As millions of pounds are poured into upgrading the road infrastructure to make it more cycle-friendly, Julie Marshall meets members of a Yorkshire cycle forum.
While it’s clear the UK has a long way to go before it rivals cycle-friendly nations such as Denmark and the Netherlands, the Government’s announcement last week of a further £214m package to make cycling safer and more popular is welcome news to members of cycling groups throughout Yorkshire.
And while it would appear that most of the money is destined to make urban cycling more user-friendly, the fact that cycling in general is being given such a massive boost is good news for all those who are fans of pedal power rather than engine power.
Research commissioned by British Cycling has shown that if Britain did become a cycling nation it could save the NHS £17 billion in 20 years, reduce road deaths by 30 per cent and increase the mobility of the nation’s poorest families by 25 per cent.
All of which comes ahead of the launch of a £30m cycle superhighway between Leeds and Bradford, and has been welcomed by Coun James Lewis, chairman of the West Yorkshire combined Authority Transport Committee.
Speaking last week he said: “This funding will enhance the work already under way to create build a legacy befitting this year’s triumphant Grand Départ.
“We are about to start constructing on Cityconnect, linking Leeds and Bradford, after a constructive consultation process that involved us speaking to cycling groups, 13,000 residents and business owners along the route of what will be the country’s largest cycle superhighway.”
Around £114m of this package has been earmarked to develop local cycling networks – something that is very close to the hearts of Sandy Clark and David Keighley, who, along with Jeff Kitching, are the mainstays of the volunteer-led Wakefield and District Cycle Forum.
Although there is no doubt the legacy of the Grand Départ has swelled their numbers and kept interest high, the forum has its roots some 14 years ago, long before there was any thoughts about the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire.
Chairman Sandy Clark, a 68-year-old retired trade union official who has been involved from the very beginning, says: “It all began in 2000 when members of the Pontefract Cycle Club started a campaign to get Wakefield council to be more sympathetic to cyclists.”
An open-to-all forum was convened and within a few years the council had appointed a healthy transport team, complete with cycle officer, and local rides were organised.
But just when things were going well, the budget cuts in 2007 led to the disbanding of the healthy transport team and the cycle forum were faced with the prospect of seeing all the gains they’d made disappear.
Undaunted, a handful of the more committed members moved away from the council and came together to form their own community-led organisation.
This year they welcomed their 1,000th member, organised more than 100 rides with 2,100 participants and had an average attendance of 20 riders on each ride.
Sandy adds: “Our initial aim has always been to attract the sort of people who don’t cycle and want to start or to get back into it. The trouble is these are the sort of people who are unlikely to have their own bikes.
“We secured a grant from the NHS and bought six adults and six children’s bikes and were awarded a lottery grant of £9,500 grant to buy leaflets, produce exhibition materials and T-shirts to promote the forum.”
The group now operate from four different locations in the Wakefield district: Nostell Priory, Anglers Country Park, Pugneys and Castleford Mill.
The forum’s research has shown that many people weren’t taking up cycling because they don’t want to ride on the road, so a major part of the work of their work is opening up a network of cycle paths and, more importantly, linking them altogether.
Former police photographer David, 71, says: “Take Nostell, for example. There are lots of tracks along old railway lines that served the pits in Walton, Crofton and Nostell, so we set about asking the Nostell estates office if we could open them up to the public.”
“After being initially reluctant they changed their mind and now there’s a wonderful network of paths in the area.
“The problem is that, there are paths all over the district but the links between them are missing.”
One of these was a crucial 5km stretch of the old Chevet Branch line in the south-east of the district.
Although it formed part of a recognised cycle route it was impassable in wet weather.
Following the groups’ intervention, a lot of negotiation between the four different land owners and a grant of £90,000 it is now an all-weather bridleway that links miles of other pathways together.
For those who like a challenge there is now a 40-mile circular route (The Wakefield Wheel) and a 20-mile Wonders of Wakefield (renamed Le Tour de Wakefield during a certain cycle race) which takes in such sights as Newmillerdam and the Hepworth Gallery.
Sandy says: “The Wakefield Wheel is becoming rather famous and we have cyclists coming from all over the country to ride it, which is wonderful.
“Wakefield Council worked with us to produce the routes; they gave us money for signs and materials and our volunteers did the rest, putting up signs, resurfacing pathways and maintaining the route.”
Most of our members are relatively new to cycling and they come along to gain confidence and to get fit. We grade the rides from entry level to challenging so there is a ride to suit all abilities and ages.
“We run rides throughout the year, whatever the weather, and have themed rides at Halloween and Christmas which all adds to the fun.”
From being derided as one of the worst authorities for safe cycling Wakefield is now at the forefront of the movement to get the nation out on two wheels.
This level of local interest is good news for the government who say they want to see the number of journeys made by bike more than double by 2020.
Speaking at a dedicated cycling summit last week, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: I’m committed to helping our dream of becoming a cycling nation.
“The rewards could be massive. Billions of pounds in savings for the NHS, less pollution and congestion and a happier and safer population.”
For more information visit: www.cycling-wakefield.org.uk