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Cycling Champion: Amanda of UTravelActive Leeds

Cycling Blog

Cycling Champion: Amanda of UTravelActive Leeds

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February 3rd, 2015

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Amanda numerous times as a volunteer at UTravelActive, which is the Sustrans operated scheme she works on. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions and to pioneer the ‘Cycling Champions’ series on the Ride25 blog.

The first question in the transcribed interview below was actually intended as a ‘closing thought’, but it provides such a nice summary of cycling that we thought we’d use it to set the tone instead!

Amanda, how would you pitch cycling to a complete newbie, in 20 words or less?

Cycling is freedom, independence, fun, cheap, low impact, fuelled by you, traffic-jam avoiding and generally great!

What’s your name and background?

I’m Amanda Sowerby and I first moved to Leeds for university more than ten years ago now. For the past few years I have been working on all things cycling including being part of the group that set up Pedallers’ Arms, a volunteer-run community bike workshop in Leeds, and working for Sustrans first as a Bike It officer in Barnsley and now in Leeds.

Pedaller's Arms logo

What got you into cycling?

Well I think I learnt to cycle quite late actually, when I was seven, and then did bits of cycling as a child. I don’t think I did any in my early teens, a bit when I was 15/16 and cycled the mile or so to work during a year out before university. When I got to Leeds I didn’t have a bike with me during my first year but then towards the end of my first year I became involved in the Green Action society and made lots of cycling friends and it became the obvious way to get around!

For a while I was quite nervous about cycling in the city but it was actually things like Critical Mass that gave me more confidence. Cycling in a group in a supportive atmosphere can really make a difference. Since then a bike has been my main transport, coupled with trains for longer distances.

Have you done any cycling tours or holidays? If so, where to?

My first long cycle ride was actually coming back from a Green Action trip to the Lake District. Some of us had cycled from the nearest train station to the place we were staying, and on the way back set off the same way. We got to Windermere where we were planning to get the train from and thought it’s summer, the day is young and the sun is shining, let’s keep going! So we ended up cycling all the way back to Leeds and got back in time for last orders! We were very pleased with ourselves.

My biggest cycle trip to date: I lived in Vancouver for a year after graduating and remember my house mate there telling me about his dad cycling down the pacific coast. This and other things inspired me and I thought ‘why not’! So I spent a few months planning, saving up and sorting out a bike and kit while I was working and then in May 2009 set off on a 1830 mile trip from Vancouver down to the US/ Mexico border. It was AMAZING. Best experience.

Since then I’ve had cycling trips to Scotland, Wales and a few times to France, getting there by train or on the bike bus.

What’s your best experience with cycling?

Cycling the pacific coast! I set off with a friend but we eventually followed different plans, but along the way I met so many people cycling or at campsites and would often cycle with them for a day or more or see them further down at another campsite. People at home would ask whether I trained for this ride and the answer is no, just my daily cycling and I figured I would settle into it after a week or so. Which was what happened. The landscape was beautiful, the towns and cities a welcome contrast, the people friendly and helpful and it was simply a brilliant sense of freedom. Just me, my bike and a tent!


The Pacific Coast

How did you get involved with UTravelActive?

Sadly it didn’t exist when I was at uni! So I never had any involvement back then. I was already working for Sustrans and started working on the UTravelActive project in September 2013.

Whereabouts is the project based?

UTravelActive is based in Leeds. It is a partnership between the charity Sustrans, Leeds City Council, University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds City College and the Teaching Hospitals.

What are the aims of the project?

The project aims to get more staff and students at our partner institutions walking and cycling, and to reduce the number of car trips they make.

What sort of activities do you do to reach these aims?

All sorts! The project helped establish the Velocampus Bike Hub and the bike hire schemes at Leeds University and Leeds Beckett. These are now managed by the universities themselves and no longer need much support from us, which is great! We run a Try Cycling scheme for staff, so that any member of staff can loan a bike, lock, panniers etc for free for 5 weeks alongside a package of support with routes, confidence training etc. We organise maintenance classes, bike rides, lunchtime walks, inspiring talks and films. We have themed weeks throughout the year with stalls selling discounted locks and lights, giveaways, lots of useful information, pedal powered smoothies, wacky bikes for people to try and lots more. A mixture of exciting fun activities to draw people in so that we can engage them and tell them about what we offer, and the more practical side actually delivering activities directly involving walking and/ or cycling.

There’s lots more information on our website at where you can sign up to our newsletter, and we’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

What are some of your favourite pieces of feedback you’ve received while working on the project?

A lot of people who are really grateful for the support we have given them. There are so many people who have considered cycling but need a little more help to get them to that point, or people who are getting into cycling and want to learn more about looking after their bike, cycling on the road, and want to ride with other people. We can help with that!

UTravelActive image

How is the project funded? Is there any way people can support it?

The project was initially funded by the Big Lottery, but since 2012 has been funded through the Access to Education Programme which is a partnership between eight local authorities and Sustrans. The programme received a central contribution from the Department for Transport through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, with local contributions from authorities.

The best way people can support the project at the moment is through volunteering their time and skills, for example as a ride leader, a walk leader, an events and campaigns assistant, a bike workshop assistant and in other ways. We can offer training! More details on our website.

However our current funding comes to an end in March 2016, and we will be looking for other sources of funding to continue at least some aspects of the project. Any assistance with this would of course be appreciated! People can also become a supporter of Sustrans, more details on their website.


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