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I loved being on my bike as a kid.
When I was 13, I had a paper round. Every day after school I’d get on my bike, deliver the 12 newspapers in my local area and cycle home. I did this for so long that I started to become cocky - I learned to ride without holding onto the handle bars and whizzed around the roads with no fear.
But one day Saturday while I was on my bike with my friends, I decided to show off this talent. On the steep hill on our road, we all wanted to see how many claps in the air we could do while riding down on our bikes.
I won. I made it to 46. And then I fell off and bent my middle two fingers back on my right hand so far that they touched the top of my hand. I ran home screaming to my dad, who was watching a football match at the time. He barely looked at my hand and just told me to run them under cold water until the match had finished. After that, he bandaged them up, still thinking I was being a wuss. Three hours later my fingers were so fat, purple and bruised that my parents took me to hospital and we learnt I’d broken them in different places (a week before my piano exam, may I add). My fingers were strapped together for the next month. I don’t remember going on my bike after that.
Aside from renting bikes on holidays, it was a good 13 years - when I turned 26 - before I decided I wanted my own bike again. I was inspired by friends and colleagues who cycled, and was frustrated I stopped in the first place. My parents bought me one for my birthday and I thought it’d be a pretty good time to take the hobby up again.
But unlike my childhood, I didn’t fall in love with cycling again. Instead I’ve become fearful, less smug and more of a worrier. I’m the type who will panic that the bus driving past me will knock me off or who dismounts when there’s a big scary crossing and wait at the traffic lights like a pedestrian.
“Unlike my childhood, I didn’t fall in love with cycling again. Instead I’ve become fearful, less smug and more of a worrier."”
Cycling in a city (London, specifically) is so different to cycling at home in my small town. I had snippets in the past year where I loved being back on a bike again (riding through Victoria park with a friend in August and parking up to get food from a market), but I only ever felt safe if I was with someone else, if I had mentally prepared myself and if there weren’t many cars around me. Despite wanting to go out on my bike, I just didn’t have the confidence to ride around like I used to.
So while last year I managed to get back on my bike, this year I want to commit to riding it. Frequently. Safely. Happily. This is why, on 31 December when I dusted off the cobwebs thinking I’d hop on it to cycle into town, I ended up walking it to the nearest Halfords because both tyres were flat and I didn’t have a pump. “How long has this not been ridden for?” the bike repairman asked me. I mumbled something and said it was my New Year’s resolution to cycle more. He made me buy a pump.
I shouldn’t feel embarrassed that I’m not a frequent cycler, really, because according to the Cycling UK, 69% of adults 18+ never cycle. In 2014, census data revealed commuter cycling stagnated in the UK. Reasons put forward suggested fear of the roads, lack of facilities, rain, hills and bad driving. And if I had to add my guess, I’d say lack of time. As kids, we have so much time: time to get out and play with friends, time to spend hours in the park or time to race around on our bikes. If I’ve learned anything as I’ve gotten older, it’s that adults don’t have - or claim not to have - time. Spend a few hours on a Saturday on a bike? Um sorry, but I’m busy doing life admin, food shopping, changing my sheets and seeing friends.
I’m a textbook Londoner, fitting all the above criteria: I’m nervous about being on the road in the city, I panic when I can’t find a place to lock my bike up, I don’t find it fun cycling in the rain, there’s a hill to get back up to my road from town and I used to think I didn’t have the time.
“So while last year I managed to get back on my bike, this year I want to commit to riding it."”
But I want that childhood feeling back. That freedom when I’m soaring down a path or road with no distractions, no worries and with no obligation to take a certain route. I want to be able to choose where to go. I want to go wherever I want, when I want, and as fast as I want. I want to cycle slowly to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the atmosphere around me, or I push myself to cycle up a steep hill, with that feeling of satisfaction as the ground levels out underneath me at the top. I want to cycle on a summer’s day and feel the sun warm on my skin, or wrap up warm - scarf, gloves and hat - and feel the fresh air on my face at a time of the year when I often stay inside.
My cycling goals aren’t numbers focused - I don’t need to see speed, distance and calories burned. My goals are to enjoy the ride (and learn how to do it properly in the process).
So this year I’m committing to making time for cycling. I’m going to get confident on my bike. I’m going to learn how to look after it, pump the tires and fix a puncture. I’m going to learn how to safely navigate the busy roads of London and I’m going to have fun while I’m doing it.
And you lucky lot get to come on the journey with me.
Follow my cycling tales as part of our Gym Buddies project here.