The confidence barrier: How the Family Bike Club is driving change in London

Getting more people on bikes is going to take commitment from both authorities and the bike industry. Luke Balnave from The Family Bike Club in London is leading the way on cycling support for families 

This piece first appeared in the August edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

We all want to see more people riding bikes. 

From committed road cyclists, to families making their way to school, the more people we can welcome into the cycling community, the more the trade, and the world, can thrive. 

But making the jump from non-cyclist to bike rider is not a small step, and that’s why The Family Bike Club in London was established – to help more families get on the bike. 

Luke Balnave, founder of the bike club in Enfield, set up the organisation in 2022 with some key objectives. 

“Essentially, it started with a couple of objectives – basically there was a real lack of cycle shops or cycle hubs in Enfield. We haven’t been blessed with good provision generally speaking, so it’s trying to address that a little bit. 

“From a personal perspective, I wanted to deliver something to shift the dial a bit in terms of how people do short journeys locally. 

“Unlike other more inner London areas, where you always see people on bikes, Enfield is a more mass car landscape. 

“The aim was to help on that front by giving families an entry point that didn’t require them to just go out and purchase a cargo bike, which would be asking a lot of them, especially if they’re not regular cyclists.” 

The enterprise 

A social enterprise that operates not for profit and purely for the benefit of its members, the Family Bike Club offers hire bikes perfectly suited for family life, from cargo bikes, trailers, to kids bikes and tandems. The organisation also offers plenty of extras to make cycling as appealing as possible – cycle proficiency training, group rides, buddy programmes, along with servicing and repairs. 

On the barriers families need to overcome to start cycling Balnave said: “A big barrier is confidence. Whether that’s cycling confidence or knowing local routes. 

“Cycling confidence is attached to not seeing other people cycling that much. If you see lots of other people doing it that inspires confidence, but if you don’t, it’s the opposite. 

“In recent times, cost is a big barrier. It doesn’t cost a lot to put a child’s seat on your bike, but anything more than that – costs have ramped up as equipment has improved.”

Balnave believes Enfield has great potential to encourage more people to ride their bikes, in part thanks to the development of safe cycling infrastructure, including the Mini-Holland project, which involved the installation of segregated cycle lanes on major roads and developing cycle hubs at local train stations. 

“Enfield has actually made good strides, giving credit to the council,” said Balnave. 

“From my perspective, there was a last push needed to close the gap around equipment and confidence.”  

Early days 

The Family Bike Club is still in its early phases, having only been fully operational since early 2023, but Balnave said he’s already seen some excitement about the enterprise. 

But with a cost of living crisis to contend with, starting a non-profit organisation has not been without its hurdles: “It has definitely been tough until maybe the last six weeks. Financially everything has been tough, especially for a new entity when there’s not existing business, it’s been massively tough.

“We were helped out by a crowdfunder last summer, which got us moving in terms of big initial cost, but then you’ve still got your rent and everything. It’s not even close to breaking even at the moment, so I’m having to fund it a bit personally, but we’re hoping the next few months can be really game-changing in terms of really good trade.”

Local response 

On the initial reaction to the Family Bike Club, Balnave said: “Initially people have been genuinely very keen and sticking their heads in, being amazingly supportive and wanting us to succeed. 

“In terms of the family support, I think people are curious about what we’ve got, but it’s another step to get them to make the jump and actually try it.”

Balnave said already he has seen families hire cargo bikes and trailers for short periods, while many have very quickly realised the benefits and have instead looked at buying options over the hire, which benefits the Family Bike Club because of its relatively small but growing fleet.  

“One family came in and hired one literally for a group ride for one day, then the next week they bought one,” said Balnave. 

“Now they’re just loving their journeys much more than they were before.” 

The Family Bike Club is made up of a small team of four directors who work as volunteers, including Balnave, and the organisation is looking to expand its bank of other volunteers, which currently consists of three people.

Balnave, whose background is in education, is also keen to utilise the enterprise to help employment prospects for young people in the area, by offering a workshop apprenticeship for a young aspiring bike mechanic. 

He said: “One of the reasons for Enfield struggling to have cycle shops is the lack of local mechanics. 

“The council has to recruit mechanics from other areas if they ever hold an event or anything like that – it just seems to be a bit of a skills shortage for us.”

Bikes for all

Balnave has spent plenty of time speaking with families, and learning the best ways to encourage non-cyclists to hop on the bike. 

On advice he would give to retailers, he said: “My approach so far has been advising for the first three or four interactions. Just being approachable, giving them as much information as possible, and not trying to sell anything initially, just building that community, so they feel they can come in and have a chat. 

“Hopefully that builds their confidence, and then hopefully they find that entry point, whether it’s joining us on a ride or whatever, and that starts them on their journey.

“What I’ve learned is that if you just go straight in from a sales pitch, they’re going to question your motives, which is fair enough. We’re not set up like that anyway, we’re not for profit, so we’re just trying to encourage and give as much information and advice. 

“That’s something I’ve found that builds relationships and hopefully builds confidence.” 

Next up for the Family Bike Club are plans to expand the fleet as much as possible, especially by increasing the electric bikes on offer, and of course increase trade throughout the summer, in the hopes of converting more families into cycling families.

To find out more, visit www.thefamilybikeclub.com and to view the Family Bike Club crowdfunder see https://www.bacommunityfund.co.uk/p/the-family-bike-club–electrify-our-fleet-cargo.

Alex Ballinger

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