If you live in Birmingham you should be noticing on a regular basis now orange bikes branded with 'Big Birmingham Bike' being ridden around. As part of the match funding Birmingham City Council (BCC) put in following the £17 million received from central government for the Birmingham Cycle Revolution, BCC has given away over 3,200 free Big Birmingham Bikes (BBBs) to people who entered the lotteries last year. In addition, 20 new cycle hubs were created with bikes available to borrow for free and a programme of led rides and training being put on. This is a scaling up and expanding of the Bike North Birmingham programme, which has continued and developed into the BNB Community Cycling project. This active travel and leisure scheme run by BCC in partnership with British Cycling, Cycling UK, Sustrans and other partners, is unique in the UK. Over the last few weeks I have visited a few rides and events put on by the BBB team, to help with Birmingham's Britain in Bloom bid and to showcase the BBBs for a BBC news report. Having spoken to BBB recipients and the BBB team, I have been delighted by the good news coming out of this scheme. I firmly believe that it has been a positive use of some of the BCR money and should continue to receive investment in the future so that it can be developed further.
The BBBs have been turning up all over Birmingham. A few weeks ago I even came home to find a BBB in my hallway - my lodger's friend received one which he uses to get around and also to go out cycling with his friends, even cycling down to Stratford-upon-Avon. I regularly see BBBs in Birmingham City Centre, including locked up outside the Job Centre and outside my university. I've seen a BBB recipient waiting for a train with his son on a child's bike, and I've even seen a 'Deliveroo' rider on his BBB. One of the benefits from the scheme will be that BCC are collecting data on the routes that BBB riders use, which can then be used to target future cycle infrastructure interventions. With such a wide range of people riding BBBs, the data should provide a reliable picture of which routes are useful and where the barriers are.
Below I have provided an update on the BBB programme's progress and a discussion of the way forward, and then some interviews with BBB recipients.
3,200 free BBBs have been given to successful applicants, out of the 3,400 BBBs. Of the remaining 200 recipients, most are currently receiving free training. Some successful applicants have been uncontactable, and the BBB team have been targeting those remaining BBBs at people who are already joining in with the rides at the BBB hubs. Phase 2 of the BBB programme is already being planned, with further adult bikes to give away, but also a Young People's Bike library scheme. The bike library will help families to keep their children cycling as they outgrow their bicycles, with families being able to exchange bicycles. This should also provide an incentive for the families to keep the bicycles well-maintained.
British Cycling, one of the partners on the BBB programme, have started 'Ride Active' sessions which are aimed to bridge the gap between Bikeability courses and led rides. Although Bikeability courses do deliver the key skills needed for riding on the roads, they have found that many participants need extra support to build up their confidence, skills and fitness levels before they are ready to cycle independently. This is a new type of scheme different to the Local Sky Rides being delivered around the UK, and is specifically targeted at communities that are traditionally difficult to reach. The 'Ride Active' sessions are weekly skills sessions held at off-road facilities, with regular participants gradually moving on to short local rides. Currently these are going on at Handsworth, Small Heath, Shard End and Kingstanding, with sessions at Saltley due to start soon. British Cycling are using Birmingham to develop this scheme, but are thinking about rolling it out across the UK. Sport England are focusing funding on schemes that are aimed at getting inactive people to be more active, and schemes that show success in this will be focused on. With a high level of BME participation in BBB schemes and about 75% female participation, these Ride Active sessions should be in line to receive more funding in the future.
The BBB team are trying to make sure that the social element of riding a bicycle is emphasised and that the BBB rides develop into community groups that can support the existing riders and help to bring in new people to cycling. One example is in Handsworth, where a group of about 25 local women get together one morning a week to learn to ride. This is a large group for one session, but when it was suggested that they could split the group into two sessions, the women said that they wanted to stay together because the social aspect was so important. In response, the BBB team have organised one session starting at 10am and the next at 11am, so that they can keep the social atmosphere but also provide activities suitable for the different levels. This responsiveness to local needs and flexibility in provision is seen as central to the success the BBB programme - lessons are constantly being learnt about how to engage with local communities and pitch activities successfully.
The Cycle to Wellbeing programme, trialled on the BNB scheme, was started again in January. This aims to improve the fitness levels and feeling of well-being of the participants by gently introducing physical activity into their daily lives, in addition to nutritional advice. Their health is monitored using NHS BMI testing and goal setting interviews. There are 50 people so far who have registered for this course.
The recipients: Monaqa
Monaqa received her BBB in the first draw in early 2015 after responding to a leaflet she received about the scheme. Having won her bike, she delivered leaflets for the next draw to every door on her street, to encourage more of her local community to apply. She attends the BBB led rides, and has built up a group of 15 women from her local community who also participate in BBB activities at Small Heath Wellbeing Centre, borrowing bikes from the BBB hub. She found that there is a cultural barrier for women to be seen on a bike - when she was handing out leaflets, some women said that they did not want to be seen on a bike for fear of losing face. The BBB scheme is playing a very important role in breaking barriers and changing perceptions about cycling in her community.
Although she thinks she might have ridden a bike as a child, she felt that she started off as a complete beginner with the BBB training. She trained with Bike Right, and found that they were very patient and good with complete beginners. After her own training, she asked that the same trainer helped with the other ladies from her community. Now that she has received training from the BBB scheme, she is able to teach road skills to her own children. Being able to cycle with her children at the local park next-door has given them a common activity that they can share. Her children have been very happy and supportive.
Monaqa has found her BBB to be excellent, and she really appreciates being able to keep fit without putting strain on her joints. As well as cycling with her children, she has used her BBB for local journeys, including getting to appointments without waiting for buses. Cycling gives her a great sense of well-being - the joy of feeling the wind just like flying.
The recipients: Nusrat
Nusrat received his BBB at the start of 2016, after not riding a bike since he was a child more than 30 years ago. Receiving his BBB was the impetus that he needed to start cycling again, and he uses it for leisure rides and to visit friends and family locally, rather than driving his car. Although he has lived in Birmingham for 36 years, he is now discovering new places that he had never seen before. He rides around the local area, along the canals, and has ridden out past Solihull into the countryside. He has found that the experience of riding his BBB is better than driving his car into the countryside and helps him to see more things. Combining exploring and exercise is a great way for him to reduce his stress from his job.
Nusrat has added mudguards to his BBB, so that he doesn't get his back covered in dirt and water after it rains. The canal towpath resurfacing has been very beneficial, giving a great surface to ride on, he thinks, although some of the bridges are low and narrow which is off-putting for beginners.
The recipients: Harriet
Harriet received her BBB this spring, and has been using it for leisure rides and small shopping trips. She had not ridden a bicycle since 1976, and the BBB gave her the impetus to start riding again. At first she did not feel confident riding her BBB on the roads, so she got a roof-rack for her car to carry it to lessons. While she is much more confident now, she does notice that her confidence drops if she hasn't ridden for a week or two. She did her training with the BNB Community Cycling project, and still goes on the evening led rides that they put on, as well as going on rides with her friends. Her next goal is to go on one of the 20 mile led rides.
She has modified her BBB with a basket on the front and a luggage rack on the back. This works well for smaller shopping trips, but she wants to get some good panniers to go on the rack as her major shopping trip experiment with two large rucksacks was not so successful.