The Importance of the Social Bike Ride Post-Pandemic

By Charlotte Murray

I’m not sure about you but I don’t know a single person who hasn’t found the pandemic at least somewhat difficult. The spectrum of struggle is certainly a wide one and most of us sit firmly somewhere on that line, often moving up and down depending on what day of the week it is. But we are only human and are understandably not massive fans of the great unknown. Yet, we have found things which help us cope with uncertainty. For many, especially our readers here, that is their bike.

Our bikes have provided us with some level of consistency during the unknown of the past couple of years. They have been our escape from a busy house or a quiet one, they have enabled something which we have been ‘allowed’ to do throughout the entirety of the crisis, they’re a provider of headspace, a facilitator of friendships and so much more. For me, it was almost my entire social life because I’d relocated shortly before the pandemic.

It’s difficult to express how important they have been to us but I’ll share when it was that I realised how much my bike meant to me. It was my first ‘work trip’ after the restrictions were lifted, it wasn’t too far from home but I took my bike so that I could easily get around. My manager suggested I lock my bike up and we take the train to our next appointment and I became bizarrely anxious about it being stolen. It was as though my bike’s little life flashed before my eyes and I refused to leave it behind so I lugged it around with me all day before I could finally get back to my car and take us both home.

Admittedly, I currently only have one bike so maybe that’s my mistake. After that day I realised that my bike had become a huge part of my life outside of work. I couldn’t meet friends for coffee or go to the pub, so my only social contact outside of my household was with people I rode with. The club – Lakes Gravel Gang (LGG) – had only been set up during a time of restrictions, when initially we were only allowed to ride in pairs. Then groups of six were allowed, and now our groups have to split up as there are so many of us. But it became quite clear that those rides every other Saturday meant a lot to the people that came. So, I asked them for their thoughts on what our rides meant to them.

For some, their responses summarised everything I was feeling:

“Being part of a community of cyclists has such a positive impact on me. It’s easy to feel that the pandemic has just been a rollercoaster of upset and for some, it has been difficult to see a light at the end. However, knowing I can be part of a fortnightly gravel ride gives me focus. Sometimes I can’t always make it but I am part of other cycling groups. The friendship and the vibe give me so much joy. If I was stranded on a desert island, I’d want my bike with me.”

For many, the social side of riding was the main appeal:

“Being social and getting out of the house again.”

“It helped me meet new people and feel confident riding in a new place.”

“It’s lovely to meet like-minded people and enjoy exercising and socialising with them.”

Mental health has been a huge topic of concern over the past couple of years. This was reflected in so many of the responses:

“Being outside made it easier to talk about anxiety.”

“It helped me to meet new people, make new friends and explore new places. Being able to contribute to a group has benefited my mental health.”

“It’s given me the confidence to get back out on my MTB after a fall, and to feel like biking can be sociable and not just a hard slog! I think we underestimate the importance of socialising. The past 2 years have affected us more than we think. The group is a breath of fresh air and I’m so grateful to everyone in it as I feel right at home!”

“It’s been so amazing to meet up with like-minded people, get out to new places and have fun. It’s helped start to shake off the COVID anxiety and isolation!”

Motivation has been at an all time low for so many people. We’ve gotten out of the habit of forcing ourselves into social situations that we know will make us feel good even if we don’t really feel like it.

“I don’t have the motivation to go out on my own but knowing there is a fun, supportive bunch of people to head out with makes it loads easier to get out of bed and on my bike!”

“Riding my bike became a bit of a chore to get me out of the house so eventually I just lost all motivation for it. Joining community bike rides has enabled me to really enjoy riding my bike again and has allowed me to socialise with some amazing, like-minded people.”

“It has helped to build my confidence in my fitness and ability. It has gotten me out when I might have otherwise stayed at home.”

“I’m terrible at finding time to organise rides with friends and don’t know my way around the lakes. It’s great to know that there is a regular plan for interesting rides with lovely people.”

“It has given me a reason to get out and cycle. Meeting at a specified time and place helps me get out when the weather looks less than appealing!”

Ultimately, it is the community that comes from riding as a group and the resulting support network that has had a profound impact after such a difficult time:

“After a year of almost no human contact, it has helped me to find community. It has also helped me so much with my social anxiety: I’m not British and honestly, the cycling group is one of the few that is formed by British people where I do not feel like I don’t fit in for not being from here.”

“I have recently experienced the death of my young daughter. The group gives me the chance to ride out, make new social connections and find new ways of being, in a supportive and fun way.”

“I relocated during the pandemic and worked from home so found it very hard. LGG however gave me the opportunity to make friends, chat rubbish and giggle about the best supermarkets to have a pandemic date night in. Due to having a bike I now have an amazing support network in and outside of the group.

“As someone who was completely new to the area, joining LGG rides provided an amazing way to meet like-minded people and make new friends in the Lake District. There’s always someone to talk to and the vibe is upbeat and life-affirming! Going out with others also gives you the opportunity to discover new routes and challenge yourself on harder terrain that you might not risk alone.”

“It’s enabled me to meet and make friends with other women who live nearby, my friendship circle has grown SO MUCH! I feel connected to a wider group of people.”

So many people have started cycling over the course of the pandemic, with an increase of 200% at one point during the lockdowns. It’s a testament to the power of a simple bike ride. Whether that’s with your family or with new friends and old. Whatever happens, even if it really feels like the world is ending, we know we have our bikes. And everything that comes along with that.