How old were you when you started cycling?
Probably about six or seven. My dad taught me to ride in the seventies. Growing up in the seventies and eighties everyone just rode everywhere, all the time. Kids like us, we were all sort of out on our bikes owning the street. We just rode everywhere, cycled to school every day and cycled around. That was just what we did with our spare time as kids back then.
What motivated you to become an instructor?
I needed a new challenge and wanted to reduce the strain on my back and knees after running my landscape gardening business for the last 20 years, which is what I do when I’m not doing bike training. I love to ride and ride everywhere that I can, and I’ve always enjoyed working outside so don’t want to be sat at a desk all day. A friend of mine had worked for the Bikeability Trust for a few years before he retired and I remember him saying that he found it the most rewarding work that he’d ever done.
So I looked into it in my local area and trained as an instructor last summer. The flexibility means I can do training some weeks and carry on gardening for a few selected clients with nice gardens on the other weeks. I enjoyed teaching my kids to ride and always enjoyed dragging them along on a bike, either on a bike seat or in trailers, or tag-alongs until they could get out on their bikes. I always really enjoyed that and want other kids to learn to ride as well and share that and enjoy being out on their bikes.
A friend of mine had worked for the Bikeability Trust for a few years before he retired and I remember him saying that he found it the most rewarding work that he’d ever done.
What is the best part of the job?
Watching the young riders develop over the first few days is amazing. And when they’ve had a chance to practise their turns and add them into a circuit, the power they have to control the road and get other road users waiting behind them, doing what they should be doing, is really good to see. And the kids really look like they enjoy the power they’ve got over other traffic. When little year six kids have got a bin lorry waiting patiently behind them it’s just nice to see.
During our training, we’re giving young people control over when they go, obviously ensuring they’re confident and independent enough to make those decisions. But it feels as though for some of the young riders, they’ve never had to make decisions like this for themselves before. And that agency, you can see it ticking over in their mind, thinking, oh, it’s up to me, I’m in charge here and, yeah, I really enjoy that, giving kids agency here for what they do. We’re obviously keeping a very watchful eye over them, but it is about them making their own decisions. I really enjoy empowering the kids to do that.
And to know people recognise it and that it does make a difference. When you hear that, people say, oh, yeah, my kids did that and they loved it. It’s just nice. It’s kind of a bit of positive affirmation for what we’re doing on a rainy, cold day.
What is your favourite cycling memory or experience?
Just recently I managed to get my whole family, which is all five of us, together, and onto a train to London with our bikes for the London Free Cycle event. There was an eight-mile course all around central London, past all the famous landmarks that had been cordoned off and was only open to bikes. And it’s just amazing to see riders of all abilities, all different kinds of adapted bikes, recumbent bikes, trikes, cargo bikes, kids on tiny, tiny little bikes, boys who’ve been out for their morning ride in their Lycra, just everyone mixing together. It was lovely to do that with my family, and for them to experience cycling all around London with no cars anywhere on the circuit was really quite amazing.
And obviously, as a dad with teenage kids who the last thing they want to do is go and hang around with their boring old parents, to see that they all actually had a great day out is just really nice. They’ve all signed up just for next year as well.
Just recently I managed to get my whole family, which is all five of us, together, and onto a train to London with our bikes for the London Free Cycle event … it’s just amazing to see riders of all abilities, all different kinds of adapted bikes, recumbent bikes, trikes, cargo bikes, kids on tiny, tiny little bikes, boys who’ve been out for their morning ride in their Lycra, just everyone mixing together.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I try and go on a bike ride every weekend with my friends, or to go and meet friends in other towns and even just cycling to town for a coffee with friends. And as with any middle-aged man, it’s gardening, DIY and fixing things around the house. I’ve always loved travelling, visiting new places, being near water, doing any outdoorsy stuff like camping, canoeing, paddleboarding. And just this summer, I’ve recently learned to sail dinghies with my teenage son, who was interested in doing that. Spending a few sunny afternoons sailing around local lakes will be what I’ll be doing this summer.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Ile de Ré, which is a little island off the west coast of France, is a beautiful place that seems more accessible these days. It’s a 30 kilometre long, pretty flat island just off the west coast of France and the Atlantic, and there’s loads of great cycle tracks there. It’s great to ride around beautiful beaches, picturesque harbours and cafes and lighthouses and things. We went there for a holiday, hired bikes, and my youngest was in a trailer bike, being towed behind me.
