MY friend's wee boy is absolutely fearless.

We're in the park for exercise, his dad and I walking and the little guy on his bike. Off he careens, into the distance, until he's just a speck, that invisible elastic between parent and child stretching but never breaking.

Seeing that level of confidence and enjoyment is wonderful to watch. You only hope it continues, becomes a life long pleasure.

In the first few months of the pandemic, among all the hardships and relentless grim news, it really was wonderful to see such an increase in people out on bikes.

We were inching into the summer months and, with just one hour allowed outdoors, many people chose to use that time cycling.

The parks were full of people exploring but vastly reduced traffic and quiet roads made cycling around the city a relaxed experience, rather than one spent hyper vigilant, watching for trouble, and so many more new cyclists were taking advantage of the situation.

Those numbers have kept increasing and the latest figures, this week, show that cycling is up by 47% in Scotland.

While that's good news, it also makes a lot of sense. The roads are still quieter than pre-pandemic, there is still a hesitancy to use public transport, and we're so limited in our leisure options that people are turning to outdoor pursuits for exercise and socialising.

There has also been a huge push from local authorities during the lockdown to create more space for people walking and cycling and to make the roads more amenable to non-vehicular traffic.

The issue, as we move forward through and out of the pandemic, is going to be about how we keep encouraging people on to their bikes and give them the confidence to feel free in the saddle.

Even with the improvements of the past 12 months, barriers still exist, particularly for women cyclists.

In Scotland, more than three times as many men than women commute to work by bike.

South City Way

South City Way

When asked, women speak about concerns over safety. They are worried about the harassment they face while out on their bikes. I'd love to tell you that cat calls and aggression are an unfounded fear, but I would be lying.

Often women are the ones doing the school run, which is not impossible by bike but understandably has logistical concerns that can be off putting.

Research from Sustrans showed that, as well as fitness levels and safety, women's concerns were linked to their appearance. If that seems like vanity, it's not. Women are judged on how they look and it can be a faff to commute by bike then look smart for the office.

It involves forward planning, carrying clothes back and forth, arriving at work early to change and sort hair and make up in toilets, and etc. A tip: waterproof trousers will change your life.

There is nothing worse than spending the morning on an office chair with a soggy bottom.

I completely understand the hesitancy to start cycling and the fear of being on the road. It makes me laugh to look back at how gradually I took my bike out. I started off literally cycling to the end of my street and back. Then I was brave enough to make it to the park for a cycle round and home again.

Eventually a colleague, who lives nearby, offered to accompany me on the commute to the office. He was big and bold and I hid behind him the whole way there and all the way back again.

There are lots of ways of getting support with confidence building though. In Glasgow, Bike For Good is a brilliant social enterprise doing great work helping people new to cycling and supporting cyclists to maintain their bikes.

Bike For Good acknowledges that cycling can have particular challenges for women and non-binary people and that bike maintenance can be a male-dominated area so they have specific sessions catered for people who don't identify as men. There's also a new buddy scheme being set up.

In cities there's issues with cycle storage for those in flats and tenements but this is slowly being addressed with the introduction of on-street secure cycle parking.

Despite the improvements over the past year, it's good to get out with a more confident buddy as some of Glasgow's cycle routes are bonkers and can be off-putting to a novice. You can find yourself having to bump down kerbs to keep on the route; being diverted away from well lit and visible paths on to glass-strewn, cobbled back lanes; or one moment be dutifully following painted routes and the next moment come up against metal railings with nowhere to go.

But when you find yourself sailing along a well-constructed, properly thought out, segregated cycle route... there's nothing like it. Gliding along, away from the traffic, fresh air in your face.

Yes, sometimes dirt spraying from the road onto your cheeks; yes, sometimes rain suddenly bursting unexpectedly from a clear sky; yes, sometimes wind in your face that makes your thighs ache from the effort of pedalling.

Cycling is not always joyous but there is always a little bit of joy about it.

One of the major barriers, though, and the most difficult to tackle, is the ingrained lack of respect for cyclists and cycling. Not only from drivers but from those who are creating our cycle lanes.

This morning, on a short, two-mile journey from Glasgow Sheriff Court to the South Side, I had to navigate around five cars parked in cycle lanes and then three workmen's vans stopped on the South City Way segregated cycle route. Drivers are more often than not parked on the South City Way.

South City Way. Pic: Glasgow City Council

South City Way. Pic: Glasgow City Council

They'll argue that they can't block the road but that's part of the problem with how we perceive cycling infrastructure - as though it is an added extra, a luxury, rather than fundamental. The car is still king and its routes to be as protected as a royal parade.

As the cycle routes around the south side of the city are developed there have been a lot of roadworks. Every effort is made to keep carriageways open for cars but the bike lanes are closed and replaced with the dreaded Cyclists Dismount signs.

I look forward to the day that changes are needed to facilitate roadworks and drivers are told to Park Here and walk the rest of the way. That's obviously an imperfect comparison but it almost literally grinds my gears that these road changes don't take into account the fact cyclists are also commuters with somewhere to be.

The diversions that are put in place for cyclists can sometimes be mind-bendingly confusing. There's one at Buchanan Wharf, as you come off the Squiggly Bridge, that has painted arrows for cyclists that, if you follow them, take you right into the path of oncoming foot traffic with nowhere else to go.

I do, though, see improvements being made. The way to encourage more people to cycle is fairly simple - make cities and town centres less attractive to cars so other activities and means of transport naturally fill those spaces.

It's an exciting time for cyclists and it's a good time to be supporting people to take up cycling. There are hurdles but hard work going on to overcome them.

Just imagine - city spaces where you can be free to fly as confidently as a four-year-old who's learned the pleasure of two wheels.