This week was the first of Birmingham's Wheels For All inclusive cycling sessions, at the Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr. I went along on behalf of Push Bikes to find out more.
Wheels For All is a national programme of events to bring cycling to children and adults with disabilities and differing needs. The centres provide a selection of alternative and adapted cycles, trained leaders and a safe space in which to try them out. While there are centres across England and Wales, this is the first time they've run sessions in Birmingham. The focus of their current funding is for young people aged 11-25 with all kinds of disabilities, but they welcome anyone who might not have had the opportunity to cycle. Mixed-ability groups and families/friends of disabled people are particularly encouraged.
I arrived at the stadium to find them setting up in a fenced-off service area to the side of the main entrance. While slightly uninspiring to look at, this provided a quiet area of smooth, flat tarmac with plenty of room for people to try out unfamiliar cycles. There are plans to move to a larger space in the stadium ground for future sessions when it becomes available.
They had an impressive assortment of sturdy tricycles, quads, hand-cycles, wheelchair tandems and so on in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, the one thing that was notably absent was a normal bicycle, unless you counted the one I arrived on. Cones were set out for anyone wanting to practice their fine steering control. Everyone was encouraged to try riding anything they liked, be they disabled children, parents, or visiting Push Bikes members... My shoulders are still reminding me how much work hand-cycling can be!
One smartly-dressed adult turned up who, while not disabled, had never learned to ride a bike as a child for cultural reasons, and wanted to see if she could learn. With a bit of encouragement she did a couple of laps on a very practical step-through upright tricycle (including carrying my folded Brompton bicycle in the cargo basket to test its load-carrying ability), and left with a huge grin and a promise to return next week in some more comfortable clothes.
We also had some families of autistic children who welcomed the opportunity for them to cycle in a safe, controlled environment where they could learn at their own pace - without having to worry about interactions with strangers who might not understand they were disabled, as they might when sharing the space in a public park. This was something I hadn't really considered before, as while everyone recognises a small child (or even a wobbly adult) losing the stabilisers for the first time, older children and adults with invisible disabilities are likely to come across badly if they have issues with bike control or behaviour in a public place. This demonstrates the importance of these kind of sessions beyond simply providing access to adapted cycles.
At the end of the session, the children were encouraged to add their own drawing or text to a poster commemorating the event. It is hoped that this will be added to over future sessions.
The sessions will run for 16 weeks from the 22nd of April, every Wednesday from 4pm-6pm at the Alexander Stadium, Walsall Road, Perry Bar, B42 2LR. Car and cycle parking (a set of Sheffield stands by the stadium main entrance) are available on site, and you're welcome to bring your own cycles along to ride if you want. Helmets are provided, though I'd suggest that bringing some gloves might be a good idea, to prevent grazed hands if you do fall off.
For more information about the sessions contact Ian Tierney on ian.tierney (at) cycling.org.uk or phone 01925 234213
See also http://cycling.org.uk/wfa/intro