These words from Edward Birt, Chief Operating Officer of The Disability Trust in Wollongong (Australia), sum up the joy that cycling can bring to people of all abilities. His words also sum up why the city of Wollongong pushes inclusion within its cycling strategy.
While the Australian city provided an exceptional stage for the world’s best cyclists during the 2022 UCI Road World Championships last September, Wollongong is equally proud of its programmes to ensure cycling can be enjoyed by its entire population, regardless of their background, culture or physical ability.
Samara Sheppard, UCI Bike City Coordinator at Destination Wollongong explains: “As part of Wollongong’s cycling strategy, Destination Wollongong established a Bike City Community Partnership Programme in 2021 which now includes 34 organizations including local indigenous representatives, multicultural societies, sports clubs, disability organizations, social enterprises and health and wellbeing organizations.”
One of the partners of this programme, The Disability Trust ran a pilot CycleAbility programme in 2022, with a range of modified bikes to make cycling more accessible. A free event on the last Saturday of each month enables anyone to try the bikes in the safety of the Trust’s head office carpark. CycleAbility Mentors, with disabilities themselves, are there to support participants in their cycling journey. Depending on their skill and confidence levels, riders may then be taken further afield into the community.
“Wollongong has seen people of all ages and all abilities improve their cycling skills and fitness through the programme,” marvels Samara Sheppard.
Edward Birt adds: “We have helped young people ride for the first time and older people rediscover the joy of riding. We have also had a number of people recovering from injuries come and regain their confidence in the safety of our programme, which has been very special too.”
Australia’s largest mass participation ride opens up to riders of all abilities
Another step forward for disabled riders in Wollongong came last year when they had the opportunity to be part of Australia’s biggest mass participation cycling event. Every year, the MS Gong Ride from Sydney to Wollongong attracts 10,000 participants and raises funds for Australians living with multiple sclerosis. The ride encourages inclusive participation, welcoming people on E-bikes, recumbent bikes as well as community groups wanting to tackle the course.
However, the route is too challenging for some. Destination Wollongong’s establishment of the Bike City Partners connected MS Plus with The Disability Trust to create the inaugural MS Gong All Abilities Ride. Last November, this was held as a test event with 30 people including carers and supporting family taking on a specially-designed and secure 7km course. Others with less disability were encouraged to tackle the full distance on a tandem or with other support. IgKnight, another disability service provider, volunteered to support the pilot programme making for a wonderful partnership.
It is planned to expand the MS Gong All Abilities Ride in 2023.
Continuing the inclusive cycling journey into the future
Wollongong, which was awarded the UCI Bike City label in 2021, has an ambitious 2030 cycling strategy that places emphasis on inclusion and aligns with The Disability Trust’s mission to “create an inclusive world”.
In addition to The Disability Trust and IgKnight, Wollongong has other disability service providers contributing to the growth of cycling participation for people with disabilities, including:Flagstaff, Exsight and others, forming a fantastic alliance of providers focused on improving the active transport and leisure opportunities for locals.
“We want to see more people with disability experiencing the benefit of cycling for health, independence and fun,” says Samara Sheppard. “We have asked for feedback on cycle lanes and infrastructure from community members who cycle with disabilities and from their carers. This feedback is used to help make decisions about what infrastructure is needed.”
She added that riders on the CycleAbility programme were also questioned about the outcomes they hope to achieve thanks to riding a bike, be it accessing the community, gaining skills, travelling further or visiting specific locations.
“Anything that motivates them to get on their bike and ride is positive,” resumes the UCI Bike City Coordinator.
UCI Bike City label
The UCI Bike City label recognises cities and regions that not only host major UCI cycling events but also demonstrate outstanding commitment to Cycling for All. Cities and regions that earn this label are aligned with the UCI’s mission to develop cycling at all levels, from elite competitions to the use of bikes as a leisure activity and means of transport. They work in partnership with the UCI to develop our sport among their population and get more people on bikes.
Find more information on the UCI Bike City label and on the application process for interested cities and regions here.