Another beautiful day in Bristol today. Cycling along the waterfront it felt like a Mediterranean city, with its bright hillside houses, marinas and boat sheds, and I felt very privileged to be doing this work.
Today I met two groups involved in different forms of cycling. Firstly, the Bristol Trails Group – a volunteer organisation of mountain bikers that helps plan, improve, and maintain local trails. I went along to the Mud Dock to hear a talk about their work as part of the Mudstock event. The Bristol Trails Group was set up in 2004, as part of a process that was semi-formalising the informal mountain biking happening near Bristol. This provided a compromise where landowners (including the Forestry Commission) could control where mountain biking happened, and mountain bikers could have some say over how trails were built.
Antony de Heveningham gave an engaging talk about the Group, and what is happening with the launch of 1SW which is putting some serious money into MTB trails. There were some particularly interesting points including:
1. Unusually, Bristol has MTB trails easily accessible from the city centre by bike.
2. The ways that MTBers judge trails as being good or not – Antony used the phrase ‘flattering your ability’ a few times, and talked about the importance of having different options for different levels of skill (and the worry that ‘all ability’ puts off experienced riders). I don’t know that much about mountain biking so all this is new and intriguing to me.
3. His critique of a gadget-focused MTB culture, where people are encouraged to lust after the latest enhancements to their bikes, but where you ride takes a back seat.
4. The inventiveness and make-do culture, alongside the need for some level of support for it (small grants and in-kind assistance from bike shops, etc.)
And, talking of mountain bikes… here’s something that you don’t see every day!
This tandem mountain bike was shown me by Alastair who helps out with Two’s Company. After attending the trails talk, I’d headed down to the Create Centre, a couple of miles along the waterside (hence the lovely trip along the river path). Two’s Company, a project run by LifeCycle UK*, gives visually impaired and disabled people opportunities to come cycling on the back of a tandem. I met Alastair and other participants outside Create, helping people try out the tandems.
I spoke with Jenny about the variety of rides the group organises, including around the Castle Combe motor circuit on Midsummer’s Eve (‘like riding on silk’, apparently!) Lizzie, who works for LifeCycle, spoke about how riding a route on a tandem is so different from riding it on a commute. And she told me about the new project run by Two’s Company which is aimed at people with early stage dementia (funded by Bristol PCT and supported by the Alzheimer’s Society). While I’m talking to them, I see a tandem pair come back from a ride. The rear rider has clearly enjoyed riding again for the first time in a while. Riding for her has brought back her memories of riding earlier in her life, and given her a new feeling of freedom and activity. The potential health impacts of this project are really interesting both in terms of enabling people to get physical activity, but also – where people have experiences of cycling as a child or younger adult – keeping them in touch with past pleasurable cycling experiences. The latter is something that has come up in our interviews more generally, but I think perhaps it may be particularly valuable for people experiencing dementia.
*LifeCycle run an exciting variety of programmes, including a specialist Brompton maintenance workshop!