Published: 19th OCTOBER 2023

Cycling, cancer and the Bristol & Bath Railway Path: Paul's story

Paul Luttrell grew up alongside the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. He shares his memories of the cycling community in the two cities and how a cancer diagnosis has changed his relationship with the National Cycle Network.

Paul Luttrell stands with his wife and two youngest sons as they sit on a tandem bike together in the sunshine.

Paul and his wife Dalma with their two sons, who have inherited their love for cycling. Credit: Paul Luttrell

I’m 53 now, and back in the 80s, I got my first bike from a shop called in Bath.

I helped out at the shop and they taught me a lot - how to build wheels, service cycles, and I paid my bike off that way.

I grew up in the village of Weston, up the road from the Bristol and Bath Railway Path.

I was in a single parent family and we didn't have much money, so I rode my bike everywhere.

My mum taught me how to change a tyre with spoons, and we worked out from a Reader’s Digest manual.

Cycling was my escape from the bad stuff - people I was at school with, stepdads, parties at home.

One day I was visiting my girlfriend at the time’s family, and her dad, John, showed me his garage full of bikes.

I asked him, “do you repair them?”, and he said, “no, I race them”.

It was then that I put two and two together and realised he was John Emery, the record-setting time-trial racer who I’d already heard about.

He gave me my first real road bike. He just showed me around the garage and said - “pick one”.

We then took the bike to Overbury’s Cycles in St. Paul’s, run by Mrs Powell, and two weeks later I had my bike back in the colours I wanted.

John was my hero.

An old photograph of a young Paul Luttrell riding on his first road bike along a road in Somerset

Paul on his first road bike, a Dan Shotton 753, gifted to him by his hero John Emery and repainted by Overbury's Cycles in St. Paul's, Bristol. Credit: Paul Luttrell

Working as Bristol's first bike messenger

In 1988 I became a bike messenger, the first one in Bristol.

I would pick up parcels from one office and deliver it to another one a few miles away.

If it was early enough in the afternoon, they’d put me on the Intercity 125 train to London.

I’d race across the city for 10 miles or so, deliver the package and come home.

It was the best job in the world.

I loved every second of it, even when it was raining.

Cycling with cancer

Four and a half years ago, I got diagnosed with myeloma cancer.

I was putting on a lot of unexpected weight, and then one hot day at work, I just collapsed.

I went to hospital for tests, and they discovered that my kidneys had failed.

After a biopsy, they found it was cancer. It's incurable, but manageable, and I have dialysis three times a week.

Just before my diagnosis, I rode 80 miles to Corfe Castle from Frome with my two youngest sons.

Arthur was six and he completed 40 miles in one day.

That’s all I could manage then, because I was starting to get unwell.

Not long after, I went back with my eldest son and we completed it on our road bikes.

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Having the e-bike there means I can still enjoy cycling and the freedom it brings, the chance to clear my head. Blockquote quotation marks

But since then, I haven’t been able to ride a standard bicycle because of the nerve damage from chemotherapy.

I can only feel about 80% in my ankles and feet, so it’s very weird.

Instead, I converted my cargo bike into an e-bike with the help of a friend, so I can still get out on two wheels.

Having the e-bike there means I can still enjoy cycling and the freedom it brings, the chance to clear my head.

Paul Luttrell sits on a wall next to his bike on a coastal path with a dusky sky above.

Since having chemotherapy, Paul has had to swap to an e-bike, but he still enjoys getting out on the National Cycle Network. Credit: Paul Luttrell

Fears for the future of the Network

I’m amazed at the network of cycle routes we have in the UK, you can be away from everything in one turn.

I’ve actually been writing a children’s book called Tinker’s Tales.

It’s about the Bath to Bristol cycle path and what my son sees through the window of his bicycle trailer.

I’ve even had it illustrated, but I need to complete it!

Cycling and the routes we have all around us here have been such a big part of my life.

Now though, I’m worried about the future for my boys.

My generation has benefitted from these bike paths, but without funding and support, this network might all go.

And that’s a big fear.

Concerned about the future of the National Cycle Network? See how you can get involved.

Read more about the Network and find a route in your area.

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