Tour de France cyclists

Part 3: Steering towards a brighter future

By Marina Svistak 8 July 2014

As the Tour leaves England for France, Marina explains how bike charities work with the hardest to reach in our communities to help steer them towards a promising future.

In the early editions of the Tour de France, riders had to do their own mechanical repairs. Eugène Christophe—on course to win the Tour de France in 1913—was forced to visit a local forge when his front fork snapped in two. As well as losing time, he was further fined because a 7-year-old boy helped push the bellows.

Today it’s a very different environment. Riders can rely on a team of coaches, mechanics and physios who ensure everything is done to maximise their performance on the road, keeping bad luck to a minimum. For the rest of us, our cities and towns are well-stocked with cycling repair and maintenance shops so help is always at hand.

But not every bike shop is quite as ordinary as it looks.

A couple of months ago I visited one near Whitechapel. On first appearances, it seemed like any other: orderly and clean, the smell of fresh rubber hung in the air and a bundle of repaired bikes stood awaiting their collection. But it’s the people who work and train there who make this shop special.

Bikeworks is a social enterprise that uses bike as tools to create social change at a community level. It engages people with physical and learning disabilities in cycling, and provides training to get homeless people, ex-offenders, long-term unemployed, and NEETs (not in education, employed or training) back into employment, equipping them with mechanical and customer service-based skills. Unemployment affects people of all backgrounds, but there are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of unemployment, including low educational attainment, disability, offending and homelessness.

Bikeworks runs three retail shops, three training centres and two disability clubs. The business generates 80% of the revenue  and the remainder comes from sponsorship deals. Local authority contracts are secured to provide cycling training. It is now in the midst of securing a disability centre of excellence in the Olympic Park and seeking further expansion.

In this series of three blogs, we have reflected on the part played by local charities in improving cycling infrastructure and raising the confidence of cyclists; on our booming cycling culture and its inclusivity; and finally, how cycling can be used to engage different groups within our communities.

A passion for cycling unites all of the charities we’ve mentioned; and yet what every example demonstrates is the variety of social and economic benefits that cycling charities can bring.