Ben Sherratt, or Bike it Ben as he is known in Brighton, is one of two Bike It officers for Brighton’s branch of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans.
Wheels inspire - How Bike it Ben gets people pedalling
It’s Ben Sherratt’s belief that cycling is the key to happiness.
Bike it Ben, as he is known in Brighton, is one of two Bike It officers for Brighton’s branch of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans.
Since 2008, the former teacher has been working with schools across Brighton and Hove to get children pedalling as well as finding ways of encouraging adults to do the same.
It is his perfect job. Ben, who initially trained as an engineer, has cycled around several of the world’s continents and currently holds the world record for the greatest distance cycled off-road on a single speed bike in 48 hours (a staggering 619 kilometres).
He describes his two-wheel obsession as “the closest thing to flying”. It’s this enthusiasm that’s proving to have an impact on even the most reluctant cyclists.
As well as schools visits and workshops, his online videos about how to teach your child to ride without stabilisers (it’s possible to do this within an hour), and basic bike maintenance are viewed by scores.
But with cycling still accounting for just two per cent of journeys, he admits that getting the word out there is an uphill struggle.
It's like mindfulness. You have to focus on what you're doing and where you're going. At the same time you can be in your own world."Ben Sherratt
Bike It Officer - Sustrans
“We have the most stressed kids in Europe,” he points out. “Yet there’s something about being out on a bike that’s mentally so good for you.
“It’s like mindfulness. You have to focus on what you’re doing and where you’re going. At the same time you can be in your own world. Bikes give you the power to explore.”
Three years ago he became involved in a scheme set up by Sussexsport at the University of Sussex to get economically disadvantaged teenagers and young people mountain biking.
The University had been working with youth projects, schools and care services in Brighton to give opportunities for supervised rides in the Sussex countryside. As a result, 18 bikes were available for use and housed and maintained on the Falmer campus.
The future intention of Brighton and Hove Joint MTB Bike Club, with the help of funding from Sustrans and Sported UK, is to expand the opportunities for bike rides with qualified trail leaders and to run bike maintenance courses.
Ben, who is a qualified mental health first aider, says: “The simple idea is to give young people access to the outdoors and to exercise both their bodies and their minds.
“But there are so many other benefits too. Some of these youngsters have never been in the countryside. One of them didn’t know that blackberries grew wild and that we could stop and eat them.”
The activity of cycling alongside someone else also opens up opportunities for conversations with young people who may be struggling with personal issues, he adds.
The simple idea is to give young people access to the outdoors and to exercise both their bodies and their minds."Ben Sherratt
Bike It Officer - Sustrans
But it’s not just the economically disadvantaged who are missing out on the joys of the great outdoors. Ben has been shocked to find that 11 and 12-year-olds from affluent families have also been denied the freedom and pleasures of cycling – and other adventures.
“They don’t climb trees. They have no physical confidence. Children are getting outdoors less now than ever.”
While the lure of computer games may be keeping more children indoors, Ben believes that parents are partly responsible.
“They may be worried about their children’s safety, but we should look to places such as the Netherlands, where 40 per cent of children ride to school.”
Adults also need to lead by example. While he acknowledges that the hills in Brighton might deter some people, he points out that electric bikes, which still require some human pedal power, are a good alternative.
“If more people ride, then the infrastructure for cyclists improves. Brighton is a beautiful place to cycle around. We just need to get people out there.”