Posts Tagged ‘Cycling’
My first tentative pedal pushes came back in January 2013. I’ve learnt from that experience that if you get the wrong bike, one that doesn’t quite fit, then as a new cyclist you will learn to loathe your bike and it’ll be left to gather dust or rust. Like that toasted sandwich maker.
Since collecting that first bike a nineteen months ago my determination to cycle around London has dwindled. When I moved house and I wasn’t sure the bike would fit in the removal van I mumbled that I could leave it behind if needed, it was the drivers determination that saw it come along to Haggerston from Willesden Green. I’ve picked up the odd Boris bike to cycle small distances. I took the plunge to buy a new bike a couple of weeks back and I now resent walking anywhere. Here’s what I’ve found over the past fortnight.
Having a bike frame that fits obviously makes all the difference. Having a local bike shop near me is even better. Though Better Health Bikes aren’t open yet I had the pleasure of meeting Colin when I had problems adjusting my seat. And as it turns out setting the handlebars correctly, fitting my helmet … it goes on. Keep your eye out for their grand opening by following them on Twitter. The bike shop is also a social enterprise so you’ll get your bike looked at and support a social enterprise supporting mental ill-health. And if you’re feeling particularly Parisian and have a basket on your bike you can pop next door to their bakery for la baguette.
It was Colin who stated that “you either go for Victoria Pendleton or Mary Poppins when choosing a bike. You’ve gone for Poppins.” He is spot on. Perhaps this time next year I’ll be Pendleton, but for now Colin is right (I opted for an upright style bike).
Then there was the fantastic team behind Pru Ride London. The confidence I gained cycling around London on my own, not only on the car free route but the journey I made to get to the start line and back was invaluable. From the steady realisation that actually I am not learning to cycle, that I do. To the giddy excitement I felt riding through Blackfriars underpass with a group of strangers who cheered as I shouted “I’m in the peloton.” Nothing could wipe the smile from my face that day, not even as I lay in the bath with the sorest of bums through forgetting my padded shorts as I dashed out that morning.
And finally, the London roads. That great fear I’ve had, my own personal imaginings of that final scene from One Day (the film version being set just down the road). I am aware I could be blogging in a weeks time completely retracting what I’m just about to type but I’m setting it down as it is now. Aside from one Royal Mail van who decided to drive so far up my padded bum (I remember every day now) that letters were spewing out of my mouth, I have found white van drivers, flash convertibles, our double-decker buses, rattly old motors courteous and conscientious. As long as I’ve been cycling sensibly and showing awareness they have as well. It’s sad to say fellow cyclists, especially around Shoreditch, running red lights have caused me a degree of stress on the roads. But even more than that it’s pedestrians running out into the road suddenly to cross, on the green light at crossings or scattered up and down roads. Even people with prams who appear dashing across from behind parked vans, or buses waiting at stops, that really have caused me the most anger, frustration and worry since I’ve been cycling pretty much daily. I truly don’t believe people would take these risks if it was a car so close to them and I’ve tried to reason with why they do so with bikes. The only thing I can think of is in a car you don’t necessarily see the person behind the wheel, you know you’re not harder than cars. On a bike perhaps you appear more human as you’re seen clearly, a lot of people even make direct eye contact as they jump out suddenly, their facial expression saying “sorry, but you’ll stop or swerve suddenly right?”. I know my blog isn’t going to change much about that, but if you read this and are guilty of this behaviour stop and think for your own sake, and if selfish motivation doesn’t help you see reason think of others.
Back in January, when London was under a constant grey and weeping cloud, I trekked to Brixton and collected an old bike that I couldn’t yet ride. My blog entry on collecting my old Dutch explains all, I had decided in my mid-thirties to learn how to ride a bike. And I have. A mixture of listening to friends tips, a steely determination on a few Boris bikes when my friend Stephen and brother-in-law Adrian still hadn’t fixed mine up, a long bike ride sandwiched between my sister and Adrian which served as an unofficial cycling proficiency.
As my legs pushed up Kingsland Road in stifling city heat the other day (London has a habit of chosing between oxygen and sunshine, it’s impossible to breathe) I spotted a notice board with a quote from Albert Einstein.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
I instantly connected with this from the cyclists point of view as opposed to a new life mantra (Luther has been back on don’t you know? I need to sit very still for that). I think back to the many hesitations I’ve had as learner. Too slow when traffic lights change, too scared along the canal path that runs past my flat, too cautious around any movable object in general. The romantic, and slightly hipster, notion I had of peddling around care free like a scene from a French film isn’t the reality.
The point of my typing this is in The Guardian today Philip Hoare described not wearing a helmet as a case of civil liberties. How do I make my point without throwing too much weight behind the word helmet as an insult?
As someone who is effectively the Bambi of the cycling world I heavily rely on direction from responsible cyclists, courtesy and awareness from pedestrians and vehicles, unbreakable concentration and my cycling helmet. While I know that in a case of Hat Vs. Double Decker it wouldn’t act as a force field, it still helps as a reminder that I am vulnerable on two wheels. And you know, I think that’s a very good thing to have at the forefront of my mind while I practise and practise. Even after I stop ducking under the bridges along the towpath, and stop choosing to crash into concrete over the possibility of colliding with anyone or anything, I’ll never not wear one.
