Alastair Dalton: Traffic-free events the perfect way to try cycling

Everyone knows the benefits of cycling and many would like to give it a try - but where do you start?

Broadcaster Jenni Falconer is promoting the HSBC Let's Ride events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Picture: Johnston Press
Broadcaster Jenni Falconer is promoting the HSBC Let's Ride events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Picture: Johnston Press

Even if you have a bike, it takes some bravery to launch off into traffic for the first time.

I vividly recall my first experience in Edinburgh 20 years ago when riding my first mountain bike home, and how scary it felt being sandwiched between parked cars and close-passing vehicles.

Most urban dwellers won’t be able to cycle far from where they live before encountering busy roads - which are often a hurdle to be crossed to reach an off-road cycle path.

But what if you could cycle through a city centre on traffic-free roads? That rare opportunity presents itself in Edinburgh on Sunday with the latest of the HSBC UK Let’s Ride events, organised by British Cycling, the sport’s governing body.

Some 7,500 riders are expected to take part in the free event in which you can spin round a three-mile course between Edinburgh Castle and The Meadows as many times as you like.

A similar event in Glasgow city centre, forecast to attract up to 13,000, takes place on Sunday 26 August.

Bikes from Glasgow’s cycle hire scheme will be available for people to use, while hire bikes are also due to be hire provided at the event in Edinburgh, ahead of the city’s rental scheme being launched in September.

If you’re still not convinced, the enthusiasm of broadcaster Jenni Falconer, who will take part on Sunday, is infectious and inspiring.

Better known as a marathon runner, the London-based Scot said her keenness to cycle was outmatched only by her daughter, Ella, six, who was “obsessed” with getting about on two wheels.

“She cycles to school and sees herself as my personal trainer,” Falconer joked on a flying visit to Glasgow to help promote the mass rides.

“A lot of us learned to ride when we were little and not got back on a bike since,” she told me. “If you want to be bitten by the bug, now is the time. Once you try cycling again you’ll feel you have achieved something - you might cycle to a friend’s house, and that’s the start.

“Small steps lead to longer distances. All you need is a bike and a helmet, and you are good to go.”

Falconer said when she had taken part in a similar event in London, she had thought “Why have I not cycled more?”

“It’s very sociable - you can chat to people and there’s a great banter. If someone is struggling to get up a hill everyone else urges them on.”

Falconer reckons cycling also improves bonds between people. “It’s something that brings families together. My mum can’t cycle - she had never learned and she was terrified, but my daughter helped teach her!”

The key, Falconer said, was for novice cyclists - particularly women - to have fun and not be put off by others. “A lot of fellas like wearing the lycra and take it too seriously”. Instead, they should let their wives, if new to cycling, take the lead and set the pace.

“In London, I’m quite intimidated by the traffic

A lot of women fear for their safety from cars.

“You just have to find bike-friendly places like parks and along canals and rivers where cars are not allowed.

“There are still total numpties who beep their horns at women cycling, but girls just have to have the power to not be intimidated by that.

“So many sports are male-dominated, but we are not there to prove a point, just enjoy it.”