So why don’t we teach every child to cycle?

The school bike rack overflows on Bikeability day.

Today Bikeability training took place at our village primary school. It was a cold, blustery day, but the Class 3 pupils were enthusiastic and the two young trainers spent the day helping the girls and boys weave their bikes among cones in the playground, learning the basics of road safety and risk awareness. They then put what they had learned into practice on a nearby road (quiet village lane, it must be said), a procession of small cyclists in high vis jackets taking it in turns to glance over their shoulder, make a wobbly arm signal and carry out a simple manoeuvre at a junction.

My satisfaction at seeing these budding young cyclists being put through their paces was tempered by the fact that it was itself such an unusual sight. For most of the children (aged 8 and upwards) it was apparently the first time they had ever received any formal instruction on a bike. Inevitably, given the preoccupation with academic tests and National Curriculum targets, cycle training simply doesn’t seem to register, despite the multiple benefits that riding a bike can bring to children and young people – from the sheer physical exercise and demands of coordination to hands-on lessons in sustainable travel and reducing carbon emissions. More than anything else, though, it’s the teaching of a key life skill – the ability to safely and properly ride a bike – that this present generation is in danger of missing out on. And what problems does that store up for us in the future, I wonder?

Bikeability is billed as ‘cycling proficiency for the 21st century’ and the training operates on three levels, each designed to improve cycling skills, ranging from Level 1 for new young riders learning balance, control and basic safety through to Level 3 for secondary school age children, helping them understand how to ride in different and more challenging traffic situations, plan routes, and so on. Bikeability is delivered by registered instructors through local Bikeability schemes and operates nationwide. The DfT’s Bikeability website estimates that more than 1.5 million children and young people will have been trained by March 2015. On the face of it that’s great news, and the kids I saw today will certainly have benefited. But what about the other 8 million school-age children in the UK who won’t have access to that training?

Those of us a little longer in the tooth will remember the National Cycling Proficiency Test. I think I still have my little green and red triangular badge somewhere, and I recall that everyone in the school seemed to take part. It was first set up in the 1950s and eventually superseded by the National Standards for Cycle Training in 2005. Re-launched as Bikeability, this new scheme was initially administered by Cycling England, the independent body set up the same year to promote cycling in England – and axed by the Government just five years later. (Resigned sigh.)

Bikeability is inherently good, sensible, forward-thinking and hugely valuable. But it’s not mandatory for our children or our schools. Not every local authority has even adopted the scheme, with some (like Derbyshire County Council) choosing to run their own voluntary version with its inevitably patchy take-up. It’s symptomatic of a national approach to cycling that still doesn’t properly join up, whether it’s the practical stuff like safer road junctions and reduced speed limits, or long-term national targets and a commitment to minimum annual spending levels on cycling. And all the while we’re missing out on the chance to teach children – every child – how to ride a bike with confidence and safety so that cycling one day becomes the norm.

Andrew

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L’Eroica and Le Tour: A summer of heroic cycling in the Peak District

The year ahead promises to be a momentous one for cyclists and cycling in the Peak District. Hopefully we’ll see the first signs of how the Government’s £5m grant to aid cycling development in the region is being spent. Then there’s the growing number of locally organised rides, events and sportives, including the second Peak District Cycling Festival, plus of course the crowning glory when the Tour de France whooshes through the Yorkshire corner of the Peak District in early July.

But before Le Tour comes to town there’s another mass cycling event with international roots taking place in the Peak District that promises to be every bit as colourful and enjoyable as a spectacle – and one that might allow you more than just a mere a glimpse of the riders. It’s a 3-day vintage cycling festival called L’Eroica, which basically translates as “the heroes” (nothing to do with bike pornography, just in case your mind is already wandering).

L’Eroica Britannia is to take place three weeks before Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Leeds and features the choice of either a 30-mile, 50-mile or 100-mile route around the heart of the Peak District to be ridden on Sunday 22 June. All riders have to comply with L’Eroica rules, which state that bikes must be from a pre-1987 era and there are similar stipulations for riders’ apparel – period caps, jerseys and other retro gear are in, while lycra is most definitely out. Chris Froome and co this isn’t.

