This month’s interview is with Rick King. Rick’s been volunteering with lots of cycling and mobility projects in Colchester, and his story of how cycling transformed his health is really inspirational. With social distancing in place I wasn’t able to go and see Rick in person, but he very kindly answered a few questions by email instead. Read on…

Hi…I’m Rick King and have been kindly asked if I would write a little piece about my journey into cycling as a more permanent means of transport …so here’s my story

When did you start riding a bike?
I remember my very first bicycle was a Raleigh Tomahawk…I must have been around 7-8 years old at the time….so 1980/81 is when it all started for me

Do you remember your first bike?
Absolutely… I remember that my mother, my young brother @ 2yrs old and in a pram…and I walked for miles from Haverhill to a little village called Kedington along an old country path on the Essex/Suffolk border to buy my first bike….so my mum bless her had found a used Tomahawk for sale in the weekly paper from the next village so off we set….I remember it being a gloriously hot and sunny day in June or July and I was absolutely over the moon to get my very first real bike….and to not have to walk all that way back home too….thanks mum x 😊 since that day my backside has always been in a saddle of one kind or other

What kind of riding do you do?
I do a lot of commuting around Colchester, I mainly ride my road bike at present…though I also have my MTB and e bikes. I like to take slow leisurely rides around Colchester and the surrounding villages and coastal paths. I’ve come across some fantastic routes to Mersea Island around the Abberton reservoir and my favourite place to ride to and chill out is to Cudmore grove on East Mersea Island

More recently I started to cycle much more for health reasons than for fun. In 2016 I was taken very ill with sepsis, and upon investigations I was further found to have ulcerative colitis & diverticular disease….not good. After spending little over 5 weeks in hospital that it was inevitable that at some point in the next two years I would be requiring some major surgeries. This would mean a complete lifestyle change was necessary, and taking up cycling has most definitely been the best most significant change I have had to make over these last few years. It has also been the most beneficial in many more ways than one.

I first moved to Colchester for work as an electronics engineer in May 2017, and made my 15km round trip to work by bike. Soon after I saw an advert on a local Facebook group asking for volunteer bicycle mechanics for the Colchester Bike Kitchen. I thought what a great way to meet some new friends having only just relocated to Colchester, and help myself to learn how to maintain a bicycle properly. I’ve got to say this was one of my better decisions! Through the Colchester Bike Kitchen I have made some fantastic friends, the skills and techniques that the brilliant Mike & Phin of CBK have taught me has been truly invaluable to me. I’m currently training to become an eBike technician, which has enabled me to be able to help and support other local projects such as the Route51 project and the Colchester & Abberton BOMA’s , a dedicated off road wheelchair for use at both Abberton Reservoir and at Highwoods Country Park which I help to look after for the wonderful Rowena Macaulay of Walk Colchester.

I’m also grateful to CBK and Cycle Colchester for loaning me their bike trailer which has enabled me to help out a number of independent traders across Colchester’s South Lanes to deliver their wares around the town by bicycle. I started this as a trial, and it’s been so well received that i’m hoping we’ll see the start of a paradigm shift into fully sustainable eco bike delivery. I’m sure this could be a permanent service and one i’d like to see happen in Colchester.

