I learned to ride a bike again age 72 - after 55 years

 Billy McDermott
Billy visits the park every week on a Wednesday morning [BBC]

The term "as easy as riding a bike" is often used when doing something which once learned, is not forgotten.

And that was true - mostly - for Billy McDermott, who rediscovered cycling at the age of 72.

Every Wednesday he attends a cycling class at the Clyde Cycle Park with local charity group, LEAP.

It has been about 55 years since he rode a bike, but now thanks to the park, he is back on the saddle again.

'Like a drunk man'

The Clyde Cycle Park in Cambuslang is a project that has been developed over the last seven years.

Located on the south bank of the River Clyde, the previously derelict land is now home to a 250m (820ft) cycle circuit, an area for bike storage and a reception building.

The park has been operating for around 18 months, with different groups taking turns using the track daily.

They have a range of cycle programmes including 'on yer bike' coaching sessions, Rock up and Ride - a government scheme that offers deprived children free bikes after completing sessions - and autism cycle days.

Billy found the park after seeing an advert at the local charity he works at, LEAP.

 Billy McDermott
Billy was provided with a bike by the cycle park [BBC]

LEAP provides services and activities for older people across Lanarkshire. There, Billy helps people with tasks they can't do, like building furniture and fitting lightbulbs.

Billy retired two years ago at the age of 70, after working at Scottish Water for 35 years.

When Billy first arrived at the park, he was measured for a bike. He describes himself on the new wheels as "like a drunk man".

"I hadn’t been on a bike for 55 years so I thought, I’m going to give it a go," said Billy.

"I always saw people whizzing by and it just looked that good. One of the first things I noticed when I was out on the bike going round the track was the wind in my face."

From that moment, he was hooked and started to see progress within a month.

Clyde Cycle Park sign
People also use the park for roller skating [BBC]

Billy recalls getting his first brand-new bike aged 12.

"Before that it was probably second hand bikes or hand-me-downs," he said. "I finished school when I was 15 and probably stopped cycling. I went to work straight away."

Billy says the cycling group is "something to look forward to".

He said he couldn't believe he was given a bike for free.

“I would say it’s given me an extra bit of health," he said. "It's good for the mind, speaking to more people in the group is definitely a benefit."

John Bachtler
John was one of a small group of people who realised the community needed better facilities for young people [BBC]

John Bachtler is the chairman of Clyde Cycle Park and Cambuslang Community Council.

He says the park has become popular quite quickly and believes the project is important for the community.

"The community here is Cambuslang has quite a lot of areas where particularly young people wouldn’t get an opportunity to cycle.

“But it’s not just young people. We’re providing cycle coaching for all age groups. We work with disability groups and we’ve got adaptive bikes. We do Scottish bike trials coaching, so it’s across the spectrum."

The aim of the cycle park is to create a national standard facility that will serve the West of Scotland, provide opportunities for road racing, cycle cross and other forms of cycling.

A map of the planned development for the cycle park
A map of the planned development for the cycle park [Clyde Cycle Park]

So far, the park has received funding to develop the first 250m (820ft) circuit. This came from the Scottish government under a programme called Clyde Mission, aimed at developing areas along the River Clyde.

They have also received funding from South Lanarkshire Council and private sponsors.

For the next phase of the development, which will cost cost £1.4m, they are planning to develop a 1km circuit.

John believes cycling is a great way to get about.

He said: "It doesn’t just keep you fit, it contributes to wellbeing more generally. Particularly here in Cambuslang you can commute into town along the national cycle route along the river.

"Even before we were trying to reduce carbon emissions, it was an important part of life and now we really need to move away from cars as much as possible."

LEAP group at cycle park
Some of the LEAP group with coach Victoria, front, on their weekly cycle [Clyde Cycle Park]

At the end of last year, Scottish Cycling awarded the park their 2023 Recreational Cycling Award, as a tribute to the promotion of cycling that they offer to people in the community.

The team at the park is made up of coaches and volunteers.

Duncan Stark, 68, is a member of the Cambuslang Community Council and volunteers at the the cycle park.

He said: “It’s great for the community, I mean this was derelict land for years. The people from LEAP have been great.

"They’ve been coming down since summer and you just see the difference in what it’s done to them; their fitness and mental wellbeing and how well they’ve developed."

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