Nearly four decades on from swapping her bicycle for the bus, Karen Wilson wasn’t sure she’d even remember how to ride. Fast forward two years and the cycle paths of Scotland’s capital are Karen’s oyster. So what persuaded her to get back on two wheels?
Karen has returned to cycling after a 38-year absence. Credit: Karen Wilson
Give It A Go is a new campaign being launched by Sustrans Scotland to help people aged 50-69 to walk or cycle more.
The campaign, supported by funding from the Scottish Government, aims to make it easier for the 1.4 million people aged 50-69 living in Scotland to leave the car at home and make walking and cycling part of their everyday routine.
After hearing about the campaign, semi-retired Karen decided to share her experience.
Swapping the bike for the bus
As a teenaged badminton player, Karen Wilson kept her fitness up by cycling around her native Edinburgh.
But life got in the way of cycling for leisure, and in the mid-1980s, Karen sold the bike when she moved into her first flat.
She has never driven, preferring instead to use the city’s bus network.
Karen, now 63, explains:
“I learned to ride a bike as a kid in the garden with my brother, I remember enjoying it.
“I played badminton at quite a high level and it was a great way of keeping up my fitness as you didn’t really have gyms then.
“But I have never wanted to learn to drive.
“I am scared of speed and I just didn’t think I would be a good driver.
“Even now the thought of driving a car freaks me out!
“It hasn’t hindered me, but I think you find in later life it would be useful because you are reliant on the bus service.”
The social aspect of being active
Sociable Karen is a member of the Balerno Rambers group.
Meetings came to an abrupt halt, however, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“Everyone was grounded during Covid.
“I was lucky, as I have the Water of Leith on one side and the canal on the other, but I missed being able to walk with people from the group.
“I had a couple of email addresses of people in the group, so I got in touch, and they were so grateful that I did!
“By doing that, I was able to get out and walk, socially distanced, with one or two people from the group who lived nearby.
“Eventually we started introducing each other to the walks we had discovered during lockdown.”
"Would I still be able to ride a bike?"
Karen is fortunate to have so many interesting routes on her doorstep.
But as time went on and the world began to open up again, she started to wonder if there was a way in which to join these walking routes together in a single trip.
Karen explains how she found the answer:
“Walking is fantastic, but it takes time.
“All of these routes had opened up to me during the pandemic, and I wanted to link them up.
“It was my friend Pauline who I met when we were both on duty at a Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal event who inspired me.
“She has an e-bike and is always posting on Strava about where she has been.
“I wanted to go further and see different things – 38 years since I last tried it, I wanted to cycle.
“So I borrowed a bike from another friend, Jenny – it was a boy's bike.
“Pauline and I walked down to the park together with it, and all the time I was thinking ‘would I still be able to ride a bike?’
“I wasn’t confident, but I thought of all the places that cycling could open up for me which pushed me on, and I did it!
“From there I started on an Ageing Well cycling skills course which taught you what you needed to know.
“They let you use a bike which was set to the right height for you.
“The course took place in a secure environment and we all encouraged each other which helped us gain the confidence we needed to head out on to the paths on the old railway lines or by the canal.
“I did two courses in the end and although they have finished, we still meet as a group to cycle somewhere and get a coffee.”
Karen is enjoying connecting up her lockdown walking routes on her bike. Credit: Karen Wilson
Goals help me keep improving
Karen acknowledges that it was the encouragement of the group that helped build her confidence, but being able to set targets also drove her forward:
“During Covid, and even now, I still needed to be walking with a purpose, so I completed a number of virtual charity walks between March and December 2020 to keep fit and raise money.
“You could see where you were on leaderboards, post things up and speak to people.
“It made you walk and gave you a purpose.
“Some of them follow international routes, and they send you an e-postcard when you reach certain areas, so I can say I’ve walked places like the Cote d’Azur!
“Since 2021 I have been doing the conqueror challenges that let you track where you are on a map.
“I have one which I log bike miles on, but I still do the walking challenges – I'm walking 2023 miles this year and walked 10,000 steps during March for Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance in memory of my friend Evelyn who passed away in December.
“I have always been a target-driven person. If I have something to aim for, I will do it.”
Karen exploring Edinburgh on a bike ride. Credit: Karen Wilson
What advice does Karen have for someone looking to get more active?
“I think you need to do it with like-minded people, or at least people who are at the same stage as you.
“But at the same time, I am much better when I have targets, so I’d say that you always need to have people of a higher standard, so you can strive to that.
“In our cycle skills group we all said ‘well done’ to one another, we all encouraged each other when we all managed to get up a hill without anyone stopping to push the bike.
“We ended up making new friends, we had a purpose.
“When you’re part of a group, you don’t mind sharing your experience with them.
“Everyone likes a wee pat on the back, even if it’s minor encouragement.
“And the group will know that every bit of progress is an important milestone for you.
“You get the encouragement to nurture yourself into becoming a better person.
“It may take a long time but I think it makes you more confident in yourself.”
Our new campaign aims to make it easier for people aged 50-69 living in Scotland to leave the car at home and make walking and cycling part of the everyday routine. Are you ready to Give it a Go?