn’t be able to join in.
Cycling for every child
“This area on the East Coast has quite a lot of poverty.” Rob said, “In fact I think it’s one of the highest areas in the country for deprivation, so not all of the kids have a bike, and there’s also a large rural area as well, just beyond the edge of the town, so a lot of kids travel in by bus and they can’t get their bikes to school.”
Fortunately, he was soon able to solve the problem “I had a word with the Bikeability organisation and we got some funding, so we bought a fleet of bikes and a trailer so we could take bikes in for the kids who couldn’t do it.”
Rob also realised that some children had actually never learned to ride a bike but were too embarrassed to admit it in front of their friends. He managed to work out a simple way to teach those children this essential life skill by offering to give a little refresher course to anyone who felt, “a little bit wobbly” when they got on a bike.
Getting started with inclusive cycling
Once he had overcome these barriers, he soon came across another one that he hadn’t considered. A teacher discreetly pointed out a student and explained that he wouldn’t be able to take part as he had cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair. “And I felt so small, I felt awful, I’d never thought about the kids who can’t join in because of a disability. And I said right, I’ll find something, I’ll find something for him,” Rob said.
After talking to the child’s parents and support worker, who were happy for him to get involved with Bikeability, Rob came back with a solution. “In fact all it was, at that time, was a tag along bike but with two wheels at the back so it was stable, instead of that wobbling over thing that you often get,” Rob explained. The student was excited to get on the bike and pretty soon he was smashing all the expectations.
“By lunchtime on the first day he was really pushing hard on those pedals,” Rob says. “The second day I could feel him pedaling along behind and I was having to say hey slow down a bit here. It was wonderful.
“I said right what we’re going to do, by the end of today I’m going to say to the school that you are going to pedal us all the way round your playground. I’ll start us off and then you carry on. The school actually got mum and dad in as well, and they got the whole school out, which was amazing. He just pedaled us all the way round the playground. It was a really wonderful moment, and really emotional for everyone as well.”
After that, he started getting calls from schools all over Scarborough asking him to help children who had accessibility issues. Rob started a community interest company (CIC), Scarborough and Ryedale Community Cycling CIC, and focused on building up a fleet of adapted cycles and working in schools.
Creating an inclusive hub
From there they were inspired to try and help even more people get the chance to cycle. “I thought I really would love to have a base where people could actually come, independently with a family member or friends, and could ride the bikes anytime they wanted.”
The chance to tender for bike hire in Dalby Forest came up and they jumped at it, joining up with Big Bear Bikes, a high-end bike company in Pickering to create a new community interest company, Dalby Forest Cycle Hub CIC.
Since the start, the hub has been helping people, children and adults, who have challenges in their lives that prevent them riding a two wheeled cycle. “It’s just been wonderful helping people who previously were unable to do such things as cycling, to see them suddenly be able to do that. It’s not just taking them for a ride as such, they’re actually doing it themselves, and that has been a huge, huge thing for a lot of people.”
At the cycle hub, they are aware of how helpful it can be for everyone to have access to natural spaces like the Dalby Forest. “I really think that forests have a tremendous health impact, they’re such healing environments really, just being out in nature,” Rob says. But there are barriers for people who need adapted cycles to get out and about.
Overcoming barriers and opening trails
“Anything that has a non-standard tag to it, so the adapted bikes in any form, they’re just so much more expensive,” Rob explains. “People tell me who’ve got various disabilities say that’s the same for everything, it always seems to be it’s more expensive.” The hub gives people who might not otherwise be able to afford their own adapted bike a chance to use one and experience being out in nature under their own steam.
The hub are also focused on helping to make more of the forest accessible to more people. “There’s literally hundreds of kilometres of trails in the forest and we wanted to be able to access them,” Rob tells us.
These trails will be wider than the single-track mountain bike trails you often find in the forests, trails that come with drops, tree roots and other obstacles – all great fun for mountain bikers but virtually impossible to use for anyone who struggles with accessibility.
“The trails we are opening up are the ‘fire roads’ that create a firebreak between the clumps of trees, and the access roads that Forestry England use for getting their people about for doing the work. There’s all this network which is not accessible to the general public with cars, but anybody can walk it or they can bike it. So, working with Forestry England, we’re actually waymarking a lot of new trails so that people have got much more exciting accessible areas to ride.”
Rob’s top tip
Hopefully this will mean more miles of cycling for more people. And Rob has a top tip for anyone who wants more accessible adventures, “Make a noise and investigate!” he says.
“It’s a case of being proactive and joining groups if you can, ask questions, be noisy, so that people know you’re there. There’s all sorts of adventurous activities that normally would seem to be out of reach of people, but there’s lots and lots of ways that people can access stuff now.”
You can email Rob at the hub if you have any questions about inclusive, accessible cycling and activities and how you can get involved.
Visit Dalby Forest Cycle Hub to find out more about their adapted bikes, book cycle hire and the other services they offer.