BY JOHN WHITE
My daughter was given a bicycle on her seventh birthday, a gift from her Nan and Grandpa.
Purple with front suspension and a handful of gears, she was as pleased as punch, as all children should be with their first proper bike.
It is slightly embarrassing to admit Talitha at that age had actually never ridden a bike on her own before, but after a couple of minutes wobbling up and down the road while I ran along-side, she was away.
I jumped on my own bicycle and followed, her next stop was some distance north at Duntulm Castle Hotel, where we reconvened with proud grandparents who had followed in a car.
After a bar snack and a refreshment (I might have had a pint) we cycled home again. An eight-mile hilly round trip.
Although this was her first ever outing piloting her own bicycle, I should explain, the reason she took to it so readily was the years spent on a trailer bike, connected to the back of one of my bikes.
This ‘tag along’ was an amazing machine, a rear wheel with freewheel, pedals and handlebars, but instead of a front wheel, a long bar fitted to a clamp on the seat post of the towing bike.
I had bought it from the old Island Cycles, Steve had apparently had it in stock for ages. I couldn’t believe that nobody had wanted to buy it.
We could go for miles, tired wee legs weren’t an issue as they could just stop pedalling and free wheel leaving dad to do the work, the extra effort a small price to pay for a happy toddler and no tantrums.
The front bike could still have panniers and we discovered that a tent could be strapped with luggage elastics to the long connecting bar.
One weekend when Anne was away singing, we drove to Glenfinnan, and the pair of us cycled up the estate road to the bothy and camped outside. On another trip, we explored the tracks and paths around Aviemore, almost coming to grief in a bog near Loch an Eilean. The articulated double bike wasn’t really designed for off road use.
By the time my boy was of an age and size to use the trailer bike, I had rescued an appropriately sized bike from the dump.
This ‘skip’ bike was several clashing shades of pink and might have had the word ‘princess’ written on it. Despite my belief in the illogic of societal gender conditioning, especially relating to colour and the stereotyping of pink and blue pastel shades, it looked much better resprayed a dark metallic green.
The only other requirement was to repair a puncture and put a bit of oil on the chain.
Pre-empting and preventing the tired legs and tantrum scenario, which the trailer bike negated, I thought I could just tow Ronan on the now green bike.
Using a short piece of cord and a couple of old climbing carabiners, this was fine going up hills under tension, but significantly more fraught with gravity assistance, and a high chance of the wee bike catching up and catastrophically wrapping the rope around the front wheel.
I tried adding a piece of stick to the rope to reduce the risk of entanglement but it worked out safer to disconnect going downhill. We managed a couple of fairly lengthy overnight cycle touring camping trips to the outer isles, with this ‘Heath Robinson’ set up.
Consequently, the trailer bike languished in a shed.
Bikes for Refugees (Scotland) are a social enterprise who have been distributing bikes for over five years. They have refurbished and gifted over a thousand donated bikes for ‘New Scots’ resettled refugees in Scotland.
Their thought process is that bikes help support social inclusion and the integration of folk into Scottish life and society.
Importantly it also sends out a message of solidarity and compassion to these people seeking safety and shelter. Bicycles also have a quite transformational power, cycling helps isolated families and children to connect with communities and essential services, and must give an element of freedom with the ability to explore a locality.
Bikes provide free travel and in some cases, make it easier to attend college or language lessons. For those that are alone and have lost their families they can also help in meeting new people and assist in making new friends.
Bicycles are also great fun and can keep people fit and healthy. Lockdown reminded many of us how good cycling was, and hundreds if not thousands of bikes were rescued from sheds and garages, tyres pumped up and perhaps many people remembered why they bought them in the first place.
Cycle shops did a booming trade as they were rightly considered essential.
With this increased popularity and issues with shipping and manufacture due to both Covid and Brexit, many ran out of new stock, making second hand machines more of a premium.
Bike charities have become all the more important, facilitating getting access to bikes to those who would otherwise struggle.
Bikes for Refugees now have a contact on Skye, and a call for unused bikes went out on social media. We managed to find four which could be easily refurbished, my mother’s old touring bike, a couple of old mountain bikes and a barely used BMX bike which I had also rescued from a skip, but never tidied up.
And the trailer bike.
It was looking very sad, the frame had rust spots, the chrome handlebars had rusted, for some reason the wheel had been removed and mice had eaten the pipe lagging we had taped to the main connecting bar to help secure the camping equipment.
But it was all there and really just needed a respray and some oil. I even managed to find the crucial universal joint which clamps to the towing bike’s seat post.
They were collected last week, and are on their way to a Glasgow workshop to be refurbished and then given to folk who need them.
By the end of summer, there may be a man from Albania or Syria perhaps Iraq or Iran, having fled persecution, now having found a home in Scotland, cycling with his daughter or son on our old trailer bike. Hopefully shiny and new looking they might be exploring Pollock Park, or the Clyde cycleway perhaps even as far as Loch Lomond, they might just be going to the shops or to school.
This fills me with joy.
If you are in Skye and Lochalsh and have a bike you would like to donate please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
And for more information, visit bikesforrefugees.scot