Cycling; from commuting to community

4th August 2022

Cycling can have many benefits and not just for commuting to work.

Social group rides regularly take place across Norwich Research Park. We find out more about the social bike rides and support for cyclists.

On the left a close up of someone smiling, wearing sunglasses, a cycle helmet and a pink and orange top. Behind them is a road with three people cycling and tree further in the distance.

How the social group rides started

“I started the social group cycling rides in 2020. I joined the Quadram Institute during lockdown when everyone was working from home. It was during the time when you could only meet others for exercise outdoors”, explains Dr Melissa Antoniou-Kourounioti, Programme Manager for Microbes in the Food Chain here at the Quadram Institute.

“I like cycling. Before moving to Norwich, I lived in Cambridge where nearly everyone cycles. I got a bike to commute and then started to ride at the weekends just for fun. I later got involved with triathlons and found that cycling was my favourite of the three sports.

“When I started at the Quadram Institute I had the idea to organise a group cycle ride, so that I could meet people in person. I wrote on the online internal noticeboard across the research park asking if anyone wanted to join a bike ride. Lots of people were interested and it all started from there.”

By the end of the summer, the turn-out had climbed to around sixteen people each time. The rides happen every few weeks  after work and there are always new people joining.

Community across the research park

The focus of the group rides is the social aspect, to bring the community together.

Melissa highlights, “You shouldn’t feel like you need lycra to take part.

“There’s a mix of abilities in the group. There are more experienced cyclists, who have specialist sports kit and are quicker, and people who are less experienced and are more interested in the social aspect. Everyone is welcome. There’s always someone I haven’t met before.”

Staff and students across the Quadram Institute, the John Innes Centre, the Earlham Institute, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the NBI Partnership join in, including from Estates and other support teams.

“I think cycling is well suited for socialising. You tend to ride two abreast –  that’s safer too.  When you’re going side by side with someone for a while, you’re stable and it’s easy to talk. It’s easier to chat than if you’re maybe running and a bit out of breath. For the evening rides, we often plan to finish at a pub so we can stop, sit down and chat afterwards,” explains Melissa.

The social group rides happen in all seasons. In the winter, rides happen in the morning before work, when there is still light.

Melissa reflects, “Winter rides are not as popular because of the weather, but they are a great way to start the day. We meet at 7am and are back on the research park at 8.30am. People can head straight back to work if they need to, or stay for breakfast at Centrum, or the Quadram Café.”

Getting to know Norfolk

Cycling is great for getting to know the countryside as well as colleagues.

“I know Norfolk better from cycling over the last few years. I know small pretty villages that I otherwise wouldn’t have explored. You go on quieter roads and they tend to be picturesque”, reflects Melissa.

The group use software like Strava, Garmin or Komoot to plan the routes. These use popularity data to design a route, so tend to prefer cyclist-friendly roads.

The group also consider wind direction, so on the return journey you have a tailwind. As Melissa points out, “That way when you are tired you have the wind pushing you along”.

Cycling for commuting

Lots of the people who take part in the social bike rides also cycle to work. Here in Norwich, we have one of the highest levels of cycling in the UK.

Across the Norwich Biosciences Institutes, there is the Bicycle Users Group known as BUG. The group supports cyclists through activities, such as free bike repair workshops, acting as a voice for bicycle users in planning discussions, and promoting cycling to work schemes.

Outgoing Chair of BUG, Sam Mugford from the John Innes Centre, explains more, “The NBI BUG started in 2015 to promote and encourage people to travel to work by bike and ensure the Institutes are cycle-friendly.”

“Commuting by bike is a great way to stay fit, enjoy the outdoors, and reduce your environmental impact. We liaise with institute management and local authorities to represent the interests of cyclists. As well as the after-work social cycle rides, we organise occasional cycle to work day events, with a free breakfast for anyone who rides a bike to work”, highlights Sam.

BUG also offer bikes you can borrow for a short time. These are useful if you’ve just moved, while you get settled in and look for a bike, or maybe while your bike is being repaired.

Increasing confidence on the bike

The social bike rides offer a way for people to build their confidence cycling. Melissa explains, “Some people cycle to work but may not have the confidence to go on longer bike rides, or venture on less familiar routes than their daily commute. It’s understandable to be daunted by the idea of a longer cycle, but it’s easier to do it in a group.”

Melissa continues, “On longer rides you can increase your cycling confidence. You improve control over your bike and become better at anticipating situations. For example, in a challenging situation, you are more likely to avoid an accident if you’re more experienced.

“People might be worried they don’t have a good enough bike or are going to slow others down. We’re not there to get a hard training session in, we’re there to meet people and build our confidence. It’s a no drop session, so whoever comes we’ll hold your speed. You won’t be the slowest because we’ll all go at the same speed.”

If you are more experienced and want to train, the group split into two groups. There is a faster group for more experienced people, and then another at a slower pace over a shorter distance.

Melissa concludes, “You can get what you want out of it. If you’re interested, give cycling a go!”