Every May we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, and while for some of us, cycling is a way to simply clear the head after a stressful day, for others it’s a lifesaver. The mental health benefits of being out on a bike can be just as significant as the physical ones. So this month we talk to Stuart Bailey of Cycling for Pleasure, one of Colchester’s popular volunteer-led cycling groups for beginners, returners and improvers. Their Wednesday group includes people who’ve been referred by Leisure World’s Life Enhancing Activity Programme (LEAP), ACE Health Trainers and Colchester Mind.

PN: Have you always cycled?

SB: Yes, on and off. I started cycling as a youngster, and I loved it, I cycled till my bike was too small to ride, but then we couldn’t afford another one. I started again in my mid 20s, after a holiday in Acle Market. I bought a good bike for a fiver but then I started my own business and had no time to ride. And then I got into it again in my early 40s, I had a growing family and we enjoyed cycled together.

PN: So how did you hear about the volunteer-led rides?

SB: I’ve suffered from depression on and off all my life, and the last time was the worst, about eight or nine years ago. I was referred to Tracy Nutt, a Health Trainer at ACE, and she told me about the CTC Cycle Champions rides run by Richard Monk. I still had the bike from when I was in my 40s, it wasn’t easy at first, but again I enjoyed it, I really loved it. So I bought a lighter bike and became a regular Wednesday cyclist.

PN: What made you decide to become a ride leader?

SB: Well, after a period of time I did the Ride Supporters course and then a couple of years later, Richard asked if I’d do the Ride Leaders course. The aim of the Cycle Champions project was for the local groups across Essex to become self-sufficient, so when Mike White, one of the regular volunteers, moved to Miami, more leaders were needed. Everyone was hoping someone else would do it, and I felt it was payback time. In the early days I said I just wanted to come and ride, and didn’t want to be pushed into taking on more responsibility. But cycling had cured my depression, I get such a high from cycling, so I decided to put my name forward.

I took it on two and a half years ago, and we’ve managed to form a committee and write a constitution. But we’ve never had a secretary, so we could do with a volunteer! We did very well in the first year, although numbers fell a bit last year. We have a hard core of 24, but only 12 to 14 turn up each time as they can’t all come every week.

PN: Tell me a bit about the rides that are on offer.

SB: Our main Cycling for Pleasure rides are at 11am on Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving from Leisure World, and we stop at garden centres, cafes or pubs for refreshments. Alan Palmer helps me run the Friday group and we’re planning monthly longer rides in June, July and August. There’s also a weekly Monday ride that’s faster and longer, with a few hills thrown in. Our rides aren’t just cycle rides, they’re very sociable too, and apart from the times it’s snowed recently, Alan and I have gone out every Friday, and we’ve exceeded our average winder mileage this year.

PN: It’s obvious talking to you how much cycling has changed your life for the better, so just remind me what the main benefits are.

SB: I’m so much fitter now, and it’s done me a power of good mentally. I’ve lost 2 stone in the last 10 months, and I’m going for another half stone. I’m on a carb free diet which suits me well, plus of course my regular cycling. So I’d really recommend cycling for the health benefits if you want to improve your mental or physical health, or if you live alone, as the group is so friendly. We share good companionship, a chat and a laugh, and we all feel so much better for it.

See Cycling for Pleasure to check details of the Wednesday beginners / returners ride, and the two longer Friday rides for improvers.

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