‘The Tomahawk Spirit’ by Dave Townsend

About Me

I’m Dave Townsend, 50, married to Keren and we have lived in Weston-super-Mare for 19 years, having previously lived in Keynsham.  I am a disabled father of four, the two eldest are both on the autistic spectrum.  I suffer from a long list of health problems including type 1 Diabetes, Psoriasis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and far too many others.

I play Tuba in the Weston Brass training band, and I sing Baritone in a shanty band called “The Steepholmers”

I am involved with local politics having previously been the Chair of Weston-super-Mare Constituency Labour Party, I am now their Disability Officer, and am also national Vice-Chair of Disability Labour.  

My History with Cycling

I grew up in Bristol. A Raleigh Tomahawk was my pride and joy in the 1970s, but I was soon roaming further afield and persuaded my parents to buy me a “proper bike” with drop handlebars and “proper gears”, I cycled to school everyday.

In the early ’80s my family moved to Keynsham, which meant I had pretty close access to the fledgling Bristol/Bath cycle path (which at that time was the Bitton to Bath cycle path that had not yet connected into Bristol fully).  My brother and I spent many hours cycling along the path for the rest of our childhood, exploring into Bath itself, and the surrounding countryside by bike, we moved to Compton Dando in 1984 and I continued to cycle to school which was now 4 miles away.

I always cycled, when I started work for the MoD I cycled to Bath and back every day, and spent many weekends with friends from the same apprenticeship exploring the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath… although the plethora of good pubs had its draw too.

I studied Naval Architecture at the University of Southampton after my apprenticeship, and my bike went with me; a bike which was built on a Peugeot frame with parts I had obtained and fitted myself.  Southampton was and is a great city to cycle in and around and again plenty of pubs are accessible by bike.

I continued cycling for leisure and commuting when I eventually returned to Keynsham, using my old favourite route of the Bristol/Bath Cycle track to commute to work every day in central Bath, which was a journey of about 10 miles each way.

My job moved to North Bristol, and with a new family we moved to Weston-super-Mare in 2001. My health had been declining for about 6 years at that point. Psoriasis was making it increasingly difficult for me to be able to ride comfortably, and then I also developed Psoriatic Arthritis which worsened to the point where in 2007 I was medically retired at the age of 37.

I pretty much stopped cycling from 2005, only making the occasional short trip, my joints just couldn’t cope with it any longer.

Back in the Saddle

So, 14 years passed and I was attending the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, in an electric wheelchair by this time, when by chance I met a woman in a strange looking contraption. I knew of recumbent bikes but had never seen a recumbent Trike until then.

We got to talking and she explained how the Trike had enabled her to return to cycling after a stroke, and that she knew of others with arthritis issues who had been able to return to cycling in a recumbent trike.

I did a LOT of research and discovered that I could probably use a recumbent trike with little or no impact on my joints; my knees and hips being particularly affected by arthritis.  I did find out that if I wanted a Trike I would need to raise quite a large sum of money, I had no idea how I would afford one, but I was determined to do so.

So first I contacted a rehabilitation triking charity called FreeTrike, based in Devon; after all I really needed to try one out before I started trying to buy one.  One Saturday in late August 2019 myself and my youngest son, who was 9, headed down to Devon with his bike in the back of my car, to meet Tom Pales of FreeTrike. It was a revelation – I could ride the recumbent trike with virtually no joint pain, my son was really excited that he could ride with Dad; and so fundraising began.

I approached every charity I could find who could possibly help me and I also got in touch with my trade unions. I started a GoFundMe! campaign and flooded relevant forums on social media; it took until March 2020 to raise just enough money to be able to get a second-hand trike, an ICE Adventure HD, with e-assist for when my joints don’t behave.

The Trike was sourced through another rehab charity called “Quest88” based in Staffordshire, and had to be transported from Newcastle upon Tyne, a logistical feat in of itself.

The Trike was on its way when the Covid-19 crisis really took hold.  Because of my many medical conditions, by the time the Trike arrived I was shielding in one room of our house and not allowed outside.

I came up with a plan to put the Trike on rollers in my room so I could at least start getting fit to ride it, whenever I was “released”. And so began eight weeks of training on it every day to try and build up some sort of fitness, having not been able to exercise properly for almost 15 years. Within a couple of weeks I was riding 20 to 30 miles a day on the rollers.

