Cycle training pays off in Sheffield

It has cost public funds the equivalent of a metre of modern highway and led to a council-estimated increase in cycling of 70%. And that's in Sheffield, where both the landscape and shifts in political control are as up-and-down as they come.

This month, the Yorkshire city's Pedal Ready adult training scheme celebrates its 1,000th graduate, a cheerful HR officer at the Department for Work and Pensions called Wendy Melia. Her bike has a name too: Pearl, which Wendy associates with old but gallant pensioners.

"She looks like an old woman," she says, hoicking the bike through her garden gate and out for a practice on the Heeley area's steep streets. "But she's lovely." After a 28-year gap since she last biked regularly at the age of 10, Wendy and Pearl are now out every day.

This is thanks to the grapevine work of Pedal Ready, a scheme run by a 40-strong co-op, which offers free training to anyone living or working in Sheffield. Set up in 2004, it forged links with groups such as Recycle Bikes based in Heeley, which does everything from repairing unwanted, donated machines to running classes for kids and evening sessions on cycle maintenance.

Recycle supporters include Andy Jackson of the Heeley Development Trust, a community charity, who sits with Wendy on the board of governors of Anns Grove primary school. They got talking about the cost and snail's pace of buses into the city centre, and Andy suggested biking.

"Cycle to work? No chance. I'm too old and fat," said Wendy (who is actually 38 and trim, although eight weeks' cycling has seen her lose nine pounds). Jackson told her about Pedal Ready and its one-to-one buddying scheme, and a few days later she took her first ride with one of the group's Bikeability-approved instructors, Sam Robb-Jones.

The two women got on well and still meet up regularly for coffee. Over a cup, Wendy tells her friend: "You taught me how to ride a bike again. I knew the basics but I wasn't good at corners and I didn't know how to signal. Just thinking of riding into Sheffield, I was scared."

The two of them practised up and down in quiet parts of Heeley and then, gradually, out on to busier streets. Back at home, Sam worked out a route for Wendy's two-mile commute that mostly uses cycleways, while the family pitched in too. Wendy's brother-in-law got her a bike but said: "You're not using it 'til you've shown me you can take a wheel off and get it back on again."

"I did," says Wendy, "and do you know, I felt that was such an achievement."

It all helped confidence. Another member of the family supplied the useful tip: "There's no such thing as bad weather for cycling, Wendy. There's just inappropriate clothing." Many Sheffielders have an inherited love of cycling from the socialist Clarion Club's great heyday in the 1930s.

Among club members was the millworker poet Allen Clarke, who wanted to be buried:

Where I can see the cyclists halt
And hear the yarns they spin
And there I will rest, and watch, and bless
The sweet and jolly scene
Til the Master of Cycles bids me rise
And mount my new machine.

A similar sense of vision lies behind Pedal Ready, which combines the adult training scheme with school classes, Cycle for Health contracts with primary care trusts and even, during last winter's snow, 'ice-cycling' training (off-road tyres or slight deflation, steering with as much bodyweight as possible and only gentle handlebar use).

Sheffield's role as major funder has been bolstered by council officers' own statistics, which give a cost ratio of nearly 1:7 to the scheme.

"In cash terms, that puts the cost of training the 1,000 users of the scheme at £45,000 - the metre of highway figure," says David Bocking, one of Pedal Ready's organisers. "The benefit is reckoned as just over £300,000 in savings on health spending, traffic congestion and pollution."

Wendy is now the latest missionary for the scheme as well as the newest graduate. She says: "I would have paid for the quality of the service and training, and I wouldn't be against means-testing if the public spending cuts ever threatened Pedal Ready. But more than anything, I think it needs the word spreading, so more people know.

"I get to work feeling healthier, I've met a really nice bunch of fellow cyclists, and I've lots more time for the family. It used to take half an hour to get to work on the buses. Now it's nine minutes."

That extra family time has also meant three more cyclists. Wendy's husband, son and teenage daughter have all become regulars on two wheels too.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.