Martin was particularly hard to reach.

Aggressive and unpredictable in his behaviour after a brain injury, those tasked with working with him were at a loss as to how to help. Nothing seemed to work.

But a chance remark that he used to enjoy cycling when he was younger changed his life trajectory and got the gears of his meaningful recovery into motion.

He was introduced to Dave Buchan, a specialist cycling coach and mentor, and began to engage in ways the people around him had never imagined possible.

From the full-of-anger man he had become after his injury, through the medium of cycling, his behaviour began to change.

“That’s not to say he was really keen on the idea from the start,” recalls Dave. “I distinctly remember when he first came to us with his case worker, he refused to get out of the car.

“But since then, what we have done together has been amazing. His progress has been fantastic and helps to show the power of the positivity of cycling.

“I firmly believe cycling is fundamental to rehabilitation of all kinds, but Martin’s case shows the positive effect it can have on someone recovering from a brain injury which has had such a devastating impact on their life and behaviour.”

​For Martin, his life has been changed by getting back on a bike, something he had not done since he was young.

“I think for many people the case is the same, where they cycled when they were at school or university, but gave it up once they could get a car, started to work or had a family – but even though Martin’s brain had been injured, it obviously retained those special memories of how much he used to love cycling. That was a starting point and an ‘in’ for me to be able to help and to build that relationship with him.”

Dave is founder of Bike4Health, an organisation which promotes the health, wellbeing and sustainability benefits of cycling in the North of England.

“We started talking about bikes, about rides we could do, and we have a workshop on site which Martin was very interested in. When I first suggested some of the things we could do, he would instantly say ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I’m not doing that’ and become defensive.

“But we usually did get round to doing these things and he loved them. The feeling of being outdoors, exploring the world, the exhilaration, made him want to do more.

“We would get out and about in the van, go to cafes and local bike shops, and he began to rediscover the world and things in it he enjoyed doing.

“We would have a great time, laughing and joking, singing and chatting, it was fantastic to see how he was progressing through his love of cycling.

“There is something so powerful for anyone about being out in the forest or countryside, riding down a path that snakes this way then that, going over all its lumps and bumps, exploring the world around us and discovering new things all the time.

“And that sense of excitement really did capture Martin. He loved the freedom it gave him.”

After engaging with cycling and building trust with Dave, Martin began to interact with some of Dave’s other more challenging clients, to great success on both sides.

“I do some work with patients in a secure hospital and they built a relationship with Martin, who came along to some of the sessions.

“They’d ask about him when he wasn’t there, and likewise he would ask about them. For these patients, they are under 24/7 supervision and my cycling sessions are possibly the only time they get off their ward. We push and challenge them in the same way we do with Martin.

“One patient recently was really struggling so I brought an electric bike with me to help. We did an eight kilometre course and he walked up one hill, but he completed it. Again, this person did have an interest in bikes as a young person, and that was the means of engaging him.

“That kind of impact can be life-changing for someone for whom things seemed so bleak.”

Dave Buchan

Martin is now a regular at the Bike4Health headquarters in Kirkley, Northumberland. He helps out two days a week with a multitude of tasks, and has become an unofficial part of the team.

“He is a fantastic worker and loves coming here, and it gives us all great pride to see how much he has overcome.

“He is certainly a different Martin now to the one we first met – rather than not wanting to get out of the car, he now texts me to say what time he wants to be picked up.”

Dave’s own love of cycling began as a young boy living in a tough community in Tyneside, when the opportunity came up to ride to picturesque Northumberland with his school.

“That was the catalyst for my love of bikes and cycling, and I became quite obsessed from that point. I loved being outdoors and being able to escape to somewhere and see the beauty of the countryside and the world.

“There is always so much more to do and explore, and I wanted to help people discover that sense of awe that I did as a young boy,” he says.

After becoming an amateur cyclist and competing across Europe, Dave then moved into a role as a mechanic, then managed a cycling shop.

But it was Dave’s own experience of recovering from a head injury which made him want to share his love of cycling more widely.

“I was cycling home from the shop and I was on a quiet side road, cycling around 4 or 5mph, and a little girl ran out into my front wheel. I went straight over the handle bars and landed on my head.

“I went to hospital for X-rays and they were all fine, but I wasn’t assessed for my head. However, that night I woke up laughing, then started crying, for no apparent reason, so I knew something wasn’t right.

“I went back to hospital the next day and I was told I had post concussion syndrome. It can cause mood swings and, if you don’t have calmness and positivity around you to help your recovery, you can go to some dark places in the longer term.”

Dave used cycling to aid his recovery and then set about helping others to do the same.

“I’ve always known the power of cycling and the positivity it can bring, and that experience made me realise I wanted to help other people realise that too, whether as part of recovery, or just for general wellbeing.”

Bike4Health was established in 2014 and has grown from just Dave to a three-strong senior team, two full-time bike mechanics and 12 freelance guides and coaches.

The organisation has also invested in specialist facilities and a workshop. Its core activities are working with schools across the North, with more than 4,000 children benefitting from sessions, in addition to its more specialist and bespoke rehabilitation work with patients.

“The positivity cycling generates is huge – as well as the endorphins are released by being outdoors and exercising anyway, there is also the sense of achievement.

“Managing to get up that hill and come down the other side is a big accomplishment for many people.

“You can see the growth in confidence and the fact they’re loving what they’re doing, like we saw with Martin, and it’s just great to help people discover that.

“That endorphin rush is priceless and can change someone’s whole outlook on life. In society today we’re very materialistic and seem to get pleasure from buying things, and we spend so much time on technology.

“This is going back to the basics. We are designed as humans to move, to think, to be active, and cycling is helping the body to achieve that.

“Cycling can play an important role in mental health in general, not just for patients as part of rehabilitation, but for everyone.

“It’s important in tackling obesity, promoting wellbeing, and cycling can be a very social activity which can engage even the hardest to reach people, as we have seen in a number of cases, but particularly that of Martin.”