Free bike rides help community take to the road

Members of Connect Cycling at Green Pastures in Ballymena.
Members of Connect Cycling at Green Pastures in Ballymena.

A scheme aimed at encouraging cycling for free has been hailed a huge success in Ballymena just months after it was launched.

Connect Cycling was established last March as a social cycling group, providing opportunities for cyclists of all standards to get involved in a non-competitive and sociable environment.

Since its formation the group has seen growing numbers on a weekly basis, in particular from individuals in the Borough who are keen to get involved in cycling at a novice level.

In January, Connect Cycling received a £2,500 sports grant from the Everybody Active 2020 small grant scheme through Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Sport Northern Ireland. This was to resource a beginners’ cycling programme.

The money was used to purchase a fleet of six new road bikes along with helmets, lights and supporting resources to help volunteers facilitate a beginners’ programme and enable those who believed bike ownership was a barrier to come along and try out the sport of cycling without any prior expense.

Since February, Connect Cycling has helped more than 30 people experience the sport of road cycling at a recreational level through their social group rides and participation in beginners’ bicycle maintenance workshops.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Paul Reid, said: “This is a brilliant initiative and I commend all of those behind the scheme.

“The health and well-being of our citizens is vitally important and a key aspect of the Borough’s Putting People First Community Plan.

“Credit to Connect Cycling for their fantastic work and I wish them continued success.”

Connect Cycling meets every Saturday morning from 8.45am at Green Pastures Church in Galgorm with beginner, intermediate and advanced group rides all led by ride leaders departing from the same point and converging later on the rides for a shared coffee stop to finish. The social aspect of the group is the part organisers believes sets them apart.

Johnny McCrystal, Connect Cycling Coordinator, said: “Receiving the Everybody Active 2020 grant from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Sport NI has enabled us in Connect Cycling to reach those to whom bike ownership was a barrier and helped us to help others within the Borough to get active and find community through our social group rides. We are extremely grateful for this support.

“Our group bikes are free to use and we’d ask that you get in touch via the reception at Green Pastures church or social media channels to book a bike to take part in our Saturday social group rides or if you’ve got your own, then come along at 8.45 am.

“Cycling can have a reputation for being elitist and expensive. We wanted to break those barriers by providing the resources such as a bike and a helmet along with the mentorship of a Ride Leader to help newcomers to try it out for themselves, all at no cost to the individual.

“We’ve seen a wide range of people come along for the ride already this year already, some saying it’s the first time they’ve been on a bike since they were a child.

“Others who are seasoned cyclists but looking for a group to cycle and socialise with. We pride ourselves in having a place for everyone.

“With the bikes and resources from the Everybody Active 2020 grant scheme in place, our beginners’ group continues and we’d welcome anyone who’d like to get involved to get in touch.

“Our group bikes are free to use and we’d ask that you get in touch via the reception at Green Pastures church or social media channels to book a bike to take part in our Saturday social group rides or if you’ve got your own then come along at 8.45 am to join us. Be sure to bring a few pounds along for the coffee stop as ‘Less Lycra, more Latte’ is our motto.”