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SCOTLAND fell well short of government targets to have 10% of the population cycling to work and 10% of children cycling to school by 2020. And yet, according to research, more children in Scotland want to cycle, we have waiting lists at countless cycling clubs, and polls show more people would like to ride bikes than use cars to commute.

The past three months have provided a glimpse of a future many would like to see in Scotland with quiet streets and roads and cycle paths full of families and people of all ages – while shops run out of stock – as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. But will it be an historical blip or the start of Scotland’s move to becoming a cycling nation?

People keen on the latter came together in the latest OSS Webinar to tell us how we might grasp such an opportunity. Professor Richard Davison, a former Scottish cycling champion and now coach and community club rider, is the OSS Vice-Chairman and a member of the OSS Research Advisory Group. He hosted the session and was joined by Craig Burn, CEO of Scottish Cycling, Chris Johnson, Head of Education and Training at active travel body Cycling Scotland, and one of Scotland’s leading pro mountainbikers Katy Winton.

The discussion covered a lot of ground around barriers, inequalities and good initiatives, but when asked how we build on this growth and keep people cycling when the cars return to the roads, they all had clear ideas.

Chris stated: “There is so much more we can do. Last year’s [Cycling Scotland] poll was stark where 50% told us they just didn’t see themselves as the type of person who cycled. The perception of cycling in this country is of it almost being a hobby, so there is a lot of work we can do to present it as more of an everyday opportunity.

“Cycling is actually a relatively safe sport, but one of the clear barriers has always been the perception of risk with too many cars on the road or cars going too fast, and that generally accounts for 30% of the reasoning why people choose not to cycle. When we look at why more people are cycling currently more than half of them are putting it down to there being fewer cars on the road.

“So, infrastructure is a big part, culture is also a big part and so is training. The ‘Bikeability Scotland’ programme has its origins in cycling proficiency from years ago, and the programme, which over 40,000 children undertake every year, has a huge impact. It’s not just about promoting road safety messages and life skills, but about promoting cycling as an everyday opportunity, and we’re trying to take a bigger role in communicating that to parents and getting their involvement as well.

“As alluded to, historically Scotland has a very low rate of everyday cycling so we want to stop that generation passing, and so we’re looking at how we work with partners to involve parents, and get messages to people who are not confident.”

Craig pinpointed school facilities and clubs becoming more open to all people as keys to building on the boom.

“Cycling is different from a lot of sports and has to work collaboratively with all stakeholders out there and across government departments, because the no1 thing we need to hang our hat on that will really make the difference is around health and wellbeing.

“Sport has a role to play but ultimately this is about making Scotland a better place. We have a massive dearth of facilities – very few cycle sport facilities.

“We need to make cycling more accessible. I’d love to see a pump track in every school in Scotland – could we make it compulsory when every new school is built that a pump track goes in? Give kids a reason to cycle to school, but also to play at school where we make cycling fun.

“Right now, pretty much every cycling club in an urban area has a waiting list for kids. Now that is a sad position to be in, but the reality is there is not enough investment going into facilities and infrastructure, but also empowering communities to grow clubs and build new clubs.

“We know that if you are part of a sport club you are much more likely to become a regular cyclist – over 50% of club members commute on a regular basis. And particularly for youth and encouraging more women into sport, we need more traffic-free safe facilities where we can coach and build confidence so people can go on and change their everyday behaviour.”

Katy Winton joined the panel from New Zealand, where she was preparing for World Mountainbiking competitions when lockdown hit. Katy is one of a small army of leading world racers to emerge from the Borders, including former Junior World Champion Ruaridh Cunningham, Grant Ferguson, Mark Scott, Liz Buchan, Isla Short and Reece Wilson, following the creation of mountainbike trails at Glentress and Innerleithen.

“For me, the Peebles Cycling Kids Clubs and Glentress having accessible trails got me into it and kept me in it,” she explained. “We also have good downhill tracks around Innerleithen … and just having accessible trails for all levels from entry level to more technical riding; there is an absolute buzz now compared to ten years ago.

“With Scottish Cycling having the downhill and cross-country programmes was huge to developing top-level athletes, and now we have the BASE  programme, a really successful Borders College programme for mountainbiking, to encourage more coaches into the sport, so it’s not just funnelling into professional racers now but broadening horizons for everyone who wants to be in the bike industry.

Katy is hopeful of returning to action in Switzerland at the end of August, with more European events in the diary before heading to South America later in the year. But she remains passionate about encouraging more youngsters and particularly girls into cycling, and asked what the key was to developing an interest, she said ‘friends’.

“Friends are a huge thing and so clubs with kids clubs are great, where kids go along and make friends and it becomes their community. But I’ve seen it happen where we have lots of girls and I think ‘yes, sweet, we have girls into this,’ and then they hit high school 13/14 and go off to do hockey and other team sport because that’s where their friends are. So the friends things is huge. I’ve not got the answer as to how we keep girls in it, but if they have experienced it first then my hope is that they will come back to it.”

Craig added: “At the end of the day we have to make cycling fun. It’s a much bigger eco-system than just  cycling. We have had some great big events like Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and we have the UCI Cycling World Championships in 2023 to look forward to.

“That’s 13 disciplines coming to Scotland, where the eyes of the world will be on Scotland, and it’s more than just 13 races. There is a whole policy commitment from government to look at cycling that will impact on health and wellbeing, tourism and jobs etc. To build on this boom it has to be a much more joined-up approach from government and the various agencies involved in cycling.”

The webinar was free to all, but we welcome donations to support our work as a charity committed to supporting government and a range of stakeholders from national to local levels to increase and widen community sport across Scotland. You can donate here.