L’Eroica celebrates what is perceived as “the heroic era” of cycling and began in Tuscany, Italy, in 1997. As befits a nation with such a rich and diverse culture (where the ‘Slow Food’ movement was set up in opposition to the modern trend of fast food), what’s been described as the most handsome cycle race in the world celebrates more than just cycling. Riders regularly stop to sample good quality food and drink. Forget isotonic drinks and energy bars, L’Eroica cyclists pull in to enjoy cured meats and artisan breads, fresh olives and local wine.

The festival is set to come to the Peak District for the next five years, thanks in large part to the efforts of several Sheffield-Italian businesses. This year there’s an entry limit of 1,500 (over a third of the places have already been taken) and the various routes will visit Castleton, Tideswell, Eyam, part of the Monsal Trail, Chatsworth (on some of the private roads through the estate), Beeley, Bakewell, Cromford, a stretch of the High Peak Trail, Carsington Water, Ashbourne, Ilam, the Tissington Trail to Hartington, Earl Sterndale, Whaley Bridge, Coombs Reservoir and Chapel-en-le-Frith. However, on Saturday 21 June there will be a family parade at Bakewell for all ages and abilities, making it a real participation event. Don’t forget, though, that style and craftsmanship are as important as racing prowess (and, I suggest, being able to ride on a full tummy).

The page headers on L’Eroica’s website say it all – the festival is about territory, the bike, food, sustainability, drink and the environment. It’s an interesting contrast to what will follow less than a month later, when the big money commercial sponsors of the Tour de France take over. Either way, it promises to be quite a summer for cycling in the Peak District.

Andrew

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Cycle your way into old age

Are you ever too old to cycle? Of course not! One of the best things about riding a bike is that age and ability is seldom a barrier. From trikes and tandems to electric, folding and adapted bikes, there are makes and models to suit just about all comers.

Quietly on the Tissington Trail.

I was reminded of this recently when I read about a new study that suggested taking up exercise in your 60s will still help stave off major ill health and dementia. Reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it followed 3,500 healthy people at or around retirement age. Those who regularly exercised were three times more likely to remain healthy over the next eight years, not suffering from any serious mental or physical illness, rather than their sedentary counterparts.

Researchers said that, naturally enough, exercising regularly throughout your life is best, but even if you start late there are definite health benefits. Dr Mark Hamer from University College London said: “The take-home message really is to keep moving when you are elderly.” He said that it didn’t necessarily mean going to the gym or taking in part in vigorous aerobic exercise, but regular walks or cycle rides as part of everyday life also mattered. Indeed, it’s claimed that if you cycle for an extra half an hour on most days of the week, together with a reduction in calorie intake, you can lose as much weight as that achieved by doing three aerobic classes a week. And isn’t cycling in the fresh air so much more pleasurable than going to a gym?!

High Peak Trail near Longcliffe.

According to the Department of Health, adults (18 and over) should do 150 minutes of physical activity every week. (Young people aged 5-18 should do 60 minutes every day and children under five should do 180 minutes every day, by the way.) Provided you have the right equipment, choose your route carefully and don’t over-stretch yourself, cycling can be particularly beneficial to older people because it’s good all-round exercise that is low impact.  The smooth and regular movement associated with a gentle ride along one of the traffic-free trails of the Peak District does wonders for your muscles and joints, heart and lungs, not to mention the emotional and psychological benefits it brings. The British Heart Foundation says that cycling at least 20 miles a week cuts by 50% your risk of heart disease, compared to non-cyclists who take no exercise. Wow.

If you haven’t cycled for many years, perhaps worried about how you’ll handle a bike again, then check out our pages on Guided rides and Instruction. Speak to the experienced people at the likes of Thornbridge Outdoors (on the Monsal Trail) and Cycle Penistone (on the Trans Pennine Trail) to see whether they can arrange guided rides or short sessions to give you confidence.

Electric bike for hire at Hassop Station on the Monsal Trail.

