Monday’s child is fair of face,
What is it about bicycles?
Bicycles have been part of my life for ever. My parents remind me that I used to trundle up and down the garden path on a little tricycle complete with a little metal bin. I know it’s true, there is photographic evidence. We moved house when I was five and the girls next door had two wheeled bicycles. They were girl’s bikes with little wheels and big baskets. I have no idea how, but I ended up attempting to ride one. I got on one side and promptly fell off the other, much to the amusement of everyone around. My rose tinted memory tells me that after a few attempts I managed to acquire the knack and I was soon zooming up and down the road on other people’s bikes. A few days later I was given a bike by my father. I got on it and sped off, cruelly depriving him of that holding his son’s bike and letting go moment. From that moment on a bike became my primary transport. I started off with a Hercules single speed but one Christmas I graduated to five gears in the shape of a Raleigh Olympus. I went everywhere on that bike and learnt how to maintain it too. Punctures were fixed, cotter pins were removed, bearings were degreased and my father’s tools were left on the floor of the garage, much to his disgust.
As I got older and started to earn money from doing a paper round the thought of building a bike occurred to me. Over a long time I bought all of the components: brakes, back and front derailleurs, wheels, chain set and finally the frame. The frame was a thing of beauty; it was a Geoffrey Butler made with Chrome Molybdenum Reynolds tubing. I have no idea what that actually is but it sounded professional and hi-tech. It didn’t take long to put it all together and apart from standing on one of the wheels and having to have it straightened, it all went rather smoothly. It was a great bike and I loved it, right down to the Brookes saddle that had come from my Raleigh Olympus. I’d read somewhere that the professionals kept their saddles so I was going to keep mine. I rode that bike into the back of a car after my maths O level. My first words after coming round and being lifted into the ambulance were “How’s my bike”. It wasn’t very well. The wheels and frame were bent and battered and not very rideable. It was heart-breaking spending so much time building up the bike and then having it for only a few short months. Once I’d recovered I managed to salvage the usable parts from the bike and gather enough money together for another frame. It wasn’t the same but it was transport, it did get neglected when I learnt to drive.
At 18 I left for University, I swapped my bike for a bus ticket and then had a brief flirtation with a motor bike before moving closer to the city centre and walking everywhere. The bike didn’t make an appearance until my second year. The university ran a survey on the Shetland isles every year students applied to spend a month looking at the flora and fauna of the islands. It sounded to me like a wonderful way to spend a summer. The only minor problem was that I wasn’t selected. At the end of one of the presentations the professor in charge said “and anybody else who wants to come will be made welcome”. I’m sure that no one else had ever taken him at his word on that point. I looked at various ways of getting there and it turned out that cycling via youth hostels was actually cheaper that catching the train. In was only 400 miles from my house to the ferry and I calculated that I could do it in a very leisurely week. I booked the hostels and indulged in a bit of riding at the weekend before fitting a rack and panniers. It was immense fun, I probably did everything wrong, carried too much luggage and generally made every mistake it was possible to make but I got there and back all under my own steam. It was one of those trips of a life time with highs and lows and full of new experiences. After that adventure I have always had the attitude “If I could do that I could probably do anything”.
Once I started work my bike became my prime form of transport, I had moved out of the city centre to an area where buses made a rare appearance in the middle of the day. I needed a car but didn’t have the money, so the only way of getting about was by bike. The weather forecast became an important part of my daily routine. Even when I finally got round to buying a car I had to share its use with my partner so I more often than not I would end up cycling. This carried on through several jobs.
I had wanted to visit Iceland for a long time and the idea to cycle round it was prompted by the Josie Dew book “wind in my wheels”. I managed to negotiate a month’s holiday from work and that coupled with a bonus enabled my partner and I to embark on another trip of a lifetime. We carried everything on the bikes and traveled from campsite to guesthouse with only the vague plan to go clockwise. Our only commitment was to be at the airport in time for the return flight. The terrain was interesting, the weather was variable but the experience was wonderful. I’m not sure if it would have been the same had we traveled by bus. There was something about being exposed to the elements that added to the trip. Having the freedom to move quickly through or to linger and watch the landscape change heightened the senses and dulled the pain. It was hard returning to normal life after that.
Up to this point I’d never been a competitive cyclist. The whole point of a bike up until then had been to get me from one place to another but that all changed when I moved into the world of triathlon. It was something that I had wanted to try for a while; I found that there was a local triathlon club, so I went along to see what it was all about. Through them I was introduced to a new world of cycling. I discovered time trialing and found I was quite bad at it. I discovered Audax riding and found that I really enjoyed long days out on the bike. I discovered long time trails and found that I even though I wasn’t that good at them I really enjoyed the whole experience of cycling for distance. My cycling life was transformed from a mainly a method of getting from A to B and into something far different. It became a competition against myself and it became a way to collect achievements. I thought I’d finally found my cycling nirvana, and then I was introduced to tricycles. That changed the game.
None of this really explains why I love cycling. All it says is that I’ve been out my bikes and I keep going out on my bikes. At various times the answer to why I get on a bike would have been different. In the early days it was all about transport, I either cycled or didn’t go where I wanted to go. It was as simple as that. Later it became more about a challenge and an experience. There is a world of difference between sitting on a train to get somewhere and using a bike to get there. The two really long excursions would have had a completely different complexion if I had traveled any other way. Lately it has become about competing, either against other people or completing a challenge. There is a wonderful feeling about returning from a long cycle ride; a feeling of achievement; a feeling of having put in the time and effort; a feeling of accomplishment. In short I have no idea why I keep getting on my bike and peddling until either my bike or my body breaks but I’m going to keep on doing it until I find out