Pedal power


Inclusive cycling is fun, empowering and it promotes development

Across the UK, there are places where families with children and young people with SEN and disabilities can try inclusive cycling, or “all-ability cycling”, as it’s also called. But what is inclusive cycling and what does it involve? The simple answer is: it is cycling for everyone together. Centres will facilitate this by having a range of cycles for all sizes and abilities, and experienced staff and volunteers to encourage people and adjust cycles correctly. Inclusive cycling focuses on what people can do, not what they can’t do. So, for example, they can try a hand cycle, a tricycle which is easier to balance than a bicycle, or a side-by-side, where they have a companion who can help pedal, steer and brake.

All-ability cycling can be very empowering, as Emma, the session manager at a recent half-term inclusive cycling session for children at Ladywell Arena in south London, explains: “The children had a lovely time cycling together with their brothers and sisters, sharing an activity, feeling equal. We had children on the autistic spectrum, those with Down’s syndrome and some with muscular wasting conditions, and they were all able to cycle and many were able to try different types of cycle on the track. They were aged from five to fifteen, and varying heights and abilities, but because of the range of cycles we have and how we can adjust them, we can cater for most people.”

Comments from parents and participants at the event highlight how much, sessions like these mean to children and young people with SEN and their families.

“I like the green trike because it can’t fall over and it’s nice to be tall”, said one child.

Eight-year-old Esther said she “Liked the red and yellow bike and going on the side-by-side with my brother”.
Agnes, who is nine years old, enjoyed the session so much she wanted to take a bike away with her. “Can I take the yellow one home?” she said. “It has a basket and I can put all my school things inside.”

Families also noted how much their children got out of these all-ability sessions. “She’s never ridden that much; she did four laps!” said one parent. Another said that their son had improved his abilities in a short time and “got better at steering”.

Building skills

Students from Turney School started cycling with their local all-ability cycling charity, Wheels for Wellbeing, a few years ago. Initially, they just took part in one-off sessions, later they enjoyed a series of get togethers for cycling. However, these extra sessions were just add-ons, at varying times, so they weren’t part of a routine. 

In 2015, the school decided to develop a sixth form and this is where the need for cycling as part of the curriculum became even more apparent. The students needed exercise and the school hall and playground were too small. These young adults needed more space to exercise and also an opportunity to do something outside of school to help develop their communication and social skills.

Teacher Collin Jones approached the charity’s Community Engagement Officer and, together with the session manager at Herne Hill Velodrome, they arranged regular sessions for the students on Mondays. They agreed that each student had to register with the volunteer receptionist each week, to encourage them to be more independent, rather than going in with the school as a group. The sessions have proven to be very worthwhile for all concerned. 

Here’s how Colin summarised some the best things about all-ability cycling for his, and all, students with SEN and disabilities.

How children benefit:

  • they develop social skills and group work
  • they access a community leisure facility
  • they develop physical skills and contribute to a more healthy lifestyle.

What children like about cycling:

  • doing an activity outside of school
  • learning new skills and exercising
  • being able to ride independently due to the range of adapted equipment.

Why teachers want their pupils to cycle:

  • to promote physical activity
  • to improve their social skills and communication
  • to take part in activities out in the community
  • to promote healthy lifestyles.

The benefits of inclusive cycling as a regular part of the school timetable:

  • it contributes to accreditation (ASDAN portfolios)
  • students develop independence and confidence by attending regular sessions
  • students are able to continuously develop skills by attending regular sessions.

Tre’s cycling story

Inclusive cycling has made a big difference for Tre, now 19, since he gave it a try as a child. Tre helped to write this description of what cycling has brought to his life: 

“I started cycling at Wheels for Wellbeing with my dad eight years ago on the yellow and blue bike. We went out together on the bike for long rides. I would wave to people and my dad would cycle. I loved it. I have improved since coming. I can go fast and I am also stronger.

“I like meeting new people and supporting people as I cycle round. I like to talk to lots of people because they are nice and polite. When supporting people, I ask them if they would like to cycle round with me. I ask them what music they like and about their weekend. I also tell them to come back soon.

“If someone is new, I tell them to enjoy the ride and not to be stressed out; just keep cycling and relax.”

Further information

Abigail Tripp is Community Engagement Officer and Cycle Instructor at the charity Wheels for Wellbeing:

“Cycling UK (who champion all cyclists) have a dedicated page on their website about inclusive cycling, and a useful map to help locate your nearest inclusive cycling hub:

Cycling UK supports more than 40 Inclusive Cycling Centres across England as part of a Big Lottery funded project. In partnership with Cycling Projects, Cycling UK has launched the largest network of centres that provide thousands of people with the opportunity to experience cycling each year:

British Cycling has disability hubs in Manchester, Bath, Nottingham, York, Kent and Aylesbury, and new ones in London at Herne Hill Velodrome with Wheels for Wellbeing and at Lea Valley Velopark with Bikeworks:

Cycling for All is a London-wide network funded by Sport England to increase cycling opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. The partners are Ecolocal, Bikeworks, Pedal Power and Wheels for Wellbeing:

Get Cycling promote inclusive cycling events across the UK, as well as running Get Cycling programmes, publications, a bike shop and all-ability cycling support services:

Wheels for All  is a national programme, with over 50 centres nationwide, that embraces all children and adults with disabilities and differing needs, to engage in a quality cycling activity:

Abigail Tripp
Author: Abigail Tripp

All-ability cycling Wheels for Wellbeing

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