On June 1st 2020 it was announced that people who were shielding, like me, could go outdoors to exercise; I was straight out with my youngest son, now 10, who got to ride out with me as he had hoped.

Why did I take up cycling again? Well mainly because I could, and I wanted to both get back to some level of fitness and to be able to go out cycling with my family. As it turns out only my youngest has any enthusiasm for recreational cycling… but that’s good.  We go out together a couple of times a week now; my son is up to almost 25 miles on his longest ride now.  By myself I have managed a 44.6 Mile / 71.2 km ride in the last few days, in the rain and wind, still loving every minute of it.

My Journey of Discovery

I have learnt that:

I can still cycle, even though I need an adapted Recumbet Trike to do so.

I can fundraise pretty well and I have a lot of skills, from being involved in local and national politics and being able to search out funding sources and advice.

I still love cycling; alone or with someone else doesn’t matter.  Cycling is almost meditative, and when you’re out on the road “mindfulness” takes over and you just go with it.

Getting fit was a bonus. I’ve lost 10 kg in 15 weeks, and my general health is much improved, although I still can’t comfortably walk up stairs despite being able to ride 44 miles on my Trike!

My Favourite Routes

I would recommend using the local traffic free parts of the National Cycle Network that are accessible from the Weston area.  

Route 33 takes you from Weston Promenade to Burnham Pier, but the stretch of it called the “Brean Down Way” from Weston Pier to Brean is great and, except for one hill, it is flat and well paved with plenty of wildlife (and livestock) to see along the way – my son heard his first Cuckoo on our first trip out. The route is best taken at a leisurely pace alongside the walkers and riders. There is a great nature reserve at the Uphill end which just asks for a picnic to be held there, access to exposed rocks of the Mendips, and several Bird watching hides along the route.

Route 33 also runs out of town to the east towards Congresbury via the Summer Lane Ponds, except for a stretch from Wick St. Lawrence/Bourton along the A370.  Which takes you to part of NCN Route 26 “The Strawberry Line”

The Strawberry Line is again a well paved cycle track, running from Yatton Station to Axbridge – it has one advantage over the Brean Down Way in that there are no closed gates to keep domestic livestock in their fields, it being a converted railway line.  It runs via Congresbury, Sandford, and Winscombe.  At Winscombe the old station platforms are still in place and at the Axbridge end, just before the A38, is a tunnel that even at 50 years old brings a smile to my face when I cycle through (lights are recommended).

If you want to go further afield locally, there are plenty of very quiet roads to explore around the Somerset Levels, and several nature reserves too; the one at Shapwick Heath has a traffic free multi-use path running straight through it.  

There are far too many great rides around our area to be able to cover them all here, so try downloading an app like Strava, Komoot, or MapMyRide to your smartphone and start plotting your own routes.

Top Tips for Local Cyclists

Support your local bike and bike repair shops such as the Bicycle Chain and Weston Bicycle Works on Locking Road behind City Plumbing.

Go prepared; most cyclists locally will always stop if they see there is any problem, but it helps to take a puncture repair kit and a small set of tools to tighten anything that gets loose on the way.

Go online and learn some basics about caring for and repairing your bike/trike/quadricycle.

If you are going to explore the National Cycle Network, pick up a RADAR key for a couple of quid (available online) especially if you find the livestock proof gates a problem; the locks can be opened with a RADAR key.

Get lost occasionally. You’ll never know what you’ll find.

Be prepared to lose track of time.

Visit the Cycling UK website for cycling news, help and advice. If you find you are going out cycling more and more then join Cycling UK, their membership comes with third party insurance amongst other benefits.

You don’t need all the flash gear, lycra everything, expensive bikes but do always carry waterproofs, this is Britain after all.

Get Involved with Cycling

Social Media is a great resource for cycling, join some of the local Facebook groups like “Streets for People – Weston” or the national ones like “National Cycling Network”.  There are special interest groups for trike owners, family cycling, Mindful cycling, and just enjoying yourself.

Ask around at our local bike shops, they’ll know what’s going on locally.

Talk to other cyclists, on the whole we’re a friendly bunch.