Getting back on a bike, after a 20 year hiatus.
It’s fair to say I haven’t been on a bike – properly – for a few years. Ok, make that over 20. Apparently I was never that interested as a kid and as an adult I haven’t had much reason to re-engage. Until February, when our social trend was cycling. We’ve lived the trend across the team in various ways, and mine was to get back on the bike.
I’ve watched cycling become more prevalent amongst friends and work colleagues for the last few years, and I have to say I get pretty envious that they can just jump on a bike and zip across town. It’s more often than not the most efficient way of getting around (I always have to set off earlier to meetings), it’s also cheap, better for you and you get out in the fresh air (well, you get outside, which is always a bonus when you run your own office-based business!). So I was keen to get back on those two wheels and join the cycling masses.
Now, all this sounds quite easy. Get a Boris bike, hit the road, job done. What’s more, I do a lot of other sport, I go spinning at least once a week and I’m not particularly nervous about trying new activities that involve speed. But the thought of getting on something with two wheels, in London, with buses (and taxis, and cars, and motorcyclists, and other cyclists) terrifies me. So I slightly copped out (before you say it) and started with something a little less daunting – a bike ride in the comfort of the New Forest. Roads were involved… but so were some very nice tracks. The perfect reintroduction. That said, I think unpredictable horses and rather large potholes were very similar to weaving in and out of London traffic, and negotiating other moving objects.
The guy who I rented the bike off clearly wasn’t convinced I knew how the gears worked (I pretty much did…), so insisted on showing me. He also suggested a mountain bike over a road bike (“much easier to ride”). I then set off, with a chaperone in case I came into any ‘trouble’.
I’d like to start by saying I didn’t fall off, at any point. Evidence right here:
It did however become quite clear to me what I need to learn/overcome, should I hit the streets of London any time soon:
Confidence on the bike. I was very happy going down a straight track with no one else for miles around. I got up some speed and started to test some sharper steering (around previously mentioned potholes). As soon as a car, gate or pedestrian got in my sights, however, slight panic and wobble ensued.
Spatial awareness needs work. Any narrow parts (a meter-wide bridge in this case) left me wobbling all over the place. Not great. Zipping between vehicles is an anticipated problem.
I can’t ride and navigate. No women-jokes please, I’m perfectly capable of navigating but it was all a bit much trying to read a map, relearn how to ride a bike and be aware of my surroundings, safely.
What to do with cars. Two issues here, firstly turning around to look at where cars were brought about an unnerving wobble (for me and said driver). Secondly, I never did my cycling proficiency so I’m not entirely sure of the rules of the roads. Do you stick your whole arm out when turning?! How do you know if a vehicle if going to suddenly overtake you while you’re turning?! Turning… That was another thing. Case in point here – a particularly dodgy navigation of a junction! I stop miles away from the actual junction and the restart is, well, wobbly… But just look at that solid arm movement. Ahem.
It’s SO dirty, I was utterly filthy by the time I’d finished – legs, arms, face, hair, all covered in mud. I’d have to buy a whole wardrobe dedicated to cycling because clearly you can’t wear your work clothes while riding.
I now have full admiration for those who ride in London. I’m a long way off that but I loved the freedom of just jumping on a bike and getting to where I needed to be. And you get all the great exercise endorphins – which are definitely not available on the Northern line…
I will definitely be cycling again in the New Forest, just look at this view.
But I do have a big jump to take that bike to London’s roads. The thought of trying to navigate, not being run over or thrown off my bike AND being safe is still terrifying. But maybe, with a chaperone, I could venture onto one of the cycle highways. And, as part of this journey, I’ve discovered TfL have a great initiative, which aims to get people like me feeling more confident on a bike – hosting free adult cycling training in boroughs across the city.
And now we’re offering a free bike to everyone at OneFifty, as part of our benefits package, I really have run out of excuses. After all, if over 600K Londoners can do it, surely I can!