Group Rides return in Northern Ireland


When I said goodbye to the participants on my AXA Community Bike Ride on the 17th of December 2020, I did not think it would be 117 days later before I would lead my next ride.

I had scheduled a number of group rides for January, but with the re-introduction of restrictions, I had to, understandably, postpone. Optimistically, I created rides for February and again for March but the cycle of having to cancel the rides continued, which was so disappointing given most were appearing as ‘fully booked’ on the website.

It was therefore with great hope that I advertised group rides for April, and you can only imagine my excitement at the announcement confirming group activities could resume in Northern Ireland from the 12th April.

Whilst I have been taking part in lots of solo bike rides, I certainly missed the company of a group ride and the opportunity it brings to meet people and find out about them. As a leader, I love to facilitate participation, and observe members’ confidence and skillsets improve.

My first group rides were scheduled for 10am on the 13th and 15th of April, and as both were fully booked, I was really looking forward to meeting some of my regular participants and some new members. On the morning of the 13th, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day for a cycle. All the participants who had registered were there in good time and there was great camaraderie before ‘the off’!

The physical exercise of cycling is so beneficial, but the social aspect of group rides cannot be underestimated, as it means so much to people on various different levels. There is the opportunity to connect with other people from within our local community and establish new friendships, which grow in this safe and social environment, and people even find they have other common interests, which means so much to many.

Some of my participants were feeling a little apprehensive about the group ride as they had, over lockdown, not been as active on their bikes as they would have wished. I took the opportunity to re-emphasise to them that the group rides would be leisurely, reassure them that no-one would get left behind and that the key focus of AXA Community Bike Rides, as always, was on cyclist safety and enjoyment. This put participants at ease and a nice steady pace, suitable for all, ensured everyone had an enjoyable bike ride. 

Taking in the view at Millisle Beach. Taking in the view at Millisle Beach.

I’d recently noticed some great advice through helpful videos on the Resources section of the website. I found the ‘Bike and brake check’ and ‘How to get the most from your gears’ both simple and easy to follow and well worth a viewing, which I reminded the group about also.

When we stopped for coffee and traybakes at the midpoint I really understood what I had been missing. The banter and craic (albeit in a socially distant way) was superb and the camaraderie that exists within a group ride certainly came to the fore!

With a longer stretch in the evenings, and an improvement in the weather, I’m grateful to be able to do something I love. I know many of our leaders are currently unable to lead rides due to Covid restrictions in their areas, but with a bit more time, we’ll all get there, and rest assured, the excitement in your group will be bigger and better than ever!

For those of you in the North Down area who have yet to join one of my group rides…a warm welcome awaits!

Jeff Aiken - AXA Community Bike Leader North Down