It’s just beautiful because there’s loads of really good, just very casual cycling infrastructure. Lots and lots of flat, good surface cycle tracks which just lead around the island, because it’s how people there get around and how holidaymakers get around.
Bike sail photo
Do you have any top tips for people who want to start cycling or cycle more?
Try local journeys with a destination in mind, like a coffee shop or a pub lunch, something to reward your effort. Try and find someone to go with, because it’s always fun. Time and distance fly by when you’re having a chat with someone and it’s something that’s really nice to do, which you can’t do when you’re doing lots of other sorts of exercise, you’ve just got time to chat, which is quite nice.
Try local journeys with a destination in mind, like a coffee shop or a pub lunch, something to reward your effort. Try and find someone to go with, because it’s always fun.
I’m a big advocate for e-bikes, so hiring or borrowing an e-bike is really good and there are loads of places that hire them. It’s a great way to build up stamina and strength, to ride confidently with other people without worrying about getting too knackered. I bought a second hand one, and it was so that I could keep up with my really keen bike friends and they didn’t have to keep waiting for me on a cycle ride. Since I’ve had it, I rarely take the car for local errands, because I just would rather not be stuck in traffic or trying to find parking. I can stop right outside shops or wherever I need to go. I think people should try Ebikes, really give them a go.
Definitely don’t get hung up on the gear. My normal everyday clothes are my cycling clothes and all three of my bikes are either second hand or freebies that other people are chucking out. I just did a quick bike shop service or a bit of tinkering in the shed. It’s like [people are] a bit intimidated that they’ve got to wear Lycra and have a really fast bike, otherwise they’re not allowed to do it. Because I know that’s how I felt when I started.
Who’s your cycling hero?
Someone that comes to mind is Danny McCaskill. He’s a Scottish street trials rider who does amazing YouTube videos, which I think is how he came to prominence with the amazing sort of trials riding, jumping around. It’s like a cross between Parkour and bouncing around on a trials bike. Amazing feats of human endeavour. It looks absolutely terrifying, of course, and as I can just about pull a wheelie or a bunny hop. Don’t try this at home, kids. But it’s good to see people pushing the boundaries of what bodies and bikes can do.
Plus someone like Chris Broadman, obviously not just for cycling, but the kind of politics and advocacy of cycling that it’s very nice to see. Bringing that fame and notoriety to something that we all think is great, but trying to get broader appeal across the public.
If you weren’t a cycle instructor, what would your dream job be?
I think I’ve got quite a nice work-life balance with gardening and cycle training. I’m sure there are other things that would seem good. Well, probably David Attenborough’s job seems pretty be travelling the world and filming natural history would be a pretty amazing job, so perhaps something like that outside again, I don’t think I want to be stuck at a desk.
David Attenborough’s job seems pretty be travelling the world and filming natural history would be a pretty amazing job, so perhaps something like that outside again, I don’t think I want to be stuck at a desk.
Are there any projects or things you’re doing that you’d like to tell us about?
I’d like to see more cycling infrastructure in my town, as I’m sure most of us would where we live. It’s amazing all the stuff that’s happened in London over the last few years and the last few mayors. Whatever your politics, I think what they’ve done for cycling and active travel is really good. I’ve been to some meetings and would like to try and get involved in any of our local town plans at my level.
And having done some mass rides, big events, I’d quite like to try and organise something like that just in my small town on a sunny summer afternoon. I know big cities like Cambridge and Oxford and London have critical mass events, but I don’t see why we couldn’t do that on a small scale in all our local towns. I think that would be a lovely thing to do. I’ve spoken to a few people locally. I’d love to see that and think it would be just great to have that in all our small towns where the roads get clogged up on a Saturday afternoon with people driving into town centre car parks.
And the other thing I’ve got to do is, this summer, I’ve got to build a cycle storage shed in a friend’s garden. So that’s a bit of a cross between cycling and gardening. I shall enjoy doing that when I finish my bike training for the holidays.