I was a late-comer to cycling. My parents were unusual in that they refused to allow my brother and me to have our own bikes. Their reason? Safety. They argued that the roads simply weren’t safe enough to allow their children out on them on two wheels.
Of the entire class, in each respective year, my brother and I were the only ones not to take part in the Cycling Proficiency Test at school. As I result, I lacked the basic safety training needed when I rode my friends’ bikes, resulting in my own (thankfully low-key) smashes at a later age.
I was sixteen when I committed my first act of ‘rebellion’. I went out and bought my first ever bike, a basic model, with the £80 I had managed to save up through various means. It was red, and even though it was nothing special, I loved it.
My problem was - how do I break it to my parents?
My friends laughed. As acts of rebellion go, this was fairly ‘safe.’ But, when I took that bike down to a rough piece of off-road army land near to where we lived, and rode full speed down those rocky hills, I was free.
When I did tell my parents, my mum took it much better than I had expected. Maybe she was relieved it wasn’t something worse!
Time passed and life took me other ways. I rode my bike only for a short time before my driving license stole the show. At that time I was a passionate defender of animal rights. I had vaguely heard of climate change, or ‘Global Warming’ as it was more commonly known at the time, but it wasn’t pushed hard enough in the media, and I didn’t seek to investigate the problem myself too much.
I can recall being indifferent to driving, but my parents were a strong influence on me. They argued I would need my licence and my independence, and they booked the first set of lessons for my 17th birthday without consulting me. I wasn’t unpleased; I understood their point of view, and later I relished carrying my own set of keys and hopping down to the coast or a big city to visit friends. It was ‘freedom.’
I am afraid the story can’t end there. Because, as we all know, our freedom that we have all enjoyed, unchecked, for such a relatively short period of time, is now catching up with us.
Climate Change is often alarmingly referred to as ‘political’; it divides people, and, frankly, this leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Since when did taking care of our host planet have anything to do with politics? I’m not here to spout political views or otherwise; this is just my story.
As I got older, I began to enjoy driving less and less. The freedom of visiting friends at university gave way to the necessity to drive to work, or take the kids places, or do grocery shopping. All part of the fabric of everyday life; but no longer so pleasurable.
I have been driving for just over two decades. In that time I have already witnessed an increase in traffic on the roads, especially at rush-hour. Driving for me has become a necessary chore.
But cycling? Now that gets interesting. Sure, the roads are busier, but there’s also excellent cycle lanes and the National Cycle Network that have enabled me to get going from my home to, most typically, the shops.
It’s not a particularly glamorous trip, but the most interesting thing I can say about my trip to the shops is my method of travel. Cycling has literally turned the whole journey on its head.
As I was cycling up a gentle incline, getting my heart-rate up and measuring the effort my body was using for this journey, I smiled. People actually pay good money to drive to a gym, where they then do their workout before having to find the time to fit in the grocery shop on their way home. I combine my workout with my shop and, for me at least, it’s a win-win.
It sounds obvious, but it’s all a case of reframing how you look at things. Before, my biggest obstacle when riding into town was that it was nearly three miles away and I didn't ‘have time.’ But once I began to reframe the whole thing and say that in that one trip I have effectively ticked off two things off my list for that day (the workout and the shopping), things became a lot easier.
I am making it sound easy, but actually, for me, it really isn’t much harder than driving, and it makes me feel a thousand times better than taking the car.
I live in the country, to get into our nearest town I have to cycle a good mile detour to avoid the A-road next to my house which would take me straight there. It’s a shame, but it’s not the end of the world. I still arrive at the shops in just under 20 minutes, relaxed, happy and without the worry of having to pay for parking or find a space.
What I want to see is the entire line of bike-racks being taken up with so many people cycling in. We’re not there yet, but I think it will go that way. More and more people are becoming environmentally aware, as well as health-conscious.
Some years ago I had the pleasure of taking part in the Big Wheel, a local event for St Michael’s Hospice, where I cycled some 30 miles around our local countryside. The training I did for it and the event itself gave me such a buzz as a balance to the demands of raising my young children at the time. The distance was great enough to make me wonder why I didn’t do it more often - the scenery in this part of north Hampshire is spectacular and for three full hours I was able to fully switch off and enjoy the ride.
I am not a competitive cyclist. I choose to ride a mountain rather than a racing bike. For me, riding is not about competing athletically, it is simply about being free, being able to choose my speed, and deciding how to tackle that hill (even if I end up walking it!)
Cycling is very forgiving. It will accept you at any age, at any speed and at any kind of recreation. If you want to go haring off in a pack at speed, it will accommodate you. If like me, you prefer a gentle pace, cycling to a destination in mind, with a wicker basket on the front to take your groceries, then cycling is there for you too.
My environmental sensibilities may have led to me falling back in love with cycling, but I benefit in so many other ways that I wonder what took me so long!
I still use my car for many journeys, but every single practical journey I can make with my bike, I stop and consider first. Most often, my beloved bike and its new basket is my first choice!