Tour de France cyclists

Part 2: London bucks the trend

By Rachel Wharton 7 July 2014

The number of mainstream cyclists has fallen across the UK, but London bucks the trend: as the Tour de France enters the capital, Rachel celebrates our booming cycling culture and highlights the work of one charity in particular.

On 7 July 7, 198 cyclists will depart from Cambridge and travel 155km to London for Stage 3 of Le Tour de France.

As a cyclist, I am thrilled to witness the build up to this great sporting spectacle—a feeling that reflects the cycling boom underway in our capital. According to ONS census data, the number of Londoners cycling to work has more than doubled since 2001, as increasing numbers of Boris bikes and specialist cycling bars line our roads and a two-day festival of cycling, Prudential RideLondon, returns to the city. This cycling culture is supported by initiatives such as the government’s Cycle to Work Scheme.

If we need a lasting legacy from all of this, it is surely that that cycling is for everyone. While it is important to recognise and celebrate the accomplishments of phenomenal athletes like Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, it is even more important to remember that cycling is a sport anyone can enjoy.

So I hope you will indulge me while I highlight some of the amazing charities that remind us of this fact.

Cycling for all is a London-wide network that aims to increase cycling opportunities for everyone regardless of age or ability. It is funded by Sport England and made up of four partner organisations, each covering a different part of London: Bikeworks (east and west London), EcoLocal Cycling (south west London), Pedal Power (north London), and Wheels for Wellbeing (south east London).

Wheels for Wellbeing leads the partnership. Back in 2013, it won a Guardian Charity Award for its hard work helping people with disabilities get into cycling, and the charity runs regular outdoor cycling sessions where anyone can drop in and have a go. They provide a huge variety of bikes, all adapted to suit different needs, so you can cycle in tandem with an instructor or try a hand-cycle.

Wheels for Wellbeing gives to people who are normally immobile not only physical freedom but psychological freedom too. As someone who cycles almost every day—and I’m sure any cyclist will back me up here—cycling can bring as many mental benefits as physical ones. It has been shown to help alleviate depression, reduce stress and anxiety levels and recently research has been undertaken that shows cycling can help those with ADHD.

Wheels for Wellbeing is special to me for all the reasons above, but also because it adopts the social model of disability, so that instead of focusing on an individual as being disabled it highlights society’s inability to cope with physical and mental differences. Under this model, the emphasis is on removing those barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people; in this case, barriers that prevent disabled people from cycling. In so doing, the charity gives disabled people the opportunity to experience through cycling what they may not have in other parts of their lives—independence, choice and control.