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NHS HIGHLAND: The opportunity to cycle is open to almost everyone

By Dr Tim Allison

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There are many different ways to enjoy cycling.
There are many different ways to enjoy cycling.

The UCI Cycling World Championships have attracted a lot of publicity and rightly so, since Scotland was hosting the largest ever event of its kind in the world.

As well as races around the velodrome and on the road, there was BMX racing and the adrenaline-filled downhill mountain biking which took place at Fort William.

Several different types of sport involving varying skills and varying models of cycle were brought together in one major championship event.

The event also brought together able-bodied and para-cyclists in one world championship for the first time.

This inclusive approach shows how cycling can appeal to a wide range of people.

Over the last 15 or so years I have returned to cycling.

I was never fast or fit and still cannot claim to be either of those things now, but slow and steady cycling can be enjoyable as well as being excellent for improving our health, even if there is no chance of wearing a world champion’s rainbow jersey.

There are many fast and fit cyclists who I greet as they flash past me, but cycling in the community – just like in the world championships – is inclusive.

There are young and old cyclists, people with widely varying incomes, people who are able-bodied and people with a range of disabilities.

I have met a cyclist with severe visual impairment who rides regularly on the back of a tandem and also many people with different kinds of disability able to either ride on specially adapted bikes or on bikes where they are assisted by others.

The emergence of electric bikes has transformed the way that people who are less fit or mobile can travel on a bicycle and this will become an even greater opportunity should electric bikes become cheaper to buy.

Cycling gives opportunities for many people to have relatively cheap travel that keeps us fit and I would encourage people to think about whether cycling could be for them.

Dr Tim Allison.
Dr Tim Allison.

There are easy ways to start cycling and to get bikes checked out to ensure that they are both roadworthy and safe.

It won’t be the right activity for absolutely everyone, but we can all be sympathetic to cycling as an option.

We can encourage our friends and family to consider cycling and we can support efforts to improve opportunities for people to use bicycles.

We of course cannot rely on all cyclists to be courteous and safe riders, just as we can’t rely on all car drivers to be helpful and law abiding.

But we can support work to help cyclists have good opportunities to ride for either pleasure or work – or indeed for both.

Earlier this summer I was very disappointed to find that a local cycle path had been closed due to agricultural work and that while there was a replacement walking path in place, the only alternative available to cyclists was to pedal down a busy main road.

This was far from ideal for either those cycling or motorists.

As a legacy of the world championships I hope that we can all give more time to cycling and give more opportunity for those who wish to cycle.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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