Never too late to get back to cycling

Health rides can bring both physical and social benefits

Never too late to get back to cycling

Laurie Shields, aged 75, got back on a bike after 40 years by joining a health ride at Moors Valley Country Park in Dorset.

Three years ago Laurie Shields had been retired for a little while and was, "coasting along in a comfortable if unexciting and not very demanding rut towards the inevitable. I had no significant medical problems."

"One day, while talking to a friend, she enthused about cycling at Moors Valley Country Park and suggested I might like to accompany her one Wednesday, hire a bike and have a go. As I hadn't been on a bike for well over 40 years I took a lot of persuading," Laurie said. 

"The first attempt was an eye opener. I didn't know how to handle the gears - my last bike had three gears, this one had 21. I had great difficulty remaining upright and my legs were like jelly. I was not looking forward to the second week! However I persisted and, with the support and encouragement I received from the other group members and leaders in the early days, I gained quite quickly in proficiency and confidence, a critical factor."

The more I improved, the more I enjoyed the experience.

Laurie Shields

"The more I improved, the more I enjoyed the experience and soon became a regular member of the Wednesday cycling group," Laurie said. "By the beginning of last year I began to get the feeling that I had derived so much benefit in terms of increased fitness and enjoyment that I wanted to put something back into the system, so I volunteered for a leaders' course, which I completed in March. 

"Since then I have been leader or back-up on several occasions and have been able, at times, to reassure an inexperienced and doubtful newcomer that, not very long ago, I had been exactly like them. I am certain that I am now fitter than at any time since I left school. If anyone were to ask my advice on the subject, I would have no hesitation in echoing Norman Tebbitt - 'Get on your bike!'

Weekly Health Rides in Christchurch and East Dorset

There are now three health rides in the district of Christchurch and East Dorset from Moors Valley Country Park, and they attract on average 22 riders a week (in the summer up to 38 riders go out). The  rides are entirely off-road. The ride from Wimborne uses bridleways and quiet country lanes and also now has 20+ riders each week. A new ride from Christchurch started in the winter and is now well-established.

Health rides are predominately aimed at the retired age group as the rides are held during the day. However, they are open to any adult and often young mums or dads take part, too. The majority of participants have come along not having ridden much for many years (if at all). Some of the riders who started didn’t have their own bikes, but they are now so keen they are buying themselves brand new bikes.

The benefits to the riders have been both physical and social. Each ride finishes with the opportunity to stay for a cuppa and this has promoted a great spirit of friendship and camaraderie, which is really important. Some riders now meet up and do their own longer group rides. Many of the riders who have had medical issues or been referred by a doctor are experiencing a new lease of life and increased levels of fitness.

I have made some really good friends and met some of the most enthusiastic and helpful people I know.

Marc Thompson, Ride Coordinator

"It was my job to set up the rides and train the leaders to deliver and lead them," coordinator Marc Thompson explained. "But I have to say that, although I am a little bit younger than the majority of the people on the rides and not ready to retire yet, I have made some really good friends and met some of the most enthusiastic and helpful people I know. Without the time, dedication and willingness to support others shown by the volunteers, the scheme would never have been the success it is.

"More than 400 people have regularly taken part in a health ride - which for a local initiative is a fantastic number - with many then going on to enjoy a rewarding and fulfilling cycling future, joining clubs, organising their own rides or becoming ride leaders. The wish that the health rides would set people off on this path to enjoy cycling and benefit their health has been fulfilled, which I am very happy about and proud to be a part of."

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