Hiring a bike for a few hours and gently exploring a trail is a good way to get back into the saddle – check out our hire page; but another option is to hire an electric bike from somewhere like Hassop Station on the Monsal Trail. You still have to pedal an electric bike, but it does gives give you that extra assistance and reassurance – and the slopes don’t seem quite so daunting!

The other day I called in briefly to the Old Smithy Café at Monyash, a long-time favourite of cyclists and mountain bikers. As I left, a small party of male road racers was pulling up, no doubt heading inside for a plate of something hot before they returned to far-off Nottinghamshire or Staffordshire or whatever distant parts they came from. The men were lean, strong, wiry and no doubt super fit from decades of regular cycling. And they must each have been 70 years of age and upwards.

As H.G. Wells is supposed to have said: “Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.”

Andrew

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Why do three times more men than women cycle?

To those of us that live in the Peak District it’s obvious that there are more people cycling than ever before. From the off-road mountain bikers to the young families happily dawdling along the traffic-free trails, it’s quite clear that numbers are increasing, more or less in line with the surge in popularity of recreational cycling spurred on by Olympic success, and so on. However, there’s one worrying statistic that bucks the trend. Nationally, the proportion of women going for a ride on a bike is actually declining. In fact, three times more men than women currently cycle – which is a startling imbalance.

In order to tackle this problem head on, British Cycling launched a dedicated programme called Breeze which aims to help as many women as possible feel confident and comfortable about going for a bike ride. Funded by the Lottery, amongst others, it’s the largest project of its kind ever undertaken and currently involves organising around 200 bike rides for women on a weekly basis, including some in and around the Peak District. There are regular and organised Breeze rides from Hassop and Hope Valley, as well as others in Sheffield, Derby, Chesterfield and Holmebrook Valley. Nationally, the rides are led by over 1,000 female volunteers who organise fun, social and local bike rides expressly for women.

So why don’t more women cycle? A number of reasons have been put forward, from road safety and the unsuitability of bike models to the limited availability of time. Maybe there’s a wider lifestyle challenge for some women of trying to make cycling part of everyday life, eg going to work, shops, school pick up, and so on?

Female cyclists young and younger - Annie Last and an admirer.

Breeze has been researching this vexing question, as well as looking into how bikes can be made more accessible to women through hire schemes and female-friendly bike shops, along with arranging women-only mass participation events. But what do women themselves say needs to be done to encourage more women to cycle? A survey by Sustrans in 2009 found that almost two thirds said that cycle lanes separated from other traffic was the answer. Others wanted 20 mph speed limits and bike training to be available where they lived. So safety is an obvious factor, and you probably see a higher than average number of women cycling in the Peak District for leisure because of the traffic-free trails and greenways. But even here the often highly visible macho image of cycling is another possible turn-off, especially with the gear-conscious, lycra-clad male road cyclists and mountain bikers.

One of a new and dedicated range of women's bikes brought out by Raleigh.

Maybe the new fund for cycling improvements in the Peak District, which covers extending the trails and introducing more segregated cycling, will help address the imbalance, but since only one quarter of regular cyclists in England are female there are clearly deeper behavioural and lifestyle issues at work.

If you want to check on the availability of local rides, become a Breeze Champion or simple know more about the programme and its ‘Closing the Cycling Gap’ campaign go to the Breeze website.

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The future shape of mountain biking in the Peak District?

As cycling becomes increasingly popular in the Peak District it’s worth remembering that it takes different forms, each with its own demands. Extending the Monsal Trail may be good news for a family with toddlers on stabilisers, and a new canal-side link into the National Park from Stoke may entice some more adventurous weekend outings, but it’s unlikely to be of great interest to road racers. Nor, I suspect, will it offer much to another sort of cycling already popular in the Peak District – mountain biking.

Although Peak District Cycleways is not primarily a mountain bike site, we’ve always featured a selection of routes and have been keen to promote more adventurous off-road riding. There are a few decent bridleway routes, especially in the more rugged terrain of the Dark Peak like the Hope and Upper Derwent valleys, but overall the rights of way network doesn’t connect particularly well to make that many coherent MTB circuits. Then you’ve got anomalies like bridleways suddenly switching to public footpaths at local authority boundaries, such as up on the moors east of Ladybower where Sheffield meets Derbyshire, which are then no-go for those on two wheels.

