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Scottish town in grip of cycling revolution

It has the same miserable weather and attachment to the car as the rest of Scotland.

But children in the town of Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, have brought about something akin to a cycling revolution, with the numbers of pupils riding to and from school approaching levels normally seen in mainland Europe.

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With average cycling to school levels stubbornly remaining at around 3% in Scotland some of the satellite town’s primary schools have seen nearly one in five pupils getting on their bike.

As money has been put into cycling facilities and workshops, average cycling rates among school pupils have risen to nearly 8% in primary schools and 4% in secondaries.

Mark Kiehlmann, a volunteer who has helped foster the enthusiasm among the area’s young people for cycling, says Bishopbriggs’s success has proved a lot can be done with relatively scarce resources.

Over the last two years, the full-time carer and former Oxfam campaigner has helped distribute more than £30,000 in grants from government and cycling charities through East Dunbartonshire’s Cycle Co-op, which he founded.

The area’s primary schools have benefited from weekend cycle classes for children aged five to seven and their parents, delivered by volunteers, trained instructors and bike mechanics. Over the last two years, the numbers of parents who have been given training to deliver classes has doubled to 64 and classes have increased from one a month to fortnightly.

Part of the success has been down to creating a “stir” in the community through high-profile events. In September, more than 1000 children from 16 schools participated in a Guinness world record attempt to ring their bicycle bells at the same time, an event covered in the local media and on radio.

Mr Kiehlmann claims Scotland’s traditional aversion to cycling is not intrinsic and nothing to do with the weather. “If you’re a confident cyclist and you’re dressed appropriately you can ride in all weather conditions,” he said.

“Copenhagen is just as cold as Scotland and you have very high rates of cycling there throughout the year.”

Ian Forrester, 14, said he had been cycling the two-mile route from his home to Turnbull High School for each of the three years he has spent at the secondary. Combined with cycling at weekends, he reckons he cycles around 100 miles a month.

“The only time I don’t cycle is if it’s raining, then my dad takes me in the car. I’ve got a couple of friends I sometimes cycle with and I’m trying to encourage others,” he said.

Dianne Irvine, principle PE teacher at Turnbull High, said she had seen improvements in children’s behaviour once they have taken up cycling. “We’ve got boys down at lunchtime cycling classes who would otherwise be down at the local chip shop. It’s definitely doing them good,” she said.

In the face of a tight squeeze on Government spending, policy-makers are looking to projects such as the Bishopbriggs initiative to see if it can help achieve the Scottish Government’s objective of having one in 10 journeys made by bicycle by 2020.

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