Healthy, fun and environmentally friendly: Getting on your bike in Barking and Dagenham couldn’t be easier
PUBLISHED: 17:32 12 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:32 12 October 2017
What sport significantly improves physical and mental health, saves the NHS millions and is available for people to do every day?
The answer, of course, is cycling.
Whether commuting to work, popping to the shops or heading out into the countryside for a leisure ride, biking is a brilliant way to do exercise and get around.
Despite the recent bad press, cycling, when done responsibly, is a safe and cheap way to travel around London, and the good news is it’s getting easier by the day.
Transport for London (TfL) has been investing in cycle superhighways – separated bike lanes along main roads – and quietways, routes throughout the capital using backstreets and parks.
And if you’re just a beginner, or you’ve never cycled before, in Barking and Dagenham and east London there are lots of ways to get into the sport and get confident on a bike.
Russell Coe, 57, is the director of Vandome Cycles, which runs two cycle hubs in the borough at Mayesbrook Park and Barking Riverside, the latter opening in August.
He is also the secretary of Barking and Dagenham Cycling Club, which helps aspiring young cyclists enter bike races.
“We deliver cycling training for the borough, bike ability for most cyclists in the borough to prepare them for cycling on the road,” he explained.
Russell, who has run cycling sessions in the area for 10 years, works with a lot of schools in Barking and Dagenham to get youngsters confident on a bike from a young age.
“Then if they want to take the next step and start racing they can join Barking and Dagenham Cycling Club, which is one of the most successful youth cycling teams in the country,” he continued.
As well as supporting the young racers, at the cycle hubs residents can borrow bikes, get them repaired and learn training at bike maintanence workshops.
And if you are feeling nervous about giving cycling a try Russell recommends taking one of the free cycle training and skills lessons Vandome runs with Barking and Dagenham Council.
Between 2015 and 2016 the local authority provided over 900 hours of free cycle training and skills sessions and taught 336 residents to ride.
The infrastructure in the borough is improving every day, with help from walking and cycling charity Sustrans.
Route manager David Hibbs is helping build a quietway which will link Barking town centre with Cycle Superhighway 3 via backstreets by the River Roding.
Quietways are being developed by TfL to provide routes across London using parks, paths and residential streets.
The course will go from by Barking Abbey, across the river along the Town Quay to Fleet Road, and then down Jenkins Lane to the A13.
“It’s intended to provide facilities to get people to and from work on their bikes,” said David.
David hopes the quietway will get finished next year, and if you do decide to use it to commute, the health benefits are staggering.
University of Glasgow research has found that those who commute to work by bike have at least a 40 per cent lower risk of premature death and developing heart disease and cancer.
If you work central London you can take Cycle Superhighway 3, which runs from Barking down the side of the A13 past Canary Wharf to the City, with a completely separated bike lane.
And if you can’t commute, but want to get out on your bike at weekends to try out some longer rides, British Cycling run lots of guided routes in Barking and Dagenham.
With difficulties ranging from easygoing to challenging, the HSBC UK Guided Rides are a great way to find socialise and cycle right from your doorstep.
Theresa Hughes, also from Sustrans, explained that cycling provision in London is now excellent, it’s just left for people to get riding.
“With the new infracture and real investment, it’s all to play for,” she said.
“It’s now about people getting involved and getting on bikes.”