Scottish Cycling recently celebrated the first anniversary of its ‘Bike and Blether’ initiative. Developed in partnership with SAMH (Scottish Action for Mental Health), Bike and Blether aims to provide a platform for greater mental health support to riders across Scotland.
James Bracher, Safeguarding, and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Scottish Cycling said:
“By working directly with riders to ensure they have a safe space, Bike and Blether is actively breaking down barriers and reducing the stigma of having conversations about mental health.”
According to SAMH, 1 in 4 people experience poor mental health in Scotland each year, and the cycling community is no exception. So, for Scottish Cycling, it is integral that support is readily available for anyone who needs it.
The Bike and Blether initiatve is run by volunteers (known as Bike and Blether Champions) within clubs around Scotland. To become a champion, each volunteer has been through a mental health route map of training delivered by SAMH over a 12 month period.
Megan Sproul from the Dundee Dynamo Cycling Club is a Bike and Blether champion and has been focussing on overcoming barriers when beginning to cycle and encouraging those at the start of their cycling journey. For Megan, the main barrier she faced when starting her own cycling journey, like many others, was physical limitations and distance. She also felt that the ‘beginner’ label held negative connotations and often put people off.
She explained that introducing Bike and Blether rides that are low stress and low anxiety for all abilities has removed that ‘beginner label’ and made people more comfortable. The reframing of the group’s name, with members officially known as the ‘Bletherers’, ensures they are inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
An environment to open up
Scottish Cycling has received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the impact of the Bike and Blether initiative over the past year with participants reporting that group rides are the perfect environment to chat about how they are feeling. James Bracher said:
“Biking lends itself really well to having conversations about mental health because you’re cycling side by side doing something you enjoy rather than having an uncomfortable face-to-face conversation.”
One participant explained further, how the rides had created a safe space for them to talk openly, saying:
“I come from a small country town where you would never ever sit down with your mates on a Friday night and start opening up. You’d be asked about your week and respond that everything’s fine and talk about football or something instead.
“With the Bike and Blether rides, you’re encouraged to think again about how you’re really feeling and speak about it. “
Another participant put it simply:
"I love my cycling companion to bits; he saved my life with our conversations on the bike."
Scottish Cycling is now in the early stages of planning a pathway between Bike and Blether and Trail Therapy, a social prescription mountain biking programme.
The Trail Therapy programme has been delivered by the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) team for over four years and has supported more than 100 individuals with existing mental health diagnosis, delivering over 1,500 sessions. Through a unique combination of physical, psychological, social, and natural challenges, the joys and authentic challenges inherent to mountain biking provide a holistic approach, supporting riders to live more in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.
Trail Therapy mountain bike leaders, coaches, and volunteers are qualified mountain bike leaders, some are Mental Health professionals, and others are Scottish Mental Health First Aiders. The approach has been independently evaluated, the results of which you can find linked below.
James Bracher said:
“The creation of this pathway is an exciting opportunity for us. Linking up the two programmes will allow referrals to be made from one to the other and help us ensure that the appropriate level of support is being provided to riders.”