As keen outdoor people living in the Calder Valley, we have always been keen to get out and about as a young family. However, In 2004 I was diagnosed MS which progressed to Secondary Progressive in 2010 and Last year we were running out of activates where the whole family could participate at a similar pace and short walks around the park being pushed in the wheelchair we no longer very exciting.
My Husband Neil has always been a cyclist and hit on the idea of maybe hiring a tandem, but my concern was that I would not be able to ride it as my balance and vision are not very good. Whilst looking online for local bike hire we came across an excellent charity called Empowered People who specialise in helping disabled people access cycling through adapted cycle lending scheme.
We popped along to one of their local Taster Days at Centre Vale Park and within a few minutes I was trying out a range of amazing adapted Trikes, some were hand powered others leg powered, but they all also have Power Assist.
The power assist does exactly what it says and assists whenever you pedal to effectively magnify the input you put in.
This enabled me to ride for the first time in years, however, I was still not very confident around other traffic and the idea of riding on public roads would be too much. No problem I’m told and on the next taster day, a solution was provided…
And so the Bike Train was born!
The train is made up of two independent bikes, a conventional power assist bike as well as a recumbent trike that can be optionally connected as a trailer. This is a great combination as it allows me to either ride on my own using a power-assisted front wheel when I’m on quiet cycle paths or quickly get attached to the back of my husband’s bike on the public roads. When connected we work together a bit more like a conventional tandem, all be it one that bends in the middle!
Empowered People have been fantastic and as soon as they could see how well this combination worked offered to lend us the bikes for a few weeks to enable us to try them out. In the first couple of weeks we managed 3, 20 mile rides both on the road and local cycle tracks and decided that we wanted to get more involved with the many social and charity rides that Empowered people also organise.
The first main social ride we did was a slightly wet event but even this didn’t dampen the mood, and kitted up in waterproofs we rode up to Hard Castle Crags with several other ‘Empowered’ disabled riders along with many more support riders and followed up with a support crew.
The next social ride took us to the peak district where we rode the amazing Monsal Trail, which is an almost completely flat 20-mile ride that follows the trail of a disused Railway and takes you through several long dark but fantastic Tunnels. This was great as our son could also come along and ride with us.
By now we were really getting into the swing of things and we were ready for a bit more of a challenge. Once a year Empowered people organise a two-day charity ride around Anglesey where the course covers around 30-50 miles a day depending on whether you choose the short or longer sections. We put our names down. We were both very apprehensive as this was at least twice the distance a day we have managed to complete so far and we were not sure how well we would manage it.
I must say the Empowered People crew are amazing, Each ‘Empowered’ rider is assigned two support rides, Neil acts as one for me, but we were paired up with the lovely ‘Penny’. Support riders help by not only guiding riders on directions but by riding behind me they could give an early warning to any traffic coming up behind, especially useful on the high hedges on Anglesey.
Day 1 was a hot and wind free day. 15 Empowered rides were supported by 33 support riders; the course was split up into 4 shorter sections throughout the day with Brew stops provided. A great incentive! So we decided we would try for the longer route to start with and maybe switch to the shorter route if we found the going hard. As it happens the brews, malt loaf, mars bars and other treats must have helped as we ended up sticking to mostly long routes and after some fantastic quiet A roads and bike tracks we had somehow managed a personal best of 46 miles by the end of Day 1! The day wasn’t without events, we did manage to snap two spokes and get a puncture, but not a problem the amazing support team had thought ahead and we could switch to the backup bike for the afternoon routes.
Day 2 was a little cooler and windier but no less enjoyable. We did a different route and this time rode alongside other riders which gave plenty of time to get to know everyone in the group. This was fantastic. We had a lovely lunchtime stop at the windmill and made our way back through Holyhead on our return to the Hotel. Where we were met by the welcoming Party after a further 34 miles!.
It was a fantastic event, but just the beginning. We have already signed up for two more rides in June and July, and who knows where the Bike Train will go next.
What we have learned from our adapted cycling adventures is that there is always a solution and the amazing team at ‘Empowered People’ have been so welcoming and flexible to find the perfect solution for us.
The added exercise has really made a difference to both my physical flexibility as well as my mental health and is so much fun at the same time!
Catherine & Neil Perry