Like learning to fly
By Esther Anaya Boig
“I felt like I was flying!” an interviewee nods repeatedly, eyes wide open, reviving the moment in which she lifted both feet off the ground and the bicycle – the most efficient mechanical device designed for transport – took her swiftly down the gentle slope of the public square where she was taking a cycle training session. The Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Biciclot (a cycling co-operative founded in mid-1980s) had the feeling that the courses for adult cycle training that they had been delivering for years were having a very positive impact in people’s wellbeing, but they didn’t have the resources to evaluate them. When ISGlobal researchers working in the InSPIRES project showed up at their meetings, the CSO shared their willingness to explore together the impact of cycle training in adults. The study was co-designed between the CSO and the researchers, non-participant observation and interviews to alumni of the courses have already been undertaken. With this evaluation, Biciclot is also seeking for evidence to support the funding search for these courses’ sustainability.
The lady that felt she was flying, used that expression during her interview, referring to a specific exercise in the course in which, after two or three sessions of doing repetitive exercises to train their balance on the bicycle, they finally are asked to lift their feet and see if they have acquired that balance. If they do, it is their first time feeling they do not touch the ground, but they’re moving. It is a moment of pure accomplishment and joy.
Another interviewee, a middle-aged woman, drew my attention to an unusual cycling group. When asked why she wanted to learn to cycle she said it was because of her husband, who was on a wheelchair. Of course, I asked for more information and it turned out that her husband was having a great time joining the events of a charity that provides a wide range of inclusive cycles for people with disabilities. This participant wanted to join her husband in such activities, but she didn’t know how to cycle, so she learned in order to share those times with him. What was even more interesting is that the lady reported that shortly after she learned, she unfortunately had a fall (which caused a broken bone injury) nevertheless, she persevered and went back to cycling when she recovered and is planning to do more cycling activities with her husband.
Some participants reported that their goal of learning to cycle was to be able to use it for leisure. Some of them had a very clear intention to use the bicycle for their daily commute. This was the case of a participant from Venezuela, who had arrived six months earlier and was working as an engineer in an industrial estate, far from the urban area. The public transport connection was very poor and, due to his shifts, he needed to reach his job very early or very late, out of public transport times. He then realised the bicycle was an option and took the course. He was interviewed a few weeks after the course, and he was already commuting to his job by bicycle every day. That interview was also especial in another way, because he brought his partner, who had just arrived from Venezuela, the day before, with their daughter, to join him in his new home in Terrassa, Barcelona. He did say he was aware that he had to be very careful riding his bicycle, he didn’t want to hurt himself as he had to provide for his family.