Inevitably, given that speed and challenge is part of the attraction of mountain biking, there are sometimes conflicts with other users, especially where downhill routes are steep and narrow. However, where users work together and respect each other – as witnessed at the recent launch of the Kinder Loop – cyclists, walkers and horse riders can co-exist quite happily and help each other develop new route opportunities.

There is another option, though, for the strategists and managers at the local authorities to consider, as well as the more forward-thinking landowners. Elsewhere around Britain there are a growing number of dedicated mountain bike courses and centres, where purpose-built routes provide thrills and challenge, but largely away from the public rights of way network and so minimising conflict with other users. Dalby Forest in the North York Moors National Park is a good example, offering a range of routes from easy family trails right through to hard and extreme, plus a ‘severe’ route designed to world cup standards.

Grizedale Forest in the Lake District National Park is another, with a range of mountain bike routes for all abilities. There are also a number of excellent venues in Mid Wales, including Coed-Brenin, the first forest mountain biking course and still regarded as one of the best, with some rocky technical trails that are among the most challenging you’ll find.

Providing carefully and safely designed courses for mountain biking not only reduces problems elsewhere, such as minimising conflict with other users and deterring illegal cycling, but it can also provide a real boost to the local economy. When I cycled in the Forest of Dean a couple of years ago, albeit cross country rather than downhill, the trails and cycle hire were busy and local cafes were buzzing.

Of course, the impact of MTB routes on the landscape is a key factor, especially in a national park, but all the examples cited above show that it’s perfectly possible if the routes and associated infrastructure are carefully designed in a sustainable environment – like a coniferous forest. So where might be suitable in the Peak District? The National Park doesn’t have too much tree cover, but there are fairly extensive wooded slopes in the Upper Derwent Valley above the reservoirs, although visitor pressure is already an issue at key periods. There are several existing rides in the Macclesfield Forest in the south west of the National Park, but perhaps scope to develop some purpose-built ones? Or how about in the woodland behind Chatsworth, parts of the Goyt valley, or above the Derwent Valley on Matlock Moor?

Dedicated mountain bike facilities could give the Peak District a real boost, bringing both recreational and economic benefits, and help cement it as the number one National Park for all types of cycling – from leisurely traffic-free trails to adrenalin-pumping mountain bike routes. And let’s not forget that the Peak District has already produced Britain’s successful Olympic mountain biker, Annie Last, recently patron of the first ever Peak District Bike Festival. How about putting in place the right facilities here in the Peak District to encourage another?

Post your thoughts on this one.

Andrew

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Gear up for winter with a free bike check

Cyclists in the Peak District can get their bikes checked out for free at Millers Dale Station at the end of this week. National Park Authority cycle hire staff at Miller’s Dale, on the Monsal Trail, will be giving free bike maintenance advice between 10am and 4pm on Friday 1 November.

Cycle hire team manager Charlotte Bowler said: “Our cycle hire staff are experienced bike maintenance experts and are offering free bicycle checks and advice so that people know what their bikes need.”

In addition, the National Park Authority’s cycle hire centres are now holding their end of season sale of hire bikes, with every model fully serviced before being sold. The hire centres are at Ashbourne, Derwent and Parsley Hay – go to our cycle hub pages for full details.

Along with the free bike checks there will be a range of items on sale, including helmets, gloves and water bottles. Also avaliable will be the newly designed National Park cycling jerseys, celebrating the Holme Moss climb which will be one of the highlights of Stage 2 of next year’s Tour de France Grand Depart. An early Christmas for someone ahead of next July’s big day, perhaps?

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New tandem trike offers more cycling opportunities in the Peak

Last year I blogged about the excellent range of adapted and specialist bikes for hire at the Peak Park’s hire centre at Parsley Hay. They offer people with disabilities and mobility issues a great opportunity to safely and enjoyably explore the National Park by bike along the traffic-free Tissington and High Peak trails. I also highlighted the fact that there were other, even more sophisticated models that the centre would like to stock, if only they were not so expensive to buy.

