As a teenager I rode a bike all the time. From the age of 13 I did a paper round (actually most of the time I did two) and I did them on my bike. For this purpose my parents got me a red “racer” with three gears. At weekends in the summer me and my friend David would ride our bikes up in to The Downs. Sometimes just as far as Devil’s Dyke to shoot our catapults but sometimes a 30 mile, hilly route all round the Sussex countryside and back again. Proper cycling. David provided the puncture repair kit and the knowledge of things like what to do if your chain fell off. I (mechanically inept) provided the company. I enjoyed it immensely.
Then I stopped doing the paper round. Not long after I was with David and attempting a right turn on a busy road when I was knocked off. I only got cuts and bruises but it was enough to put me off and before I knew it I had stopped riding my bike. Up until six months ago the only other times I had ridden a bike were when I was at my mum’s place in France and I borrowed my step dad’s ‘sit up and beg’ bike to ride round the French countryside. Like a little English vicar.
But six months ago I* decided I needed to get a bit fitter and I* also decided the best way to do this would be to get a bike and start cycling again.
*my wife again
I asked some advice of some cycling types on twitter and then mostly ignored it by buying a bike I liked the look of. I know. But for the last few months I have been the proud owner of a hybrid bike which I have ridden as often as I can and, frankly, loved. Quite a few things have changed since I was a teenager however.
To start with it seems that the act of riding a bike has somehow become political. That somehow just by getting on it and riding I’m sticking two fingers up to Jeremy Clarkson style motoring libertarianism. As someone who doesn’t enjoy driving at all I was always ambivalent in the ‘motorist v cyclist’ rows that would sometimes rear their heads in the pub or on message boards or twitter. Now I’m firmly in the cyclist’s corner. Whether this is selfish self interest or just seeing things from a particular point of view I’m not sure.
Then there’s the reputation of cyclists locally. This certainly wasn’t helped when a well liked local business man was killed by a single punch from a cyclist. And while there are plenty of responsible cyclists there are also people like the guy who, on dark winter mornings, cycles the wrong way up my road with no lights or hi viz.
Meanwhile the Green Party run local council are building more cycle lanes. While I should be in favour of this as a big user of them I wouldn’t want budget used on them that could be providing school places or collecting the rubbish. When I was cycling as a teenager there wasn’t a single cycle lane anywhere. In short, cycling can feel controversial.
However, here is the other thing that’s changed since then; thanks to the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendalton and particularly Wiggo cycling is also cool. In fact this picture of Bradley Wiggens may just be one of the coolest things ever. The cycle lanes that are there are being used more and more and even on quiet routes at odd times of the day I see plenty of fellow cyclists. This is a real Olympic legacy. People of all ages are out there, inspired to do something not because it may be good for them but because it is fun, available and part of the zeitgeist.
For me though, the best thing is how much I enjoy it. Much like when I was regularly playing football or cricket, cycling puts me ‘in the zone’. I don’t have to worry about office politics or making my connection at Gatwick Airport or who threw the weeble or why the carrots that were perfectly good for dinner last week are suddenly disgusting. It’s just me and the bike. Perfect.
Last night I asked twitter if I should go for a ride or start on the wine early but, really, I already knew the answer. As soon as Whirlwind was in bed I saddled up and went for a ride all round Brighton and Shoreham, observing families heading home from the beach and people heading out for a Saturday night on the town. One of the last parts of the route is along a road that runs between the beach and the harbour, near the houses with the private beaches where the slebs all live. It’s quiet at that time of evening and I let rip, pedalling as fast as I could. In no time at all I was overtaken with consummate ease by someone on a road bike who, frankly, left me for dead. I wonder if it was David?
P.S. I know you’re all thinking ‘but why the inane title’? I know I would be. Well it is, of course, a chance to post a link to this obscure song of the same name by Japanese pop band Shonen Knife. If Wiggo doesn’t inspire you to start riding this certainly won’t.