“Morning!” I laugh. It’s around eight in the morning on a Saturday and I’m heading towards the centre of town on my new bike, probably around the third time or so that I’ve ridden it. I’m panting slightly, spitting out the odd bit of hair that I probably should’ve tied back when a ‘real cyclist’ – i.e. dressed in lycra, waterproofs and bike shoes I don’t understand the purpose of – rolls up beside me. “I love your bike, where’s it from?”
Giving a stranger eye contact can be difficult when you’re simultaneously dodging lampposts.
This is probably my first cyclist to cyclist encounter – a rare feat in the rush of work-commuting – and I’m tangled in an odd mix of cycling social qualms; ones I’ve never before had to deal with. For example, giving a stranger eye contact can be difficult when you’re simultaneously dodging lampposts. There’s also the question of setting the conversation speed. Are they in a rush? Am I tiring them out? And are they trying to match my pace? There’s all sorts to consider. However, I decide on a high-geared, fast pace and try modestly to hide the natural flattery that comes with a compliment from a ‘real cyclist’ and attempt to keep my new-found love for riding on two wheels somewhat discreet.
If you really want to understand this new love affair with my bike, all you need to know about my bike itself is that it has white wheels, a pretty, dipped frame and a seat that’s probably as comfortable as my sofa. My love for cycling probably didn’t at all stem from yearning desperately to ride the four, hilly – slightly sweaty – miles to work. Instead, it stemmed from love at first sight with my bike itself after seeing it in the isles of the shop I work in. I nagged a colleague to let me keep it off the shelves until I could afford it and when pay day came- well, I guess it all started from there.
I now know almost everything about her relationship with cycling, without catching her actual name.
Whilst having a new bike to spur me on was unquestionably a factor, there was also another influence in getting my cycling journey rolling and that was (surprise, surprise) the old, clichéd, romantic thought of long summer bike rides. Even though this turned out to be just a bonus in the reality of it all, it still remains: riding to get a coffee in summer is not to be taken for granted. But in the world of cycling, commuting – despite its gradually growing numbers – is still both underrated and undersubscribed. This is something that is deafeningly obvious as soon as you step outside Cambridge or the capital here in the UK, something I just can’t seem to get to grips with.
Anyway, all you need to know about the conversation with the cyclist is that I now know almost everything about her relationship with cycling even if I never actually caught her name. After facing a knee operation, she hasn’t been able to do any high impact sport, so morning cycles have been ideal. Not only had this meant she fell in love with cycling again, but she fell in love so deeply that she is considering buying a city bike and getting herself introduced to the world of cycle-commuting. She also told me she’d discovered a few muscles she didn’t know she had, ones which had become lazy and almost useless in the repetitive routine of running. It was also pretty warming to hear she was going to stick with it too because like myself, she is delving into her love for cycling entirely alone; which, it seems, is the only way to really get pedalling in an automotive-loving country like the UK.
What if we start unwinding on the go?
Thinking about it, however, this got me kind of worried. Is this really what it takes to get people back on the saddle? Some form of painful and restrictive operation for cycling to seem like an easier option? At what point in our lives does cycling become a task, a method or a last resort rather than a pastime or choice? We all have it imprinted in our minds that cycling is greener, cheaper and a good way to zoom smugly past the rush hour traffic, so why is it taking us all so long to get pedalling? These are a big questions, especially when so many of us are already struggling to “find the hours in the day” to unwind. My worries seemed to lead to even bigger questions.
What if we start unwinding on the go? Isn’t that something to consider? I’m not saying that getting up an hour earlier on a Saturday is always ideal – and I’m aware that sometimes it’s far from it – but it’s undeniable that having an hour or so to squeeze in some exercise is. Whilst my commute to work isn’t any kind of wild social event, meeting other cyclists is still a sort of gem, a treat, an eye into the world of those taking a similar cycling challenge that day. There’s also no way that you can possibly take the world in when you’re driving (if you’re planning on staying on the road); but when you cycle, you really can. Whether it’s the morning, the sun, the sunset or the atmosphere, these things are never the same until you see them crispy, smoothly and intimately glide past you on a bike.
I like catching speed on the straights and the feeling of release as you glide effortlessly down a hill.
On a personal level, cycling gives me an authentic feeling to my travels; you made it up the hill, you made it to work and you made it home before dark, even if you made a thousand calluses in the process. On my own ride to work I like catching speed on the straights and the feeling of release as you glide effortlessly down a hill. Riding to work on a Saturday morning also helps to do any waking up that my morning coffee gorging hasn’t quite managed to achieve. And of course, riding my bike means I can simply take my time and when can you ever really do that? Definitely not during the work day or even with any other form of commuting – with the exception of the much slower and much less fun method: walking. So, when I’m locking up my bike outside work, not only am I ready to go; but I’m energised, relaxed and content with only one thing left in mind; I made it there on two wheels.
But surely you’ve heard it all before and even if you haven’t, it’s all pretty irrelevant anyway. Who really cares about what got me on my bike this morning because honestly, my new-found love for cycling isn’t really a reason to get you to get on yours. The real truth is: you’ve got to find your own reason. Maybe, like me, you’ve found a bike you’ve fallen in love with, or perhaps you’ve realised that your thighs haven’t been put to work in a while. Maybe, like my morning-encounter, you’re looking for a low impact form of exercise, or perhaps you’re looking for a pretty, scenic route to the coffee shop. Maybe you’re sick of parking miles from work when there’s a bike rack just outside the front door, or maybe you’re tired of spending huge amounts of money on petrol and services and tires and new break lights and then another bloody tire. Perhaps public transport means the only scenery out the window is blocked by around 60 commuters who are just as tired and in need of a morning pick-me-up as you are. Maybe you just need a quiet half an hour on your own. Whatever your reason to cycle is; find it. Find your very own reason to change to two wheels.
Whatever your reason to cycle is; find it. Find your very own reason to change to two wheels.
In the end, I’m not worried at all about the fact that it took the somewhat extreme case of a knee operation to get someone to start choosing pedal power over a morning jog. The truth is, everyone needs a different reason to break away from the majority and in a world where the majority is easiest, quickest option it’s undeniable that it’s going to take more than the facts to get us pedalling. Only once you find your own reasons do all the cliché eco-friendly, penny-saving, body-sculpting stuff begin to have any relevance at all. Only then will life on two wheels finally make any sense.
About the author
Ellie Jackson is a student and born & bred in the north of England.
When she’s not studying or working, you’d more than likely find her writing,
cooking, taking photos or learning German.’
Follow her on Twitter.