How has cycling helped you?
The single biggest thing cycling has offered to me has been giving me my life back. Cycling has restored my health to such a point that a lot of the invasive surgery I was told I needed such as a stoma is no longer necessary… YAY! The miles I have ridden over this last four years have all been uphill as you can imagine, but the unexpected bonus has truly been the benefits to my mental health. Facing a stoma is scary stuff. Having to get my head around having an ileostomy has been extremely hard to deal with, and the half dozen trips I’ve made over the last 3 years to Cudmore Grove to just be alone to shout and scream at the world have in some weird kind of way truly paid off. Every single mile I’ve put on my tyres has stopped me from having to go under the surgeon’s knife and maybe stop me from cycling for good. The amount of pharmaceutical drugs, morphine & steroids I have to take daily for my condition has for sure made getting behind the wheel of a car a thing of the past for other road users’ sakes, so I now consciously choose to travel by bicycle everywhere. The hidden benefits far outweigh the cost of car ownership.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing to help people during the current lockdown?
A couple of weeks ago I was kindly asked by Grace Darke of eco Colchester & Chris Blomeley of the Route51 project if I wouldn’t mind giving a hand to repair any donated bicycles to the route51 project’s “help the NHS” project. This so far has been very well received across Colchester, if not by my landlady for the dozen + bikes I have in my garden at present! The help & bicycle donations I’ve seen from across this town has been amazing to the point that very soon I believe we will be seeing our 100th bike being donated to our wonderful NHS frontline staff & keyworkers I’ve also got to become familiar with the many kinds of bicycles that have been donated for reuse, so it’s been a good learning opportunity for me.
I am also responsible for the maintenance & hire arrangements for the BOMA disabled wheelchair and it is just fantastic to see it recently being used around our beautiful Highwoods country park by people that are confined to four wheels through disability and unable to make it back onto two wheels. I just love the way that cycling can be so inclusive in all its forms. I also volunteer with Cycling UK, Sustrans and will be regularly presenting the BOMA for use at the soon to open northern gateway sports facility here in North Colchester later this year when this lockdown is declared safe to lift. Keep an eye out for me there along with the Colchester Bike Kitchen at the Northern Gateways & cycling UK’s “wheels for all” events, where once a month alongside the likes of Leonard Cheshire people with all forms of mobility & disability issues can come along to these events and maybe find a two, three or four wheel form of transport to help them get out and about…if even only for fun.

How do you find Colchester as a place to get around by bike?
Ahh…. it would seem we need to call back the Romans to fix up some of these roads around here. Though the most recent resurfacing of Lexden road was a pleasant surprise for me on my commute to work in Copford once the dust had settled… let’s not get started on Ipswich Road though!
Colchester IS an amazing town to traverse on a bicycle,or mobility aid. The existing routes between the town’s parks and recreation grounds is fantastic and the routes out of town are equally as valuable…. if only a fair bit neglected.
I would like to see a lot more infrastructure put in place for cyclists AND mobility wheelchair/vehicle users in Colchester. It would make a huge difference to be able to navigate around Colchester past stiles, poles, cattle grids and sometimes the unnecessary gateways, that have been put in place along the Colchester national cycle network without having to dismount your bicycle or fight with your mobility scooter through a park entrance and exit as the current restrictions that are in place just aren’t up to accommodating the wider bicycles and wheelchairs/scooters that we more frequently use nowadays.
I would like to see some wider dedicated shared pathways around the town for faster access to Colchester town centre. I would like to see the bushes and hedges alongside the Colchester cycle routes being properly kept and maintained so that I am not going to be catching a slap across the face in the dark by a stray branch during an evening ride out. I would also the local authorities to seriously think about the placement of CCTV cameras around the town while they’re rolling out their new 5G network across the town. Bicycles of late have become so much more advanced, with much higher specs, batteries, motors (and cost!) and the town’s lack of proper secure monitored bicycle parking I know is dissuading some people from cycling into town.

What’s the best thing about riding your bike?
The complete freedom cycling gives me in navigating my way around town. I can get to any part of Colchester on my road bike in very much the same time as it would take you point to point in a car. I can lock my bike almost anywhere. I’ve never had to ride around the block awaiting a parking space!! Cycling to the pub isn’t frowned upon 😊 every turn of my crank is a step forward with my health. My e-bike certainly gets me out much MUCH further than I would usually attempt to travel, but the best thing has got to be putting a good book, a good bottle of red and a towel into a backpack and riding out to the coast here in north Essex. There truly are some beautiful places to just go and chill by the sea, literally 20 minutes up the road…. seriously….you couldn’t give me a car nowadays to force me to leave my bike in the shed!!!

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