It was sometime early last year when Kat Heath got in touch with Reading Cycle Campaign looking for assistance in publicising her idea of setting up a Critical Mass style ride for children in Reading.
Since then, her ideas have borne fruit and several Kidical Mass rides have now taken place locally.
I caught up with Kat just before February’s ride and spent a happy half hour hearing about her life and how her passion for cycling came about. Here is what I learned.
Although not a Scot by birth, Kat’s involvement with Kidical Mass started in Inverness when she was on maternity leave with her son Blake.
Her parents apparently had been a bit nomadic and had travelled around the UK in a camper van until falling in love with the Highlands and settling in Inverness.
She credits her father with her love of cycling, and she is already passing on this love to Blake, who may well be Reading Cycle Campaign’s youngest member.
She was concerned about the safety of cycling around the Highlands with a 5-week-old child and so she set up the rides to challenge the removal of safe places for cycling in the city. They were immediately successful, with 50 people on the first ride and have had a huge impact on the city. The group became involved in active travel planning with the council and in the saving of at-risk cycle routes.
Hundreds of people have been able to enjoy safer cycling in the city as a result.
Kidical Mass as a movement has a history going back to 2008 when Shane Rhodes set up the first one in Eugene, Oregon.
Since then, the idea has spread to many other countries, with 21 places in the UK being listed this year on the cyclesprog.co.uk website.
When Kat moved down to live in Reading and take up a new job as a Senior Technical Product Manager with a cosmetics firm in London, it was almost predestined that she should carry on the good work here.
A chance meeting at Friday Fledgelings at MERL with Simon and Hilary Smart led to the discussions that set up the first Kidical Mass ride in Spring 2022.
Kat recalls being surprised at how car-centric Reading is. As I have lived in the town for over 40 years and have marshalled on a few of the rides, this is no surprise to me.
At the very least it has caused problems in planning safe routes that start and end at interesting places for the children.
As well as the Smarts, she has gathered together a small group of regular marshals including our own Alex Cran from Wokingham.
The programme for 2023 has monthly rides alternating between Reading and Wokingham, but Kat’s influence doesn’t just stop there.
She found early on public liability insurance was not available for these rides via normal channels, but she found a broker and the funding to set up cover for all the groups in the UK.
This has enabled more groups to consider setting up their own rides without worry over insurance and liability.
With another cycling mum she has written a ‘how to’ guide which has also helped other groups set up Kidical Mass rides in their own towns and all of this led to Kat being named as one of Cycling UK’s 100 women in cycling in 2022.
She is already making waves at the Council level. Reading’s Mayor came out in full regalia to welcome back one ride last year and finishing the September ride at the Reading Cycle Festival brought Kidical Mass to the attention of a very wide audience of cyclists.
Reading is very fortunate to have someone with such enthusiasm and drive and as they might say back in Inverness ‘Lang may yer lum reek’.