The Hansons raise funds for the anti-poverty charity Tearfund and Jubilee Cocoupment, a community-supported environmental and agriculture organization. Both organizations aim to demonstrate how religious communities should respond to environmental issues.
this is not the first time the Hanson family has taken on such a task. In fact, this trip is the third in three fundraising cycles.
Forty years ago, John Hanson and his friend John Rogers embarked on an ambitious bike tour that took them around the world in 12 months. The two Johns left Dungannon on their bikes in September 1981, only to return just over a year later.
Their 13,000-mile route took them across Europe, Asia and North America, and the pair raised over £50,000 for Tearfund.
“If you think it’s big money now, imagine what it was 40 years ago,” John Hanson jokes.
John, who was preparing for the Presbyterian ministry at the time, began to think more about world poverty.
For him, the main goal of the cycle was “to draw attention to the horrifying fact that millions of people do not have food and clean water to drink.”
John published a travel book, Around the World in Bike Clips, and donated his bike to the Ulster Transport Museum, where it is still on display.
In 1998, John got back into the saddle. This time he was joined in tandem by his son Johnny. Father and son cycled 330 miles from Cork to Coleraine to raise money for the Camphill community in Ballybay.
To mark the 40th anniversary of John’s world tour, John and Johnny will be joined on August 14 by Johnny’s oldest children, Joshua and Bethany, for another epic cycle.
The four Hansons will travel from County Kerry to Country Antrim in two tandems for a total of 312 miles.
A lot has changed in forty years, and in that time the two seasoned cyclists have been thinking more about how “environment and development – often seen as two separate issues – should be considered together,” says Johnny. John explains that the global food shortage we are facing is a “clear example” of how poverty is linked to climate change.
Higher temperatures, longer periods of drought and unpredictable weather patterns are taking their toll on supply chains.
As a result, “hundreds of millions of people go to bed at night without food,” John explains.
The father and son want to use the cycle as “an opportunity to raise awareness of the need for further parishioner engagement on climate issues.”
“What characterizes these cycling adventures is the same that is needed to transition our economy and society towards sustainable development,” says Johnny.
However, John and Johnny not only want to “inspire members of religious communities to make environmentally responsible decisions”, but also push church leaders to show “real leadership” in this matter.
“Church leaders need to talk and do more,” Johnny explains. In his opinion, the connection between climate and faith is easy to establish.
He explains that “while the climate crisis is a technical problem that requires more technical solutions, it is also a problem that also generates tensions, emotions and feelings.” For him, “faith is one of the ways people can process these feelings.”
John agrees, explaining that caring for creation is a way to “glorify God.”
“It can also help people feel closer to God,” he adds.
For Johnny, being outdoors evokes a “feeling of wonder” and it is this “miracle” that can inspire people to learn more about environmental issues and show real interest.
Beyond the link between church and climate, the second message the Hansons want to promote is active travel. They want to use their cycle to highlight the need for safer, easier and more sustainable modes of transport in Northern Ireland. A former Sustrans Ranger on the National Bikeway section, John is particularly passionate about the issue.
“We need more secure places for people to cycle,” says John. “People won’t compete with traffic.”
He argues that cars and trucks scare people away, and we need to “make people’s lives easier.”
In his opinion, more green paths, safer bike lanes and public paths “will attract more people to walk and bike.”
In addition to boosting tourism and economic development, greenways offer people safer and more accessible places to cycle or walk. This creates better opportunities for a healthy lifestyle by making it easier for people to incorporate physical activity into their day.
Johnny, just back from a sabbatical in Europe, agrees with his father. Bicycles are “the de facto mode of transportation in places like the Netherlands,” he says.
So, does this change how the Hansons planned their itinerary?
“We take the safest route, not the shortest route,” says John.
The family planned their trip “to connect with as many greenways as possible”.
However, when they were planning their route, they noticed a noticeable difference in cycling infrastructure north and south of the border.
There are more paths along the canals in the republic, and some former railway tracks have also been turned into bicycle paths. We haven’t seen the same conversion rates in Northern Ireland.
“The converted train tracks are perfect for cyclists because they don’t have steep grades,” John explains.
Much remains to be done, but things are slowly getting better. John explains how “this year’s revision of the Rules of the Road brings good news to cyclists in the UK, guaranteeing them more protection than before.”
The new version of the Code, part of which does not apply to Northern Ireland, includes updated guidance on safe distance and speed for cars and motorcycles. Cars and motorcycles must not cross cyclists, they must give them a wider spread when overtaking, and cyclists have priority when going straight and at intersections.
Hanson’s Global Cycle is a huge conversation about faith, climate and active travel over 40 years, three generations and one world. However, the family wants to show that “everyone has a part to play” and demonstrate how people can raise funds for causes they care about in innovative ways. In this case, it is the power of the pedal in the fight against climate change.
See the Hanson cycle for more information. www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hansonglobalcycle