Jenny Crookes and Nic Gregory aboard the new tandem trike at Parsley Hay cycle hire centre, with Nic's mum Liz and supporters from Buxton and District Lions Club, Chapel Morris Men, High Peak Mayoral Charity Fund and the Peak District National Park Authority.

Now, thanks to a two-year fundraising effort by Buxton-based Jenny Crookes, the hire centre has been presented with a £1,500 tandem trike. Jenny is a carer for 26-year-old Nic Gregory and she had long been aware of the potential openings such a bike would bring. “Nic couldn’t otherwise experience cycling, and I knew he would get so much out of it,” said Jenny. “I have a son with special needs myself – he learned to ride a bike and it made a big difference to his life.

The trike will not just be enjoyed by Nic but also be used as part of the Peak Park Pedals guided bike rides, which help people with a range of health problems to experience cycling in the national park. They are an extension of Peak Park Leisure Walks, with whom Nic has been a walker for many years. Organised by the National Park Ranger Service, both projects help people who need support to get out into the countryside.

Jenny gave special thanks for fundraising and support to the Buxton and District Lions Club, Buxton’s Capricorn Hair Studios (who sold jam to raise money), Chapel-en-le-Frith Morris Men, St Peter’s C of E Church Fairfield, and the High Peak Mayoral Charity Fund. She also thanked the trike’s suppliers, Bikes Not Barriers of York, for their guidance.

To hire the tandem trike and find out what other adapted bikes are available contact the Parsley Hay centre.

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The Tour de France is coming to the Peak District – 290 days and counting

On Sunday 6th July 2014 the world’s largest annual sporting event will visit the Peak District. Stage 2 of the Tour de France is 200km (124 miles) long and will see around 180 cyclists heading from York via Harrogate, Keighley and Huddersfield to finish in Sheffield. About 37km (23 miles) of the stage is through the Peak District – and it promises to be the most dramatic section so far.

Stage 2 from York to Sheffield, via the Peak District.

The opening three days of the 2014 Tour de France take place in England, with the first two in Yorkshire and the third from Cambridge to London, before it all shifts across the Channel to more familiar territory. ‘Le Grand Depart’ is officially on Saturday 5th July, with a fairly flat section (at least in the Tour’s terms) through the Yorkshire Dales from Leeds to Harrogate. However, that all changes when the riders enter the Peak District towards the end of Stage 2. From Holmfirth they climb up to Holme Moss and the roof of the Pennines, before heading over to Langsett and via Strines and Bradfield for the descent to Sheffield.

Last week I went to a briefing for local businesses about how they will stand to benefit from the Tour coming to town. Some of the statistics for the Tour de France are jaw-dropping:

  • A TV audience of over 3 billion people watch the race every year
  • 1,200 hotel rooms are needed each night just for the teams, tour personnel and media
  • Around 12 million spectators line the route along an average stage
  • Spectators spend an average of 6 hours on the roadside watching the Tour, since the riders are preceded by a cavalcade of sponsorship and advertising vehicles and a general party atmosphere
  • 30% of spectators are women
  • And for the record, Yorkshire’s Brian Robinson was the first Briton to win a stage of Tour de France in 1958!

The route of the Tour over Holme Moss (photo courtesy of Yorkshire.com).

The organisers estimate that there will be something in the region of 150,000 spectators in the Peak District alone, but that figure could end up being a very conservative guess. Already campsites are booking up and local businesses gearing up for the big weekend. If you’re thinking of coming to watch the race in the National Park (and what a spectacle it promises to be!) the advice is to plan your visit well in advance and grab your spot as early as you can. If you simply roll up on the day of the race you will probably face long queues and road closures.

They’ll be plenty more blogs and information about the Tour de France in the Peak District in the months to come, with advice on where to go and what to see, so keep an eye on the Peak District Cycleways website. For further details go to www.yorkshire.com/tdf

Andrew

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Thornbridge Bike Fest set to take place this weekend

The first-ever Peak District Cycling Festival is now in its second week and the successful fortnight concludes with the Thornbridge Bike Fest, two days of cycling activities and events at Thornbridge Outdoors at Great Longstone, near Bakewell.

