“It’s relaxing and calming cycling around here,” notes fellow cyclist, Marie, as she looks out to admire the reservoir to the right of our cycle path. “It’s nice to get out on your bike on an afternoon, especially in this weather. It helps me unwind.”
Marie is riding with me on a group cycle in Birmingham. She tells me she cycles quite often for transport, but loves afternoons like today where she’s on her bike, outside in nature. “We cycle to the centre and have a coffee at the end of the ride,” she tells me.
I’m at Edgbaston Reservoir taking part in a group bike ride, organised for free by the council with Cycling UK. I had my reservations about cycling in the city, but when I turn up at the meeting point I find myself surrounded by stunning scenery. The sun is reflecting off the water, and the whole place is calm. You really can find natural beauty in even the busiest of cities.
I arrive to a group of people laughing and joking by the reservoir on the scorchingly hot Friday afternoon. “You here for the ride?” they ask me, as I head over. Someone gets off their bike and leads me to the large container full of cycles so I can choose one. I feel welcome and I’ve only been here for a few minutes.
The afternoon’s ride is 10 miles around the reservoir, down through the Birmingham canals and into the city centre. Steve, the ride instructor, tells me it’s an afternoon people look forward to coming to every Friday. “When we reach the centre we all stop off and have a coffee before heading back,” he says.
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I’m immediately struck by how relaxed everyone seems. There’s laughter and jokes as we head off to start the ride. One guy speeds round the corner and slightly wobbles, falling off the side of his bike. Everyone cheers (while also helping him up and checking he’s okay). Around me, people are catching up about their weeks and welcoming those who are new to the ride - there’s certainly no lack of conversation.
Cyclists from all different walks of life turn up to the group. Steve tells me they link up with a housing association and provide those people with restored bikes, allowing them to get out on the rides. Others are confident cyclists and come along for the relaxing and sociable benefits, and some - more like me - are new to cycling and want to boost their confidence. Away from the city centre, I feel completely at ease as I glide down the path.
Shortly after we set off, two cyclists ride up next to me for a chat, asking why I came along and how long I’ve been cycling. The conversation flows and it quickly becomes clear how comfortable everybody feels on this ride. “It’s a chance to escape from the pressures of everyday life,” one person tells me. “It’s a hideaway from the world.”
Another cyclist, Shaun joins in, too. “I love cycling around here,” he says. He received a restored bike through Cycling UK’s partnership with the housing association in the city. “It’s great to just get out and cycle, especially along here. It’s a nice way to spend my Friday afternoon.”
After we complete the reservoir loop, I head back to the city while the rest of the group carry on with their afternoon cycle. They all wave me off.
It’s no secret that cycling is good for our mental wellbeing. Riding on two wheels can inspire greater self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to a challenge – and I can’t help but feel this group does exactly that.
I watch them cycle off, all in high spirits. Now that is a way to destress and unwind at the end of a busy week.
HuffPostListens – Birmingham
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Read more about the project here.