Then when I was 6 or 7 we moved to a house on a hilly housing estate, which dad deemed safe enough for us to zip around by ourselves without adult supervision, and that was great. My dad bought my brother a chopper, and when he went to boarding school my sis & I got our hands on the bike. I'd cycle a route that took me past houses of people my family knew, houses that had interesting plants near their gates, one house that had millions of pots of chillies!!!, another with a huge prickly cactus like some kind of threatening monster...oh yes, and there was also a house which had attack Yorkies euuwww! Not my fave animal. But cycling was always fun, always an adventure, even if I never got the scabbed knees and spectacular falls my sis did (she was a fan of going fast)
Then I went to school in England, and we walked everywhere. In pairs. My parents moved again, to another town ripe for exploration, so when us kids were home for the holidays, I nagged my dad for a bike, since he had gotten himself one for fitness. So I got the Big Green Machine - a wonderful sit up and beg bike, with a wonderful three gears! I think it came from India. It weighed a ton! But it had massive wheels, and when I cycled anywhere in it, it was like I was flying. That was when I realised cycling was more than just fun, it was independence, the power to choose where I went, and when.
As I got older, at every stage of my life, a bike has eased my path eventually. At Uni, I had a beaten up old no gear relic with reverse pedals for stopping - peeling blue paint, and a bell - Bertha was great because I could safely leave her outside the lecture halls and on the streets and know that she'd still be there to come back to...she took me on some fun adventures with my friends, got me home safe after nights out floating in a sea of alcohol, and it was with some regret that I finally traded her in for a swanky tourer on the advice of the then boyfriend, a keen cyclist.
That was a beautiful bike. I spent an absolute fortune on her - as much as I'd spent on my hi-fi system! Yikes! She was the lady who took me on my greatest cycling adventure, the 27 miles to Oxford. I regret to say I moaned the whole way there, fitness enthusiast I wasn't! But after that baptism of fire, I settled down to 6 -15 mile journeys quite comfortably, usually involving pitstops at pubs. Inevitably, she got stolen one day, and I mourned her dreadfully. After that, I got myself another old banger to see out Uni days, a red hand painted frame that had spent 20 years so the seller told me mouldering in the shed...
The Rattletrap was an excellent bike - she looked like shite, but rode like a dream, even though she wasn't any sort of carbonfibre superdooper melange. A great, reliable 10 speed. When I started work in a town I commuted to by train, she was the bike I rode the 10 minutes to the station, heaved onto the guardsvan, and then hopped onto for the five minutes to my workplace. By this time I'd learned proper strategies to minimize bike disappearance with a couple of stout locks and always looking for an immovable object to clamp my darling to.
I moved to the town I now live in and carried on cycling everywhere. It was just second nature. Even when I eventually bought a car, I still cycled to work every day - it really was quicker! The traffic problems we had 20 years ago were dreadful, even commuting by bus was a no-no, as the buses got snarled up in the general mayhem. So cycling it was. Every day. Just under 4 miles there and back, plus any other excursions I might do lunchtimes, or extra trips on weekends or the odd evening out. The car was for visiting my boyfriend on weekends - initially still living in my old Uni town, then at his Uni town over in Wales. On one memorable occasion I plonked the bike in the back and we cycled to Castell Coch, a fairytale 19th century castle! A Disney precursor, it was the Bute family weekend cottage...!!
Finally, I started making a little extra cash doing freelance work on the side, so I bought myself my lovely Dawes Hybrid - currently languishing in my dining room. I cycled every day for 10 years. Then I went fully freelance, bought a new car, decided I needed to look 'smart' ie not be doffing cycling helmet & various cycling paraphernalia wherever I went to see clients, so cycling stopped being a regular thing, and just became something I did on weekends, then less and less.
I really do think that stopping cycling was one of the factors in my huge weight gain. I've always been a chunky girl, always been around 20-30 lbs bigger than the norm even at my smallest. But even at 17, 18, 19st I was still able to get where I needed to go on my own steam. I walked a lot. I went to dance classes. I cycled. I went to the gym. I swam. Yes, I did eat lots of unhealthy stuff - umm, doner kebabs?? greasy chips & burgers?? chow mein takeout?? and I smoked, drank beer & spirits. But I was fit for my weight, active, and most of all, adventurous. Interested in the world around me. A notable thing about this lifestyle is that I did not use my car a lot. I cycled, walked or got the bus, and then walked again.
I think it is kind of sad, that I don't cycle any more. That despite trying to eat healthier, I'm still putting on weight because I'm not regulating my portions. That I let the weather tell me that I can't get on my bike. That I allow fear of being seen as 'that fat bird on the bike' put me off getting back on my lovely Dawes Hybrid. That I'm full of excuses to not exert myself.
I've always liked living in England. I like the variable weather. I never thought that I would be complaining about the cold like I am now, and using it as an excuse for not going out on a walk, "its too cold to go swimming", "the roads are all wet and greasy - too dangerous to go cycling". Hmpf. When did I become such a whiner?
Okay - time for fairy godmother voice: "Think about how much fun it was to cycle. How good the wind felt. How fabulous it was to go fast under your own steam. How happy you were when you managed to climb up a steep slope, how victorious you felt. How strong your lungs and legs were. And all the places you got to see. You can have all that again. Yep. Really easy."
How? whispers me.
"Get on yer bike, luv!"
|MY DAWES HYBRID c. 1990s|
Ummm. Once this squall is over...
FG waves wand ;)