The bike park is integrated with Faringdon's sports park
A vivid account during a discussion this month by two Oxfordshire active travel exponents highlighted the challenge encountered by many diverse communities when attempting to encourage more "ordinary" people to choose bicycles for their everyday needs.
The discussion occurred during this month’s Oxfordshire Active Travel Roundtable, a monthly meeting for those interested in walking, wheeling and cycling across Oxfordshire to share news and debate current issues. Each geographic community had developed its own model and seemed reliant on a strong individual or group to set it up and keep it going; indeed a third exponent entered the fray from Abingdon, too.
Today, Faringdon, Oxfordshire has a shining example of this with the Farcycles Bike Park and Shop. The latest facilities have evolved from an inspired group, but there was one figure who led the charge from a bike "club" to a community facility with a much, much wider appeal.
Lyn Williamson is one of those people who, once she gets hold of an idea, moves mountains to ensure that it comes to fruition. Her vision, born of working as a Rheumatologist, and witnessing the benefits of exercise, was to equip many more individuals with the will and the skills to cycle. It needed a safe place and a group of qualified volunteers to build what has now become a cycle park that attracts aspirant but often nervous people of all ages to new ways of getting about. Nowadays numbers continue to grow with individuals and families descending from further and further afield.
The park also forms the hub for activities that encourage its "graduates" to try their new skills on the roads and paths of the surrounding area, initially on instructor-led group rides before being free to travel confidently alone.
This has resulted in a new cohort of cyclists who require access to a range of sound but inexpensive bicycles, from starter steeds for children to reconditioned machines for adults. The shop evolved to satisfy this need and has diversified into servicing and mending bikes for the locals and, increasingly, not so locals. Like the bike park and training, the shop is staffed by volunteers, which enables it to provide great customer value.
The new shop in central Faringdon provides quality inexpensive bikes and servicing.
In the beginning
A loose bunch of Faringdon people gravitated together in 2007 for casual cycling, eventually showing up in force to hug a wind turbine in the summer of 2009. The unsuspecting turbine was part of a new installation launch at Westmill Farm near Shrivenham; the orchestrator of the hug was Sjoerd Vogt, a popular local figure. Sjoerd came up with the name "Farcycles", which he insisted should be pronounced farcicals.
Things proceeded in that spirit and numbers soon passed the 100 mark (today 400 seems within reach). A spread of rides evolved, catering for cyclists from the relatively timid to those who wished to extend themselves. Social activities extended to twinning rides to France. An annual Sportive followed and was an instant success, ending up with surplus funds for the Farcycle coffers.
That's where Lyn stepped in with her idea for providing foundations for newbies, from toddlers to 80-year-olds and beyond. It started with competency training in the local schools with plans for a dedicated facility going on in the background. Lyn's husband, David, and fellow Farcycles Richard Glazer, Chris Kench and Gavin Hopkins started mapping things out, including acquiring a home at the Faringdon Sports Park. In the process, Farcycles was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.
Today Faringdon's bike training facilities continue to be free to all comers looking for confidence and road safety.
Before Lycra - joining the Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) on top of White Horse Hill for a mince pie on a snowy December morning in 2010. Lyn with a firm grip on the handlebars of the tandem.
Mark Harrison is a founder of the Farcycles, a regional campaign coordinator for Cycling UK, a volunteer in the bike shop and a regular travel blogger at Roaminations.