In praise of cycling in Suffolk

This post celebrates my cycling roots. It was triggered by a request by Dennis Kell, editor of Winged Wheel, the magazine of CTC Suffolk, for 200-300 words to mark the 250th edition of the magazine.

CTC Suffolk- Winged Wheel magazine is 250!

Hi Kevin,

Congratulations on your new position. All in CTC Suffolk wish you well.

Our local group magazine has just reached its 250th  edition (First Published in 1947 and still going strong.) I’m sure you must have seen it in the past and I can send you an anniversary edition if you let me know an address.

As a Suffolk boy, we wondered if you might be able to give a couple of lines to this special edition before you set off for pastures new. Any personal memories of the magazine, the Birthday Rides or cycling in Suffolk generally would be fantastic. I’ve managed to get hold of several former editors going back to 1959 who have added a few comments and we shall have a couple of articles from edition 1.

Sorry for the late notice, but we are hoping to go off to the printers in the middle of February to ensure it gets out on time. 

If you are able to send us something, it will be really appreciated.

Once again, good luck with the new position.

 Best wishes,

Dennis Kell Editor

Suffolk is the eastern most county of England. It’s the low lying bulge in the coastline that sticks out into the North Sea, facing the Netherlands. It shares something of a heritage with our neighbours, our mediaeval economy was built on shipping wool to Flemish weavers and it was Dutch engineers that introduced many of the water management systems that helped control the ingress of the sea and drain the fields around the Norfolk boards to our north. Nothing like the extent of the drainage in the Netherlands itself or the Fen Country in Cambridgeshire, but the influences were enough for some of our architecture to feature Dutch gable ends.

The other thing we share with the neighbours is that Suffolk and Norfolk kept a higher residual level of cycling than most other parts of the UK. Still nothing like real European levels, but still one of the few rural parts of the country where it is not unusual to see an elderly lady on a bicycle cycling in to the town to collect her shopping. My late grandmother used to cycle 15 miles each way to her nursing shift so the culture was well established.

Lots of factors come together to make it possible, not least the relatively flat terrain and low rainfall. But the main factor must surely be the amazing collection of minor roads and the relatively low volumes of traffic in the towns which mean fewer people driven off the roads as cars and speeds got faster. It also seems to tap a residual demand, Kesgrave School in Ipswich, our country town was one of Sustrans early successes with their Safe Routes to Schools programme.

I grew up a Suffolk cyclist because my father was (and is) a keen club cyclist and racer who brought the whole family up inside his club, the Godric Cycling Club. We rode everywhere of course – to school, out with our mates, doing the paper round, but it was the Godric that provided my cycling culture.

When I became CTC Director in 1998 one of my very first speaking invitations was to speak at the CTC Suffolk and Wolsey Road Club Annual Dinner. They treated me a real surprise, digging out a cyclo-cross race programme from Holywells Park in Ipswich with my name on it, probably aged about 13.

In summer 2011 I returned to ride with Suffolk CTC again because they organized the CTC’s annual festival of cycle touring “The Birthday Rides”. (So named because they celebrate the anniversary of CTC’s founding at a similar rally in 1878). We had a brilliant week.

Kevin and dog Murphy on an adapted tricycle

The Dogmobile - Kevin Mayne and Murphy on adapted tricycle

I camped on the main site with Murphy because the others were away and I constructed the dogmobile out of a disability trike from the CTC fleet at Reading. The Suffolk posse were amazing, they compiled hundreds of miles of routes, refreshments, social events and of course amazing weather.

So it was my pleasure to give Dennis some words that sum up how I feel about cycling and Suffolk:

At the end of the CTC Birthday Rides last year I was fortunate enough to be able to say a few words to everyone about how I felt about the event. It was relatively easy to sum it up. “Never have I felt prouder of being from Suffolk”.

Of course I was thanking CTC Suffolk for the event you had put on, but it was far more than that. The beauty of our countryside, the warmth of the welcome, even the relatively considerate behaviour of the drivers made a lasting impression on everyone who came and I have little doubt that it will boost the numbers of returning cyclists for years to come.

The other really important thing about cycling in Suffolk for me is that it where I discovered the sense of community which provides my real motivation. In Ipswich and Bungay my childhood was surrounded by cyclists, my extended family. And we learned to ride together in these lanes, not jammed to the side of the road escaping busy traffic. I was recently at a presentation where a mental health professional was asked why CTC’s programme of rides for those recovering from mental illness was so successful at boosting patients’ wellbeing and stopping them from being readmitted to hospital. He replied “Professionally I can’t define it. But they just ride, then they ride together and they talk, and then they feel better”

 I think he was speaking for all of us.

I am now going to be based in Brussels working for the European Cyclists Federation. The most important part of my new job is to support new and emerging cyclists’ groups and help them get established at the national and regional level. Most of them will be transport campaigning groups who can get awfully serious about the intricate details of cycling infrastructure.  But I know what I will also be telling what I learned in Suffolk. We do this because we want to share the special quality that cycling brings to lives. I will be trying to capture that feeling on my blog Magazines like Winged Wheel are essential to that sharing too, I wish you every success for the next 250 editions.

Kevin Mayne, CTC Chief Executive 1998-2012.