Has lockdown inspired you to wipe the cobwebs of your bike and give cycling another go?

Or maybe you’ve been an avid cyclist all along, like managing director of Skinnergate Cycles, Grant MacIver.

Staff at the privately owned local business have been rushed off their feet during lockdown and the team are delighted to see so many Teessiders getting into or returning to cycling.

“We’ve been ridiculously busy, we initially closed but we had a continuously busy website.” said Grant, and their click and collect service has been particularly popular throughout the pandemic.

They’ve had the store on Brunswick Street for 13 and a half years, but Skinnergate Cycles has been known in Stockton for the past 43 years.

“It must be one of the oldest independent businesses in the town, it’s a historic name in the area for cycling.” said Grant.

The Middlesbrough store is not currently open due to restrictions, but the business has centralised staff in the Stockton one to create a safer environment.

“We slowly reopened to the public, but we bring the staff to you for a one to one consultation.” said Grant, and for extra safety precautions, any product touched by a customer and not bought is put into a 72 hour quarantine process, with their warehouse available for storage until safe to reintroduce to the shop.

Skinnergate Cycles, Middlesbrough

“We’ve been working flat out, there was a massive shortage of bikes across Europe but with orders placed eight weeks ago, our stock is starting to recover, but all our mainstream stuff had sold out.” said Grant.

Their busy shop went from having hundreds of items in stock, down to less than 20 bikes, which have since been bought, with E-bikes being a popular purchase.

But what has brought on this surge of cycling on Teesside?

Grant puts it down to the changes caused by covid-19 and lockdown.

With gyms closed people turned to other forms of exercise, with people accessing the furlough scheme they had more time at home with their families and with holidays abroad cancelled people had leisure time to enjoy.

But whether you’re getting an old bike out of the garage or completely new to riding, Grant and team are on hand in the Stockton store to answer queries and give guidance.

And they believe shopping local provides a personal service, with the staff able to advise what product would best suit specific needs and the local area.

Skinnergate Cycles, Middlesbrough

“All our staff are keen cyclists, our guys will happily talk to you, even if you don’t buy, about nice places to ride or advice for a child to get them from a balance bike to stabilisers.

“We don’t just sell you the first thing when you walk in the door.

“If we create more cyclists, we’ll create more customers.” added Grant.

The team of cycling enthusiasts are there for repairs, advice if you’re looking for a quiet place to ride with the family, help choosing your first bike or tips on how to change your inner tube, to name just a few.

“Local independent businesses put money directly back into their local area.” said Grant, and throughout lockdown independents have been more valued than ever.

And it’s not just Grant that knows the benefits of cycling, the Government has recently launched their Fix Your Bike initiative to improve public health, relieve public transport and cut down on carbon emissions.

PM Boris Johnson launches £2bn cycling and walking scheme at the Canalside Heritage Centre, Beeston

Skinnergate Cycles are one of the local businesses taking part in the £50 voucher scheme.

The scheme has proved so popular that the site administrating the vouchers crashed due to demand and the first wave of vouchers have now been fully allocated.

“We registered for it when it was first announced a few weeks ago.

“The first wave of 50,000 is to test the systems and the bike shops.

“They expect the voucher will cover the initial service.” said Grant.

With further vouchers to be released, Grant and his team are preparing and they have already received emails the morning after the first wave of vouchers with queries.

Grant added: “There are several independent specialist cycle shops in the area who are part of this scheme and are working flat out to keep bikes on the road.”

With the encouraged surge in cycling and lockdown measures easing, local bike clubs have started returning to their favourite hobby.

Female cyclists from Stockton can be spotted on the NHS’s ‘Let’s Get Back’ campaign video, alongside sports teams, school children and families.

Callum Patrick Bowler has been a member of Stockton Wheelers Cycling Club for over 10 years and in life before lockdown he would go out and ride two or three times a week.

“I’ve cycled all my life, my dad’s a keen cyclist and I wanted my two lads to learn to ride.” said Callum, so when his sons were old enough to join the youth coaching scheme, Callum joined the club of cycling enthusiasts.

Callum Patrick Bowler, member of Stockton Wheelers Cycling Club

“When lockdown started you were only supposed to go out with your own family.

“I wasn’t going very far, I was doing 25 miles in a loop but staying close to home.” said Callum, but a few weeks on as restrictions began to lift, he has now cycled with friends, always sticking to social distancing guidelines.

But with the recent changing trends of cycling, Callum believes improvements need to happen to encourage more people to try the two wheeled travel.

“With very few cars about, I noticed a lot of new cyclists and a lot of families cycling on the road, but since it’s eased traffic’s gone back up.

“They need better paths, people need to feel safe.” added Callum.

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Living in Ingleby Barwick, Callum explained the majority of cycle paths in the area are shared, but with more people out jogging it is difficult to use a shared path and keep to social distancing.

“We need better infrastructure, we want direct routes where you don’t have to keep stopping at junctions.” said Callum.

With the Government now taking cycling more seriously as a way of commuting as well as for leisure and fitness, Callum hopes to see councils improve local cycle paths, making a safer environment for everyone to ride.

Teesside Live has asked local councils about what changes to infrastructure are being made in response to rising demand for cycling.

Elsewhere in the North-east changes to roads in Gateshead and Tynemouth to promote cycling have proved controversial after causing increased traffic congestion.

Tees Valley Combined Authority received £481,000 from the first phase of the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, which was split between the five local authorities.

A further £1.7m could be provided in phase two.

A Stockton Council spokesman said the authority has created additional cycle parking in Norton and Thornaby and will also create additional cycle parking in Yarm with its allocation.

It has also made changes to traffic lights timings to favour pedestrians and cyclists.

The spokesman added: “Work has also recently started on a new cycleway route along Acklam Road in Thornaby.

“As part of the developing Tees Valley Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan the council is working with Tees Valley Combined Authority on early options for a new cycle route along the Norton Road corridor.

“A cycle improvement scheme in partnership with Highways England has been introduced at Yarm Road/A66 interchange.”

Bus and cycle lane on Yarm Lane
Bus and cycle lane on Yarm Lane

Redcar and Cleveland was allocated £86,000 from Government funding via the Tees Valley Combined Authority to deliver projects that will allow cyclists and pedestrians to have more space.

Wilton Lane between Guisborough and Wilton was converted to a quiet lane for walking and cycling. in July.

The link allow cyclists to safely join the National Cycle Route 1 (NCN1) between the Wilton businesses and industrial site to Redcar town centre.

The only vehicles permitted on the route are those accessing residential and agricultural properties and businesses on the lane.

A second cycle route, which improves the pedestrian and cycle route between South Bank Railway Station and Flatts Lane Country Park, was launched in early August.

The routes are temporary and are expected to be in place for up to three months.

Middlesbrough Council has so far not responded to a request on how it is spending its allocation.

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