“Whereabouts are the brakes on this thing” is not a question you want to hear, especially when the rider is speeding across a small forecourt towards a line of parked cars.
Meanwhile, in my peripheral vision I can see our brand new cargo trike, 2 passengers in the front-box taking a corner flat out, heading on collision course with the first rider. Avoidance of this only likely if the trike first overbalances on the hairpin turn.
Not for the first time I wonder at how on earth I landed up being the responsible adult for this renegade group.
When I finished writing part one of this post the community bicycle scheme had just been hatched. There were 10 bicycles on order, a cargo-trike and many balls up in the air in the weeks after. The plan, to organise organising a mass collection ride to welcome the bicycles back into the community where they’d be homed.
The collection day had finally arrived and, blessed by the weather gods with the first brilliant sunshine of the month, myself and 10 enthusiastic volunteers, of varying experience and nerve, were gathered.
Now, donned in helmets and high viz the group were mounted on the brand new community bicycles. Ten Raleigh bikes, Pioneers and Edales, branded in the scheme colours and logo and fronted by a beautiful Babboe electric cargo trike pulled in to formation ready to launch the plan to get a community cycling.
The Wheely Inspired scheme, begun as a mad-cap idea nearly 5 months previously. Conceived through a successful funding bid the previous few months had been an escalating whirl of choosing, organising, branding, building, bikes and equipment. Cajoling and pestering businesses and volunteers to help deliver the whole grand plan and of course the endless mounds of paperwork (of which there’s a never ending vacuum when you’re a small organisation letting people loose on bikes that are your responsibility).
But somehow it happened, and here we were, finally ready to roll.
I’ll admit to feeling pretty emotional at that moment as, with clapping and encouragement from supporters, the bike convoy took its first tentative pedal strokes and 11 different bicycles moved off together in wobbly synchronicity, headed home to their new community.
The collection riders were an eclectic group of people, who lived, worked in and supported West Howe on a daily basis and who were passionate about supporting and improving the community.
They included a Police Officer (who also kindly security tagged the bikes), a town Councillor, community workers, residents and even local supermarket staff. One ride member had also made a 100 mile round trip, inspired by the programme and wanting to replicate it in her community.
The atmosphere was a festive one, even the local traffic which can be notoriously bad tempered, was on its best behaviour as the convoy joyfully wound through the streets of the town, ringing bells and waving at passers-by.
The distance back to West Howe is less than 6 miles, but with a range of riders and abilities we’d planned to take our time. It was a celebration not a race.
Stopping at the local outdoor cycling track, the coach invited us into the velodrome, stopping for drinks and cake in the middle of the track, riders then enthusiastically took up the challenge of racing alongside the sleek single speed track bikes (fortunately not on the banking!).
I’m sure that never again will I get the chance to see a cargo trike taking on a track cyclist being pursued by a city bike complete with baby carrier.
After this brief and surreal break, the group headed out for the final mile or so. It was with a sense of relief that we negotiated some of the trickier, busy roads. Having had to complete a full, incredibly detailed risk assessment for such, I was still holding my breath at points, but the traffic was kind and the riders elated as the little convoy sailed onto home turf, cruising round the estates that were to become home to the Wheely Inspired fleet of bikes.
A wonderful crowd cheered us in to the community centre at the heart of the area. Wobbly legs aside a press photographer did his stuff before the serious business began – post ride cake and coffee.
But the story doesn’t end there, it’s just the beginning. Within days all the bikes were adopted by local residents. Given out on loan, free of charge, for up to a year, local people now had the chance to get back in the saddle and they were inspired. People who hadn’t been able to cycle for years due to cost, lack of equipment, lack of confidence were coming forward and signing up. Cycling to work, cycling to job interviews and just plain cycling!
As such the scheme also offers accredited cycle training, cycling safety, maintenance and care advice as well as help with wider issues such as savings accounts and accessing affordable bikes.
It’s also about offering regular opportunities to ride for all abilities, to meet, to socialise and to cycle with support and encouragement.
It’s early days but the feedback has already been more than hoped for, the bikes have caused a buzz, people are talking about cycling, bikes are coming out of sheds, being dusted off, reluctant spouses and kids persuaded out for bike rides. Even achy legs muscles are becoming a badge of honour.
The biggest thrill for me, apart from spotting one of the Wheely Inspired bikes when I’m out and about, is seeing more bicycles being utilised and enjoyed and watching those people begin to fall in love with cycling.
So how do you get a community on a bicycle? Turns out it is 10 at a time.
Last but not least a few Thank you’s to people without whom the Wheely Inspired Scheme would have remained on the drawing board. To the team at Halfords Bike Hut Bournemouth for your patience and support, Kids and Family Cycles for the enthusiasm, passion and all things Cargo Bike, Think Signs for the branding, Tesco Kinson for the cakes and the pedal power, Bournemouth Green Goals Partnership for supporting the unknown and last but not least to the wonderful collection riders – Andy, Jane, Diane, Martha, Charlotte, Lee, Scott, Mara, Sally and the Kinson Crew – for making it not just a ride but an occasion!