RAJINDER Singh commutes by bike along a nine-mile stretch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.

Having not got on a bike for many years, he quickly graduated from being a novice to an experienced rider, and loves riding from his home in Apperley Bridge, along the towpath to Leeds city centre.

“Although I had learned to cycle as a child I had not done so for a long time,” he says.

"My dad is an avid cyclist who encouraged me to take up cycling again so that we could spend more time together on the road,” he says

“Since getting back into the saddle two years ago I have found it a great way to meet new people and spend more time outdoors. In addition to my commute to work I tend to cycle on weekends either with my dad or our local cycling club.”

He adds: “Colleagues are often surprised that I cycle to work and this starts many conversations about the benefits of cycling and how easy it is. I actively encourage colleagues to join me and emphasise that the transition from car to bike is made more enjoyable with the traffic-free canal towpath.”

Rajinder’s new-found enthusiasm for cycling has led to him becoming an ambassador for the ‘Make Your Move’ campaign, an initiative led by West Yorkshire Combined Authority through its £60m CityConnect programme aimed at encouraging more people to cycle and walk shorter journeys.

Two-thirds of journeys made by West Yorkshire residents are under five miles, yet, according to data from the last census, although 11 per cent of journeys to work are made on foot, just 1.3 pent cent are by bike.

Through the CityConnect programme and in partnership with others, the Combined Authority is not only building new cycling and walking routes and improving existing infrastructure – existing routes can be seen on its website - it also offers a range of free services, including adult cycle training, bike maintenance courses and support for businesses.

Whether it is cycling to work or to school, for fun or for health reasons, alone or with family and friends, each of the campaign’s ambassadors have a story to share that shines a spotlight on the benefits of travelling by bike.

“My role is in setting an example of somebody who can go from being a novice at cycling to commuting to work on a regular basis,” says Rajinder. “I was initially reluctant to cycle because I was not confident in my riding ability and was concerned about safety on the road. I also thought the distance to work was too great to commute.

“However with the support and guidance of my dad and my local cycling club I was able to overcome these obstacles and haven’t looked back since. I’m sure if I can do it anyone can.”

“My story is hopefully an inspiration to those who lack confidence and who aspire to become healthier by taking up cycling and incorporating it into their daily routine,” says Rajinder.

Bradford-based cycling instructor Chris Widdop is also an ambassador. “My role is to help encourage people to consider cycling as a healthy, economical and fun form of transport,” he says.

Chris started cycling as a child, but gave up when he left home and moved into the inner city.

“I just wasn't comfortable riding on busy and congested roads. I took up cycling for my daily commute when I lived and worked in suburban Bradford and then promptly stopped again when I moved into the inner city,” he says. “Then almost two years ago I got an opportunity of work at The Capital of Cycling in the city centre and forced myself to overcome my fears. It was a revelation - my perception of danger was far greater than the actual experience proved.

“Since then I haven't looked back and cycle everywhere. This experience has been fantastic motivation as a cycling instructor, knowing just how much I can contribute to someone's life by teaching them the skills to cycle safely on busy roads.”

He adds: “I find that most people I speak to are pretty open to the idea of cycling to work. My encouragement comes in the form of finding out what is stopping them and then helping them overcome those problems. This could be anything from route planning, confidence-building rides or simply getting hold of a cheap bike.

“People tell me it's fear of the roads and the punishment of the hills in equal amounts. My experience means I can assure them that the roads are not as scary as they think and that modern bikes are far easier to get up the hills than the bikes we grew up with.

“From a personal point of view its cheaper and often quicker than any other form of transport. I feel healthier and most days my commute is actually fun. Of course there are days when wind and rain change this, but on balance the good days far outweigh the bad. On a wider scale you only have to look at the damage cars are causing to the health of people and the planet to conclude that we could all benefit from a lot more cycling.”

Chris carries on pedaling during his leisure time. “I cycle for fun as well,” he says. “A coast-to coast-ride and a spot of cycle camping in the Dales are part of my plans for this year.”

He adds: “There are many clubs and groups that do a fantastic job of helping people develop the strength and confidence to get out cycling.”

Rajinder also believes that it helps being part of a cycling club. “You meet a lot of like-minded people who have probably gone through the same struggles that you may have and they can provide useful hints and tips to make your journey back to cycling smoother.

“Cycling provides countless benefits. For me these include keeping your head and your heart healthy, being better for the environment, saving money on fuel and parking costs and meeting like-minded people,” he adds.

Councillor Kim Groves, chairman of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee, says: “We know encouraging more of us to cycle and walk not only boosts people’s health and saves money - it also brings wider environmental and economic benefits.

“According to Sustrans Bike Life 2017, the UK’s biggest assessment of cycling across seven major cities, up to 111,564 cars - equal to a 333-mile tailback - are taken off the roads by bicycles each day. In addition, people riding bikes brought a total annual benefit of £281 million to those seven cities.

“We want to make cycling and walking a natural choice for short, everyday journeys across West Yorkshire and it’s inspiring to hear stories from some of the people across our region who have already taken the plunge.”