I can’t ride a bike so when David, one of the staff at Pedal Power, offered to teach me I was somewhat sceptical. Pedal Power is a club for cyclists with learning disabilities running sessions at the Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. “But my feet fall off the pedals,” I said. “Then we’ll start you off on a scooter,” he replied. So there I was scooting round the Emirates Stadium with one foot hovering above the ground in case I fell off. It was slightly scary but by the end of the circuit I was able to scoot for longer periods with both feet on the scooter.
Pedal Power was founded twelve years ago by Jo Roach. “My daughter, Suzie, who has a learning disability, has been cycling since she was four and is a good cyclist,” Jo told me. “Suzie lives independently but can only ride when she visits me. I looked for an appropriate cycling club but there was none available. So I sought advice from the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start one myself. I’d already got some starter money from running a tea party at Christmas. I love baking and my tea parties are always successful. After all, the more you cycle, the more cake you can eat,” Jo said with a twinkle in her eye.
With the cake money and some money for bikes from Waltham Forest Council, Jo set up the club at the Eastway Cycle Circuit, but when this was demolished to build the Olympic Park she looked for another venue. Fortunately she was able to find a regular slot at Finsbury Park, and later on Islington Council got in touch and commissioned her to start sessions at the Emirates.
“I see so much success,” said Jo. “It’s so rewarding seeing people riding for the first time when others say they could never do it. It’s about fun, freedom and fitness.”
The following Tuesday I attended a session at the Finsbury Park running track. It was a fine sunny day and cyclists of all ages were out in force – from four years old to 70! Jo told me that about 100 people would attend throughout the morning. She pointed out one of the cyclists, Pete (not his real name), looking very cool in his bright blue helmet. “Pete’s been coming for a year and was shaking all over when he first got on the trike but now all he needs is a bit of support to mount, and he’s off.”
The variety of bikes and trikes is amazing – who knew there were so many? I was especially impressed by the variety of trikes, some of which could be ridden independently and others with a support worker either at the side or at the back, tandem style. There’s even the Velo, a Dutch built trike, used to carry wheelchairs.
At the end of the session I met Phyllis who was riding her trike with confidence. “I’ve raised money for Race for Life through Centre 404 [a centre for people with learning disabilities and their families in North London]. That was a five kilometre race and I raised £84. This year I want to do a ten kilometre race,” she said with pride.
The club couldn’t do without the part-time workers who are qualified cycle trainers, the many volunteers – and of course the funders.
I heard about the club through a friend who told me that her colleague, John Thorne was running the Shakespeare Marathon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 7th May in aid of Pedal Power. John works for Islington Council’s Leisure Team and helps funds Pedal Power’s Emirates sessions with help from Sport England. I’ve sponsored John and hope you can donate too by getting in touch with him on firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be taken for some time after his marathon.
Pedal Power sessions take place at Finsbury Park (10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and 12-4pm on alternate Saturdays) and the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal (10am to 2pm on Thursdays).