Healthy, green and fun: What better reasons to start cycling in Newham?
PUBLISHED: 17:43 12 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:38 16 October 2017
What sport significantly improves physical and mental health, saves the NHS millions and is available for people to do every day?
The answer, of course, is cycling.
Whether commuting to work, popping to the shops or heading out into the countryside for a leisure ride, biking is a brilliant way to do exercise and get around.
Despite the recent bad press, cycling, when done responsibly, is a safe and cheap way to travel around London, and the good news is it’s getting easier by the day.
Transport for London (TfL) has been investing in cycle superhighways – separated bike lanes along main roads – and quietways, routes throughout the capital using backstreets and parks.
And if you’re just a beginner, or you’ve never cycled before, in Newham and east London there are lots of ways to get into the sport and get confident on a bike.
Built for the Olympics, and the scene of gold medal triumphs for Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Kenny, the Lee Valley VeloPark is probably highest quality cycling venue in the country, let alone Newham.
It was the first place in the world to hold four different cycling disciplines at one site.
The VeloPark has the world famous indoor track, and outdoor mountain biking, road and BMX circuits.
But don’t worry, just because you don’t know the difference between the keirin and the omnium it doesn’t mean you can’t ride there.
John Scripps, assistant manager at the VeloPark, explained: “We have introductory taster sessions where visitors can learn the basics from an experienced coach and build their confidence on the indoor track, road, or BMX track and mountain bike trails.
“We pride ourselves on offering programmes for riders of all ages and ability, from Velo Balance classes for those aged two and over to Para cycling track and road sessions for disabled riders.”
You can hire bikes and helmets, and if you’re more advanced you can try out the VeloStudio, equipped with Matrix and Wattbike static gym bikes.
For those who aren’t keen on strapping up in cleats, there’s a more sedate way to try out cycling – particularly if you’re a West Ham fan.
Councillors and MPs have organised the Bike from Boleyn campaign, which twice a year arranges for Hammers to cycle from the site of the old Upton Park ground, down the Greenway to the London Stadium in Stratford.
“We are trying to promote cycling as a way of getting to the football matches,” said Cllr Veronica Oakeshott, of Boleyn ward.
“In times gone past residents would have walked out their door across the road to the match.
“Now it’s a bit of a way to Stratford, which is really busy getting off the Tube, but it’s really easy to get there by bike.”
Cllr Oakeshott explained that the group follows the Greenway the entire way to the Olympic Park, which is completely off road.
“Part of the reason was to get people coming back to the Boleyn area. Fans can come back to their favourite old haunts, like the pubs and Nathan’s Pie and Mash, and then cycle down to the ground.
“We try to make it as fun as possible,” she added.
The next ride will be in the new year, and if you don’t have a bike the group have spares.
On top of being an easy way for supporters to get to home games, there are also health benefits, even cycling short distances.
University of Glasgow research has found that those who commute to work by bike have at least a 40 per cent lower risk of premature death and developing heart disease and cancer.
And if you work in central London you can take Quietway 6, which runs from Stratford, down back streets and through parks, all the way to the City.
Theresa Hughes, from the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, explained: “With the new infrastructure and real investment, it’s all to play for.
“It’s now about people getting involved and getting on bikes.”