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Gran Fondo winner inspires new generation to cycle to school

Ronan McLaughlin in red and runner up of Gran Fondo Mark Kane

Ronan McLaughlin in red with runner up of Gran Fondo Mark Kane at finish line in Belfast

Sustrans staff and volunteers in group pic at the Gran Fondo trophy

Sustrans staff and volunteers who marshalled the Piccolo Fondo before the Gran Fondo race on 3 June. Ronan McLaughlin, back left, was winner of the Gran Fondo 2017.

Children on bikes with Sustrans staff

Ronan McLaughlin on far right doing his day job helping children ride bikes at an event in St Eithne's Primary School, L/Derry

6 June 2017

When he’s not winning the Gran Fondo or taking part in An Post Rás, Ireland’s International Cycling race, Ronan McLaughlin is helping inspire children to walk and cycle to school.

The former professional cyclist, from Co Donegal, won Sunday’s cycling race – a 174km loop from Belfast through the Mourne Mountains – coming in at an awe-inspiring 5.03 hours.

The 30-year-old’s day job for the charity Sustrans combines his passion for cycling with getting children active on the school run. He is based in the North West as part of a team of Active School Travel Officers who work in nearly 200 schools across Northern Ireland.

“I joined Sustrans on 1 March, it has been a great change for me,” he said. “Up to 2013 I was a professional cyclist and for the past two years I was working in car sales. I enjoy working with children – they love to get on their bikes. For me it is not just great work from an active travel point of view and reducing the number of cars on the roads, but potentially some kid could become the next cycling champ like Sean Kelly, Bradley Wiggins or Lizzie Deignan (née Armistead).”

It is great to be able to inspire children and young people through the Active School Travel Programme.

- Ronan McLaughlin, Sustrans officer and Gran Fondo winner

The day before his Gran Fondo win, Ronan was helping children cycle and get into the spirit of the big race by marshalling the Piccolo Fondo. Organised by Sustrans and funded by the Public Health Agency, this was four led rides for families along greenways and quiet roads from Comber, Stranmillis and east Belfast to where cyclists were registering for the Gran Fondo

“It was great to see so many kids excited about taking part in the Piccolo Fondo – to them, this was their Fondo,” he said.

Ronan said he was “delighted” to win the Gran Fondo especially as he’d been unable to take part in the two previous years.

“It is great to be able to inspire children and young people through the Active School Travel Programme,” he said. “When I was full-time in cycling, I lived in Belgium and Holland. The mentality is very different there as everybody cycles everywhere. I know it’s not always possible to cycle but there are some people who don’t live far from school who still drive there. Hopefully that mind-set is changing. Just a few generations ago we all used to walk or cycle to school, hopefully the work we are doing is helping to bring those habits back.”

The Active School Travel Programme, funded jointly by the Department for Infrastructure and Public Health Agency, has been successful in the schools where we have worked to reduce the number of children being driven to school by 22% and increase the numbers walking, cycling and scooting by 38%.

Inspired to get on your bike? Free cycle skills sessions

Sustrans is currently running a series of fun bike skills sessions and bike maintenance checks in the greater Belfast and Comber areas until 1 July.

The free cycle skills sessions, funded by the Public Health Agency, are perfect for anyone who wants to get on their bike or get out cycling with their kids. The sessions are open to all ages but children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult and must be able to cycle unaided.

The free cycle skills sessions are at Comber Leisure Centre, in Comber; CS Lewis Square, in east Belfast; and The Macrory Centre, in north Belfast.<

Sustrans bike mechanics will also offer a basic bike check, repairing minor problems and showing you how to fix punctures so you can get back on two wheels.

More information and to register for the free cycle training sessions

Find our more about the Active School Travel Programme