Friday, 20 May 2011

I think I have worked out how to cycle

Last autumn I bought a bike. I’m sorry - I should have told you sooner. I resisted mentioning it in quite such clear terms here in case you worried that I had joined the dark side and might soon become obsessed with lycra and weird clippy shoes. Don’t worry, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

I had a difficult start to bike ownership – I had agreed to buy one second hand off Gumtree on a whim, without really taking account of the fact that it was slightly too big for me and at least a little bit rubbish. When I went to pick it up I had to drive there, and getting the bike in the back of the car necessitated taking off the front wheel, which I did with the enthusiasm and gusto of a mechanically-minded bike owner, not a thought for how this might affect its use later. Back home, I carried it up the stairs to effect the necessary reassembly, and couldn’t help but notice that it was actually rather heavy and bulky, despite being ostensibly a ‘hybrid’.

It was then that I realised that I had made a mistake. I owned no tools, did not have a pump (having deflated the front tyre to release it from the brakes), and did not really know anything about bicycles, bicycling, or bicyclists. The entire semantic field was a mystery. After purchasing a helmet, a bike lock and bike pump (which later transpired to be the least effective pump ever made), my expenditure on my cycling initiative was pushing into significant money. Then I bought tools, books and magazines. I resolved that I had to make good use of this investment.

My bike. It's very blue.
I didn’t. Every time I took it out for a ride something disheartening would happen, like the chain detaching just as I was getting some momentum on a tedious climb, or the gears starting to click menacingly at me with horrible repetitive noises, or the front mudguard loosening to the point of rubbing angrily against the wheel rim. I rode around half-heartedly on soggy, deflating tyres for a few miserable miles before locking the damn thing up for winter and forgetting about it. I wrote off the whole silly enterprise and went back to relying on running for my commute, exercise and psychological well-being. All was well.

Until one Friday morning as I left for work (as usual trying not to make eye contact with my forlorn and ignored bike) I noticed that a new bike had joined the ranks of the abandoned-but-securely-locked-in-case-I-ever-need-it cycles stashed at the bottom of our tenement block. There, next to the dusty, muddy and untended machines was a shiny, white racing bike with millimetre-wide tyres and a sleek, beautiful frame. It was magnificent. Pristine. The bike equivalent of Cameron Diaz lounging casually among a group of bespectacled and cagouled trainspotters.

And it was locked to my bike.

I was furious. Who was this arrogant cyclist, so confident that my bike was going nowhere that he thought he could just casually attach his thousand-pound new toy to it? Doesn’t he know that I am a serious athlete and might one day want to cycle somewhere? Who exactly does he think he is!? Fury at the injustice and insult of it all welled up inside me. This was an outrage. Call the police! Notify the United Nations! Someone alert the GB Olympic Committee that my career in international cycling is being held back by the callous actions of some flash bicycling bastard!

Being British, of course, I did none of those things and instead attached a passive-aggressive note to the soft, blemishless surface of the white bike’s saddle. I needed my bike this weekend, it asserted. Other bikes should not be attached to mine, under any circumstances. This was very important indeed.

Later that evening Cameron Diaz had been removed and reattached to a railing, where she should have been all along. A brief apology was scribbled on my note and I felt pride in a handsome victory for the weak and oppressed. My Olympic dream was alive again.

But now I had a problem. I had to take the bike out for a ride at the weekend.

It was wonderful. I was cycling for pleasure, choosing a flat and fast route where I casually broke the four minute mile without losing even a bead of sweat. I covered the miles easily, and suddenly I saw with absolute clarity what all the lycra-clad obsessives were banging on about. Cycling is brilliant. Car drivers are idiots! Why isn’t everyone doing this?

A few  weeks later I took it in for a proper service and some repairs, which were obscenely cheap and straightforward thanks to the chaps at Pedals in Edinburgh. It is of course still too big for me, but now I’ve more or less understood the point and worked out how to properly use the gears, cycling is a pleasure and utterly enjoyable. Don’t worry, though.

It is still not as much fun as running.

Happy locomotion.


2011 to date - miles: 483.93, parkruns: 6, races: 2, miles biked: 27.79, metres swum: 675


  1. Don't worry you don't have to wear Lycra to ride a bicycle as Edinburgh Cycle Chic can show you.

  2. That's reassuring, Kim! I'll be keeping an eye out for your camera on the Meadows...