Healthy, fun and environmentally friendly: Need any more reasons to get out and about on your bike?
- Credit: Archant
What sport significantly improves physical and mental health, saves the NHS millions and is available for people to do every day?
The answer, of course, is cycling.
Whether commuting to work, popping to the shops or heading out into the countryside for a leisure ride, biking is a brilliant way to do exercise and get around.
Despite the recent bad press, cycling, when done responsibly, is a safe and cheap way to travel around London, and the good news is it’s getting easier by the day.
Transport for London (TfL) has been investing in cycle superhighways – separated bike lanes along main roads – and quietways, routes throughout the capital using backstreets and parks.
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And if you’re just a beginner, or you’ve never cycled before, in Redbridge and east London there are lots of ways to get into the sport and get confident on a bike.
Redbridge Cycling Centre, in Forest Road, Barkingside, has off road road cycling, BMX and mountain bike tracks which are perfect for novices.
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“There are no vehicles at all, which is why a lot people like to use it,” Ian Coles, the centre’s manager, told me.
“That’s one of the benefits of having the track, it’s great for young children and families.”
Redbridge Cycling Centre truly has “something for everyone”, with sessions starting for toddlers from the age of two, teaching them basic cycling skills.
“That encourages them, and we then run learn to ride sessions from children and adults between four and 65,” Ian continued.
“That’s a big part of what we do here.”
After children get enthused about the sport they can learn road racing, or BMX and mountain bike events.
The centre offers lots of different sessions over half term.
“We actually do so many different courses it’s sometimes hard to keep up with them all,” Ian admitted.
Two cycling clubs use Redbridge Cycling Centre as a base, but “that’s actually a very small part of what we aim to do”, Ian explained.
The tracks are open to the public, and for beginners wanting to use the 2km circuit to practice there is always time set aside.
Redbridge Council’s leader Councillor Jas Athwal is a keen cyclist, and he told me how he first got into the sport.
“Five years ago a couple of friends said come along,” he said.
“I honestly thought it was going to be really dangerous but went along in the early morning, around 7am, for a cycle out into the Essex countryside.”
He headed out past Redbridge Cycling Centre and Hainault Forest Country Park into the quiet country lanes, and was immediately hooked.
“Ever since then, I’ve cycled 75kms on a Saturday and 75kms on a Sunday most weekends,” Councillor Athwal explained.
“It’s really refreshing and relaxing and you get out into the fresh country air.”
What would you say to other people who, like yourself, are nervous about the safety aspects, I asked him.
“I think first and foremost you have got to have all of the equipment,” he responded.
“I always wear a helmet, I have my lights on even in daylight and I always stop at redlights.”
Councillor Athwal added that he went to Redbridge Cycling Centre to improve his skills and ensure he was riding safely.
On top of the adrenaline fuelled excitement of flying down a descent with the wind whipping past your face, the health benefits are huge.
University of Glasgow research has found that those who commute to work by bike have at least a 40 per cent lower risk of premature death and developing heart disease and cancer.
And if you work central London you can take Quietway 6, which runs from Barkingside, down back streets and through parks, all the way to the City.
Theresa Hughes, from the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, explained: “With the new infracture and real investment, it’s all to play for.
“It’s now about people getting involved and getting on bikes.”