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Bike for Life Belfast - Sofa to Saddle Scheme


Following the very successful ‘Couch to 5K’ running programme that we introduced to our council area in 2015, I wanted to find a similar cycling initiative that would encourage our local population to get out on their bikes. Cycling Ireland’s bike for life programme and the Great Dublin bike ride provided the perfect template. The initial idea was to pilot a scheme where we would take 12 people through a programme of training building up to completing the 60km route of the Great Dublin Bike ride. When 120 people signed up a radical rethink of the initial plan was required.

With the help of 2 excellent local cycling clubs Apollo CT and Trail Demons, we organised training runs 7 days a week where participants had the opportunity to join a session of their choice. After a few weeks groups of similar ability started to form and meet on regular sessions. These formed the groups that would stay together and complete the GDBR. What was excellent about the partnership with the cycling clubs is that it really broke down the perceptions on both sides. Firstly there were 120 people who were interested in cycling but would never have gone to a club. This was mostly to do with a fear of not being good enough and not being welcomed. Secondly there were perceptions from the clubs about what was involved in looking after a group of complete beginners. After the first few sessions however it was pretty clear that the knowledge and skills of the club riders were really well received and the effort and determination that the participants put into their training sessions was recognised by the club riders.

There was excellent support from our local Halfords Bike hut throughout the programme. They provided maintenance training for the participants and a discount scheme on everything from bikes to clothing. They also sponsored our classification jersey competition. Just as the council was seen as less intimidating facilitator for cycling, So Halfords were seen as a less intimidating bike shop for this level of cyclist. More than 60 new bikes were sold as a direct result of this programme.

Some Key stages of the programme:

· Registration day and free bike check

· Training sessions 7 days a week

· Free Halfords maintenance sessions

· Sportive information night

· Pasta night with jersey collection and presentation of the leaders nominated classification jerseys.

· Great Dublin Bike Ride (graduation event)

We took 120 people to the great Dublin Bike ride in 2 buses and a fleet of vans transporting the bikes. It was a fantastic event and perfect for the riders to experience their first sportive. The atmosphere was fantastic and the support received was inspiring. More inspiring was the desire from the participants to continue to cycle and the big question on the buses on the way home from some very tired but elated cyclists was, ‘What Next?’

Currently we are running our 2016 sofa to saddle scheme. It has support from 4 clubs: Apollo CT, Banbridge CC, Dromore CC and Portadown CC and is funded by the Public Health Agency. The scheme started At Easter and is working towards the brand new council run ABC Sportive on the 19th June. Participants this year received club membership and Cycling Ireland membership for 1 year to encourage them to continue to cycle and really cement the cycling bug. The participating clubs have received training through the CI ride leaders course to give them the skill set to look after and retain their new members. Halfords have again provided support for the programme. Just one of the real success stories is that 2 of the groups are being led by participants from last year’s programme who have been bitten by the cycling bug, joined a club and are providing advice and inspiration to this year’s riders. We look forward to completing the training and the challenge of 60 or 100km on the 19th June.


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