I remember my first bike. It had was old, very girly and had only three gears which you had to peddle backwards to change. I took a friend with me to buy it from an elderly couple who’d had it in their shed for many years after their daughter had grown up and left home. I remember cycling back home with it, gingerly, taking care to keep my balance and only slightly terrified of the cars whizzing past me. In fact, the little old Raleigh wasn’t my first bike – I’d had a Grifter when I was a tomboy – but it was my first bike as an adult. At that time, in my late twenties, I couldn’t drive and my new old bike became a passport to freedom.
Things started slowly. I enlisted the help of my housemate who was a confident cyclist. She took me out on the roads and showed me the routes she took around Manchester. I was stunned at how quickly it took me to get places that used to seem so far away.
Thirteen years later and I cannot imagine not having a bicycle. I’ve upgraded (twice now) and have the luxury of more than three gears, a wonderful retro seat and decent tyres. Although I can now drive, I sold my car nearly two years ago and so my bike remains my passport to freedom. There’s a freedom that you get with cycling, that can’t be replicated by any other means of transport – public or otherwise. When the sun comes out, there’s nothing more glorious than pedalling in the sun, singing at the top of my voice, overtaking buses and then being able to park almost directly outside my destination. Cycling home from town one night last week, I felt like a teenager, standing up on the pedals and whizzing through the empty streets on the mild, cloudless summer night.
Cycling uses all the senses in a way that wakes you up and places you right in the moment. There’s no engine noise to drown out the birdsong or the music playing from people’s houses. With a keen nose, I can smell the Sunday roasts cooking, or the aroma of frying garlic wafting from people’s houses. My body is fully awake, the heart pumping the blood around my body, my legs working hard – especially if the wind is against me. I’m fully alert, appreciating my surroundings, while all the time being aware that the drivers I’m sharing the road with don’t always understand the cyclist, and might do something dangerous at any moment.
Cycling is one of the easiest green things that you can do. Not only will it save you money in fuel or bus fares, but it’s great fun as well and will get you fit without needing to step into a gym. Unless the weather is really terrible, I will arrive at my destination exhilarated from the exercise. Yes, there are a few disadvantages, but they’re mostly related to my vanity. My hair can never be delicately coiffured, and I can never wear a skirt on cycling days. I wear a silly headband to cover my ears so that they don’t get cold, and I have to ride with a backpack or panniers instead of using a chic handbag. But the advantages outweigh these trivial concerns.
So if you’ve ever been tempted to get on your bike, then I urge you to take the opportunity of bike week and the summer weather to give it a try. You never know, you might love it.
- Be seen at all times by wearing a reflector jacket.
- Waterproofs are a must. With a decent pair of waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket, you can brave even the wettest of weathers.
- If you’re cycling to work, a set of panniers will keep your work clothes safe and dry and ensure you don’t get backache from carrying everything on your back.
- Puncture repair kit – this is probably the cheapest piece of kit and the most useful.
- If your office doesn’t have shower facilities, why not join a gym or pool close to work? I used to have a brief swim, sit in the sauna a while and shower, change before arriving at work all fresh and clean.
- If you’re nervous about braving the roads – there are some mad drivers out there – and haven’t cycled for a while, then try and find an adult cycling course. Try your local council or check out www.ctc.org.uk to find a course near you.
- Green Book publish the nifty little “Cycling to Work – a beginner’s Guide” by Rory McMullan. www.greenbooks.co.uk
- Get Cycling (including a free pdf for those new to cyclists)
- Bike Week
- Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign
- Love your Bike Campaign
Bike week takes place between 19th and 27th June 2010.