'Bike Minded'—Normal Human Encounters (on Bikes)
As this is a book about the ways in which very normal settings, groups, activities and social relations can have often subtle and profound impacts on people’s mental well-being, it would probably be remiss to exclude an example of a project that included some form of exercise. After all exercise is something that most people can do to some extent and that doesn’t require a great deal of expertise. At this juncture the reader may begin to experience a creeping sense of dread that this may be one of the many chapters and papers that informs the world that exercise is good, not only for physical health, but for mental well-being too. And Lord knows there is plenty such research out there. So much so that people may be forgiven for developing a yet to be named sense of ‘exercise is good for mental health fatigue’—an increasingly widespread syndrome whereby normal people keep hearing how good exercise is for their mental health. To name but a few, recent years have seen publicly disseminated research showing that exercise creates pleasant mood,1,2 that those who exercise with regularity experience reduced anxiety, depression and anger, and a positive sense of revitalisation and tranquillity.3 We also know that it is beneficial for the mental well-being of people experiencing a variety of medical conditions4 as well as those in perfect physical health. Cycling © The Author(s) 2017
C. Walker et al., Building a New Community Psychology of Mental Health, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-36099-1_4
in particular has a raft of recent publications illustrating its positive impact on mental well-being,5 and these few studies are only the tip of the iceberg.
So it appears that we can say with some confidence that exercise is, on the whole, good for us.
The question is, will this chapter be yet a further iteration of this bynow, overstated cultural maxim that exercise is good for you? And the answer is no. In focussing on ‘Bike Minded’, this chapter opens up an understanding of community exercise initiatives that transcends the simple link between exercise and endorphins and instead portrays them as both complex and yet in some senses very straightforward, multifaceted social relational spaces that do a great deal more than give vulnerable people a temporary endorphin rush (although they do that too). So let’s start with the project.
Okay, so ‘Life Cycle UK’ is a cycling charity that’s been in Bristol for 17 years. In their own words they do ‘all sorts of things’ and are driven by a general ethos of helping to get people on a bike, start cycling and enjoy cycling safely. They do cycling training in schools and adult cycle training, and they run cycle maintenance courses. They run what they describe as a range of inclusive cycling projects and it’s within this context that their ‘Bike Minded’ mental health project sits. This they describe as a cycling project ‘for people who have experienced or are living with emotional or mental health problems’. This offers opportunities for people to get a bike, learn bike maintenance and go for group rides in the countryside with others.
We spoke to a number of people from Bike Minded, including service managers, volunteer ride leaders and service users. We conducted semistructured interviews to talk about how people experience the service. In order to contextualise this project through the lives of some of the people who use it, we’ve drawn the various accounts of people we spoke to and put them together into the account of a single fictional service user in order to show the way in which a project like Bike Minded can impact a person’s life. What follows in this chapter is an eclectic account of the data we collected during this research. Rather than presenting a range of individual voices, we provide an assemblage of the data through a stereotypical character associated with ‘Life Cycle UK’. So let’s meet Ron.