PN: The Gilberd School has a keen interest in promoting cycling, how did that come about?
RS: Well there were always a fair number of staff who cycled, but what really started it all was back in 1995, when we entered the first ever Colchester Borough Council Bike to Work scheme. We won first prize, so ever since then we’ve always worked hard to encourage staff and pupils to cycle. It’s a good thing for staff to be seen around on bikes, to raise awareness, and as we’re a very local community school, we’ve got a high uptake of active commuters.
PN: Have you always been keen on cycling?
RS: Yes, I remember getting a 3 speed Sturmey Archer bike for passing the 11+, then cycling to the Gilberd School on North Hill occasionally, when I was a pupil there. I used to do a lot of competitive sport, and taught PE, but when I was 50 I had to have one of my hips replaced. I had to be very careful about impact, so cycling, swimming and golf became the things that I spent time doing. I’ve been alongside other people that were interested in bikes, and you’ve then got a group that motivate each other to go out, both within a work context and outside. At work, we’ve always had a group that that cycle down to Wivenhoe every year, during Bike Week. And we’ve also got involved with Ride London, the Olympic legacy, for the last three years. We pootle around The Mall and Buckingham Palace for the day, and it’s superb, absolutely superb. I’ve also got friends that I’ve taught with, and we meet up and take our bikes over to Walton and then cycle along the front to Clacton and back – hopefully not seeing the people at Frinton that don’t want you cycling along the front there!
PN: Where are your favourite places to ride?
RS: Well, we live very close to the school, so I often use the good cycle paths around here. I drop down to North Station, down Cymbeline Way, up to Lexden, and back; or sometimes I go down to Castle Park, then to Eastgates, and end up at the Hythe. Or I go out into the country, and do some loops round Langham, Boxted and Horkesley. I normally go out for an hour, three quarters of an hour, most times. I did have a while last summer when there was somebody training for the London to Brighton ride, so I went out with him and we went a lot further – Bromley, Manningtree, Dedham, because it’s quite nice and flat out there, I don’t like too many hills these days!
And High Woods is on our doorstep, when you get on a bike and go down the paths in the middle of the summer, cycling through the trees and down to the lake down there it’s really, really quite pleasant. There are different types of terrain, and there are enough hills, because when I go out on the bike I do like to get the heart pumping some of the time, so I need to challenge myself up some of the hills and there’s enough variety over there to do that really well.
As you get older, there are different views about exercising, you can join a club somewhere and go inside, but in the summer it’s nice to get out in the fresh air and it’s free – once you’ve got your bike you can go where you want. Certainly it’s motivated me. You can take out the stresses of life and put some of your worries to one side. When you are out in the countryside away from everything else, it puts everything else into perspective a little bit, I’ve always thought.
PN: So which of your bikes would you say has been your favourite?
RS: I’ve bought a new road bike, I’ve bought an old mountain bike and I’m a fairly regular cyclist now, and my road bike is the favourite. I’m lucky enough to be on the right side of Colchester so within a couple of minutes I can either be in the country or I can be on a cycle path – it’s well served here. And there’s the new road up to the football stadium, all around there, that’s quite nice, you can go in the bus lane and you haven’t got taxis, you haven’t got motorbikes, so that’s quite nice if you want to go a bit quicker, I’ve done that a few times, I’ve got a circuit.
Cycling has been a lifelong hobby, and hopefully I can keep on doing it. You do see people on the roads well into their seventies and eighties, it’s a habit of a lifetime and I’m hoping to maintain that – and if I can, to encourage others to do it too.