Cycling with friends at the Lee Valley VeloPark.

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I was really excited to try out my new tricycle on the Road Circuit at the Lee Valley VeloPark, the 31st of the 34 Road2Rio sports. Right beside the Velodrome – you have to go in to reception to gain access – it is a mile long, lit, traffic free tarmac circuit, ideal for learning and honing bike handling skills.

British Cycling had arranged one of their Go Ride days, inviting a number of disabled cyclists to join me, and test the water for an inclusive session at the track. Thank you Rob for organising an excellent day. I believe it was their biggest Go Ride event to date, with about 40 people, including sighted pilots escorting visually impaired cyclists, tricycles, hand cycles, old and young all taking part. Inclusion in action; just what we advocate at Power2inspire.
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Simon Goodbrand had brought my tricycle with loving care. He designed and built it, mostly out of the Caius College temporary boathouse, just down from the Elizabeth Way road bridge, as Simon is primarily a College Boatman. When we had some difficulties with prototype one – I was struggling with the peddling – we recruited some of the finest engineering brains around; there has to be some advantages in living in Cambridge!
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Steve Harrison, a friend from college days and now a senior consultant at Frazer Nash, and retired Professor and near neighbour, Ivor Day, gave up significant time to review the design. But it was Simon who found the simplest, most cost effective solution. He turned the chain round! So I pedal backwards – more accurately the pedalling action at the front is backwards, but with the chain twisted it drives the back wheel forwards. Simple but ingenious. It was reassuring that Steve’s calculations showed that it reduced the dead spot – the point when the pedals are opposite each other and can’t be pushed from about 20% to less than 5%. No wonder I was finding the timing hard, either pushing downward too soon and therefore stopping the trike, or pushing too late and losing the momentum to take the pedal over the top of the ring.

Another development was the addition of a proper seat. Prototype 1 had the bucket part of a standard plastic school seat. Though easy to slip on and off, it didn’t provide much support and my backside tended to slip forward as I exerted any power. Enter Graham from Cambourne Vehicle Recovery Services. He works out at the same time as I swim. I mentioned the seat issue and the very next morning there was a motor racing seat sat on my swimming bag upon my return from the pool. I am constantly humbled by the generosity of my friends, acquaintances and those that I have met in the course of this odyssey.

So it was no wonder that Simon brought the vehicle down from Cambridge with such care. His lovely family, Claudia, Isabelle lilly and Lucas came too and brought Rob from Outspoken Cycles, and his family. The seat worked, the brake had been positioned so my left paw could reach it comfortably, and I had had a couple of lessons on using the gears; but it was the paint that thrilled me. Decked out in Power2inspire blue, the trike justifiably caught the crowd’s eyes. It looks stunning.

Simon kindly accompanied me throughout to ensure I didn’t get into difficulties. Rob advised I stick to the shorter loop as the inclines aren’t so steep. The two hand cyclists, Gary and James, cautioned me: “You won’t get up the slope. We find it hard and we’ve been doing this [hand cycling] for years!” That dented my confidence a bit but hardened my resolution.

The loop starts with a gentle upward incline and I was able to get up to a slow running pace. Then there is a sharp rise and right handed turn over the bridge above the BMX track. This required my lowest gear and concentration to ensure I didn’t roll backwards. With Simon’s assistance and coaching I managed it. Going down the other side was wonderful but overshadowed by the impending longer incline back towards the velodrome. This was a longer grind but it was great to receive Gary and James’s encouragement as they flew past! To finish there is a steep downward slope back to the umpires’ hut: a very fun way to complete the loop.

This all showed I could do it. After a few more practice loops we were split into two teams. To create some interest the two groups were to see how many laps each person could add to their team’s total. Rob and the guys from British Cycling had selected the teams, pitting equally powered riders against each other. The result – 47 laps to 44 – showed they got their selections about right!

Simon encouraged me to try the full circuit in the “competition”. A mile round there are even more hills and inclines. I did stop on one of the harder short inclines, but with a small shove from Simon I was off again, this time maintaining a slower more even cadence as I ground it out.

It was fabulous to see so many visually impaired cyclists being piloted by sighted volunteers and for Power2inspire volunteer coach, Luke Parry, climb aboard a tandem tricycle with his twin brother Ellis. Since his head injury Luke finds fast moving activities hard so it was particularly brave of him. And his laps counted just as much as my one!

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I was touched that Rob presented a GB Cycling top, signed by members of the team, and the all important certificate, to prove I had completed sport number 31. I was humbled to have so many disabled cyclists show so much interest in my tricycle, a couple of the visually impaired members asking to feel it so they could envisage it.

All in all a fabulously successful day, one that we at Power2inspire would love to repeat with British Cycling.

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