Find your way to Great Longstone this weekend.

There will be workshops, guided rides, demos, skill sessions and lots more, as well as stalls, food and entertainment, since you can stay for the weekend (camping and self-catering available) or drop by as a day visitor. Most of the activities will be taking place on Saturday (14th September), when Peak District Cycleways will also be at large at Thornbridge!

Saturday’s highlights include a mountain bike skills workshop, bike maintenance classes, and something rather dauntingly called cycle and abseil (!!!). There will be stands from the likes of British Cycling, Cotswold Outdoors, local bike shops and the Peak District National Park Authority. Among the activities on Sunday are a guided mountain bike ride, bike maintenance course and a children’s coaching session with Matlock Cycling Club.

The bike skills park at Thornbridge Outdoors.

To book a workshop or guided ride, of if you have a query about accommodation or how to get there, call 01629 640491 or email info@thornbridgeoutdoors.co.uk or check out the latest programme.

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Sign up for the Peak District Cycling Festival

Next month sees the first ever Peak District Cycling Festival, a nine-day celebration of cycling with more than 60 rides and bike-related activities.

The Festival has rides and events for all ages and abilities.

It runs from Saturday 7th-Sunday 15th September and events range from guided mountain bike rides and relaxed evening routes throught to bike orienteering, women-only rides and more challenging road outings.

The Festival starts with the Slicks ‘n’ Nobblies Peak Cyclo Sportive, featuring rides on- and off-road for most abilities and which sets off from YHA Castleton on Saturday 7th September.

Undoubtedly one of the highlights will be the Thornbridge Bike Fest at Thornbridge Outdoors, Great Longstone. It’s a residential weekend with cycling activities, demonstrations, stands, workshops, rides and evening entertainment. It takes place from Friday 13th – Sunday 15th September and promises to be a memorable weekend. You can also attend as a day visitor if you don’t want to stay the whole weekend.

Get into mountain biking!

Another event that is bound to be popular is the Carsington Water Charity Day, including plenty of family cycle rides. However, there’s also plenty of dedicated mountain bike events, including a circuit of the Ladybower Reservoir with Pennine Way Ranger, Martyn Sharp, who will help you develop your MTB skills such as learning handling, maintenance and navigation. It’s on Saturday 7th September, 10am to 1pm – to book call 01629 816 211. On Sunday 8th September there’s a 15-mile, adults-only mountain bike ride around Bakewell described as strenuous but not technically difficult. To book call 01433 631405 or email terry.page@peakdistrict.gov.uk.

The Peak District Cycling Festival comes on the back of the Government’s recent announcement that it is providing over £7 million of funding for cycling development in and around the National Park; and with the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire and the Peak District next to year, not to mention the new £26 million Velodrome being built in Derby, it seems that cycling is on the up. “We’re very keen to position the Peak District as the UK’s capital of cycling – including the world’s most cycle friendly national park, and this new Festival is spearheading a number of initiatives to help achieve our goal,” said David James, Chief Executive of Visit Peak District & Derbyshire, the area’s official tourist board.

Annie Last, patron of the Peak District Cycling Festival.

Patron of the Festival is 23-year-old Annie Last, who lives in the Peak District and rides for Trek Factory Racing mountain bike team. She represented Great Britain at the London Olympics in 2012, where she finished 8th. Currently Derbyshire Sports Personality of the Year, she is a multi-national champion and World Under 23 silver medallist. “I was lucky enough to grow up in the Peak District,” she said. “Now, as a professional cyclist, I love to return between international events to train on a variety of roads, tracks and challenging trails in Britain’s first National Park, amid wonderful, yet accessible countryside. I’d encourage everyone from beginners to experts to get on their bike and book ahead to explore some of the best cycling country they’ll ever experience. It’s good for both the head and the heart – as well as the very best way to get around.”

For more details about the Festival, the growing number of events and how to book for them, go to the Visit Peak District website or pick up a printed brochure from local tourist information centres.

Andrew

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