North Yorkshire gets ready to welcome world para-cycling event

Months worth of work in local communities - to prepare for the first ever international para-cycling contest to run alongside the UCI world championships – will come to fruition this Saturday.

Members of the Open Country Tandem Cycling Club with Cllr Jim Clark

The Yorkshire 2019 Para-Cycling International takes place on Saturday, September 21 and will be kicking off nine days of cycling featuring the world’s top athletes in their field. It is the first time a para-cycling event has taken place alongside the UCI Road World Championships, which begins the following day (Sunday, September 22) and will count as a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. 

The para-cycling involves 26 races in total across all four para-cycling classifications and will be setting off from three different start locations; Beverley, Tadcaster and Wetherby. All of the races will finish in Harrogate. 

Tadcaster has been chosen as one of the three start points for the para-cycling races – featuring tandems, adapted cycles, handcycles and tricycles – with Harrogate the finish point on each occasion.

Tadcaster Event Management Project Team, supported by Selby District Council, have organised a cycling festival in Tadcaster on Saturday, with community stalls and activities taking place, when there will be the chance to try inclusive bikes, mega bikes, rickshaws and KMX karts, among other activities. One of the local breweries, Heineken, has also organised a pop-up museum.

A local craft group, Tadcrafters, has put together approximately 2km of rainbow coloured bunting and other decorations in the town. 

Tadcrafters’ founder, Su Morgan, said: “We’re here to promote the community and get people involved in the event through creative activities. We’ve also been raising awareness as we go round local organisations with the bunting. Selby Disability Forum has been heavily involved and also ensuring everything is accessible to those with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, a charity which enables people with disabilities to access the countryside is hoping the inclusion of para-cycling at the UCI Road World Championships will prove there are no barriers to getting out and about.

Harrogate-based, Open Country, has been providing services for disabled people for almost three decades.

One of the initiatives it offers is tandem cycling for people who might otherwise not be able to get out on a bike. There are several clubs in Ripon, Harrogate and York and membership is going from strength to strength.

Chief officer David Shaftoe said: “These clubs enable anyone who is an ambulant disabled person to enjoy rides of up to 20 miles in the local countryside. We also have a couple of wheelchair accessible tandems which enable wheelchair users to join us as well.

“We cater for adults with learning difficulties, those with visual impairment and mental health issues. Our expanding fleet of wheelchair tandems mean we can take people out with physical disabilities as well.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s chairman, Cllr Jim Clark, said: “I am very excited that paracycling is going to be included for the very first time alongside the World Championships. I think it improves the range and the reach of the event. 

“I hope it encourages more people to take part in paracycling so we can get more and more people out into the countryside, particularly in North Yorkshire.”

There are five clubs in total across North and West Yorkshire, with around 75 volunteers keeping the service running.

“Cycling is increasing in popularity right across the board and disabled people, quite rightly, shouldn’t be left out,” said David. 

“While we get tired, it’s a fairly low maintenance sport really. Anyone can take part, you really just need access to good cycle paths and very quiet roads. There are every manner of bike design out there so it is a really inclusive activity.”

Club members cover all ages and abilities.

“Our Ripon club has a gentleman aged 88. He used to be a very good tandem cyclist and thought he wouldn’t be able to do it anymore and he now joins us,” said David. “Our youngest member is 19.”

David said the response from those taking part was tremendous.

“I expect we come across as quite boisterous. When bikes are heading down Knaresborough Hill on a night … it’s great to feel the wind through your hair,” he said.

“To be honest, for a lot of disabled people it’s a way of transporting themselves from A to B that they wouldn’t be able to do in other aspects of their lives. They might have to rely on taxis and being driven everywhere. To be able to get somewhere under their own steam is really liberating.

“We see people join our club, access other services and grow as people.”

David described the inclusion of para-cycling in the World Championship schedule as ‘vital’.

“Our hashtag is ‘out there together’ and I think people are realising that any sport that isn’t fully inclusive is somehow belittling itself,” he said.  “There is an expectation that we all muck in together and enjoy the same things that we all like doing.

“It’s got to have a positive impact. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say the eyes of the world are going to be on Harrogate in September and to see disabled people tackling the same sport is bound to create a groundswell of enthusiasm and we hope to be inundated with enquiries as a result.”

To enquire about the service and other initiatives run by Open Country call 01423 507227, search Facebook for opencountryorkshire or follow them on Twitter at @Open_Country_20.

For further details of the world championships, visit Yorkshire2019 or our UCI page

This story was published 19 September 2019