When I was a child I somehow managed to persuade the kind-hearted souls surrounding me to ferry my ass around. Back home in Devon it was our neighbour Kate Loram who would offer to take me on the back of her bike when we all headed out (not my own sisters I hasten to add). I also convinced my cousin, another Kate, to tie an old pram seat to the back of her bike with a ton of old roof rack straps and pedal me around as if I was Cleopatra propelled by mans invention of the wheel. It was named the Crazy Contraption and it lasted well into our late teens. I enjoyed the view while others done the hard work. As this got me to the sweet shop and back I never learnt how to ride a bike.
I can count the amount of attempts on one hand. On two of those occasions I have been extremely tipsy and therefore had that misplaced confidence that goes hand in hand with alcohol. On another I was concerned my sister had got lost on a family holiday to Ireland and as the sun set I decided this was the quickest way to find her (I managed about 10 metres before falling off). On the last of these occasions the friendly constabulary of Kentish Town told me perhaps I shouldn’t be trying to cycle drunk and sing songs from the Jungle Book at four in the morning. That was six years ago.
I quite frequently think it’s something I should learn, that I am secretly an amazing cyclist and will probably progress to the Keirin within a week. So when someone told me that I could have a free bike providing I collect it from Brixton this week I jumped on the Victoria Line without giving much thought as to how I’d get it back to Willesden Green. Despite a bit of rust and flat tyres I instantly adore this bike. The cousin who done so much pedalling for me in our childhood said it’s exactly how you’d want a bike to look. I now understand the excitement children felt at their first bicycle and understand why my friend Steve was able to send me photos of every bike he’s ever had, each with a life history.
To say my journey felt epic yesterday is an understatement. Pushing it from Brixton to Clapham Junction, so I could take it on the overground train, took over an hour. I was genuinely perplexed that Emeli Sande wasn’t following behind me soundtracking it. When I realised Clapham’s Long Road is a literal naming, a steely and naive determination kicked in and I cycled/wobbled my way across Clapham Common flat tyres and all. I arrived just after the curfew for bikes started but I’d come that far and wasn’t about to be turned away at the gates of Mordor (even if discovering Clapham had a retro Wimpy made me want to spend more time there). Knowing I had yet another walk at the other end and the fact it was getting dark made me rather defiant. By the time I got home I needed a nap and nurofen.
Now of course I have the job of cleaning it up and making it road worthy but what are YouTube videos and friends for. Then there’s the small matter of riding the damn thing competently. Watch this space (or watch your ankles if you live near Gladstone park). ♥
So this weeks mixtape has been compiled by friends, family and tweeters that were willing to humour me with the following question:
“What would be your Olympic sport and what song would accompany your montage of best of moments?”
Some people were remarkably quick at replying, making me think that people have been daydreaming of Olympic glory during London 2012. Some people sent me hysterical replies (I’m looking at you Jo). Out of all the sports it seems cycling is the most popular, surprised no one picked Kenny Loggins Danger Zone and asked for it to be changed to Highway to the Velodrome (groan, sorry, a hundred times sorry!). You can play this Olympic Mixtape on Spotify or YouTube, track list and contributors below. Out of all of them I am grinning the most over Thom’s choice but huge thanks to everyone that played along as I’ve not stopped smiling at all the suggestions. More photo’s from my Olympic experiences can be found on my Flickr. Oh, and to my friend Lizzie, “six packing” is not a recognised Olympic event….yet. ♥
- 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me (Monkeypicks for the 400m)
- Hawkwind – Silver Machine (Lucy Track Cycling)
- Nina Simone – Feeling Good (Rehanon, first of a few for the Triathlon)
- Goldfrapp – Rocket (Burning_Lies, another for Cycling)
- Queen – Princes of the Universe (Thom Vincent picking fencing for a gloriously camp, extravagant event being held in Britain)
- Tori Amos – Professional Widow (Claire Loy, never worn a leotard but opts for Gymnastics Floor)
- Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (My Dad running the Marathon)
- Spandau Ballet – Gold (thepubdiaries for the Kierin because it’s slightly mental)
- Elvis Presley – If I can Dream (Gareth choosing 1500m, on the song “you can fight a bear after hearing it, its that inspiring”)
- Hot Chip – Over and Over (Priyam for Table Tennis)
- F*ck Buttons – Olympians (Marc for the Triathlon, also dreams of winning gold in the 10k swim)
- Beyonce – Run The World (Natasha blasting the 100m)
- Anthrax – In My World (Phil also for the Keirin, the lyric “nothing touches me, I’m a walking razor blade” hits it for him)
- The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build A Home (Helen goes for Rowing)
- Gonna Fly Now (Rocky Balboa) – Bill Conti (Matt goes for Decathlon after his hero Daley Thompson)
- Radiohead – No Surprises (Jo opted for Synchronised Swimming, “Although I would like to imagine that the water would add an element of grace I lack on land, I think the actual effect would be more like Thom York’s slow drown in the video. You get to wear coordinating costumes and listen to music in that event”)
- Moloko – The Time Is Now (for me when I smash it at the Triathlon)