It’s difficult not to get angry when someone drives their car into the side of you as they unexpectedly enter your lane without checking their mirrors, or indicating.
It’s difficult not to lose control when someone absent-mindedly steps out into your path, barely missing you, and then has the audacity to tell you to ‘fuck off’ when you ask them to look where they’re going.
It’s difficult not to become exasperated when a teenager who is cycling while on his phone, suddenly pulls out of a side road at high speed without even glancing right, and then shoots you a look that could kill when you advise him to be more careful in future.
Why does it have to be so hard all the time? Why does it have to feel like I’m entering a war zone every time I get out on two wheels? Why does every commute home have to feel like a never-ending struggle, trying to reason with motorists, pedestrians and even other cyclists, who couldn’t care less if you end up in a crumpled heap on the ground, because of their thoughtless actions? Why does it have to feel like everyone is out to get me, all the damn time?
I love riding my bike, but for all the frustration, the fear, the anger and the tears, it leaves me wondering if it’s really worth the mental hardship. It’s hard enough to cope in a world where politics are sending public services down the drain, the media are scaremongering and people become more hostile towards each other every day.
Sometimes I want to ride my bike to escape from it all, but then I find myself wishing I’d not bothered, and that is the most upsetting thing of all.
While on the surface I know it’s not necessary to pigeon-hole myself, we do have a basic human need to feel like we belong somewhere, be surrounded by people who are likeminded, and ultimately, who get us.
I’ve been getting out and pushing myself lately, trying out some group riding in various guises, and I’m struggling to figure out where I fit in. It seems like whatever I try, there are always aspects I like, some I don’t like, and nothing that strikes me with a moment of ‘this is where I belong’.
In my mind there are around five different categories of cycling:
I would also argue that all these types of cycling come with various motivations behind them. My problem at the moment is that by not really fitting in anywhere, I’m struggling to motivate myself.
On Wednesday this week I decided to get out in a group road ride, with Audax Club Bristol. First things first, they all seemed like a great bunch and I totally get the appeal of their rides. However what was promised as a ‘flat 60k social ride’ was so incredibly fast that after about 20k it was just me with a purple face, and two other riders who very kindly held back to make sure I didn’t get left behind and lost forever.
In terms of motivation, these kinds of rides or races are for people who like going fast, and who like competing. Maybe they’re driven by a need to improve their speed, beat their previous time records, and ultimately win races. Or maybe it’s just about riding as quickly as they can.
I like riding fast, but I’m not fast enough for this kind of ride. I’m not sure I want to be, either. I do enjoy getting into a high gear and zooming along an open tarmac road through the middle of the countryside, but I also have a limit. When I reach the point of my bike going so fast that I can’t keep up with it (as Boomer put it so eloquently), that’s when the fear sets in and I stop enjoying the ride.
I like riding on roads, but I don’t own a road bike (and I’m not planning to). So while I’m proud of myself for giving this a go, and completing the ride, I won’t be returning in a hurry. I didn’t belong here.
Full disclosure though, I am tempted to try again. I’d like to think that when it comes to controlling the bike, and getting out the saddle, I do have quite good intuition. I know how to move my body around to best tackle a mixed terrain, and I enjoy trundling along on a big mountain bike with front suspension.
However I also find it terrifying, for obvious reasons. Perhaps I could belong here one day, if I keep practising and building up my confidence. But again, I don’t own a mountain bike, and I’m not planning to. I have the option of hiring one, so there’s potential here.
Okay, here’s where the bike stops being the excuse. I own a cyclocross bike, and I freaking love it. I love that it’s lighter than my previous hybrid, I love that it has a racier positioning, I love that it has disc brakes and I love that it takes fatter, knobbly tyres.
I’ve never tried cyclocross, but I’ve been looking into it recently and it does sound like a lot of fun. What unnerves me is that it requires a lot of techniques that I feel incapable of learning, like the fast mounting and dismounting.
Also, I’m not sure I have the right motivations to get into cyclocross. Again, it’s a type of racing and that need to win just doesn’t drive me that much. But perhaps there’s potential here. I need to find out if there’s a group in Bristol who do introductory sessions.
Now, I’ve included this as a category because it comes with different motivations that match my own. Covering long distances (check) at a comfortable pace (check), exploring, discovering, adventuring. Check, check, check.
So perhaps this is my bag, but this isn’t really something I can do on a regular basis. Perhaps one day I’ll head off on a round-the-world adventure and then I will officially be a ‘tourer’ but in terms of getting out on the bike weekly, this isn’t helping me to find a sense of belonging.
So, yes. I do kind of belong here. I commute by bike, and I occasionally pootle around town or along the bike path. But this can’t be it. I can’t stop here.
I guess I included this category to force a sense of belonging on myself, but this isn’t where I want to be. I just need to figure out where it is I do want to go.
I’m sure with time I’ll discover where my true drive lies. At the moment if I dig deep, I can identify my main motivations for cycling as follows:
About three years ago I used the Cycle to Work Scheme to buy a Ridgeback Speed: a clunky hybrid with a grey step-through frame, triple chain set, 18 gears and a lovely cushioned seat. I wasn’t a very confident cyclist, but I couldn’t afford to keep getting the bus from Henbury to Clifton, and decided it would be a great way to inject a bit of exercise into my daily routine.
Along came Ripley. I had three free lessons from Life Cycle UK to help me learn to ride confidently on the roads, indicating and checking over my shoulder, and then I was off! A great uphill battle ensued, quite literally, as I took on the hilly terrain of Bristol.
In the beginning I got off and walked up the hills, and rode the brakes all the way down. Gradually I learned to let go of the brakes a little (this was pre-MTB accident) and learned to sit and spin for a little while before continuing to ascend on foot. I do regret that I never did master cycling up Falcondale Road before we moved to Kingswood.
But the new route brought its own new challenge in the form of Park Street. Again I spent a long time walking up the hill and feeling very impressed at the number of cyclists who overtook me. Eventually I decided I’d tackle it one step at a time, with each day bringing new progression. What actually happened was on day one I made it all the way to the top, and I’ve never had a problem since. Turned out I was fitter than I thought.
For around three years I rode Ripley almost every day. My confidence on the roads improved, as did my fitness. I started taking her on longer journeys, along the B2B to Bath, down by the canal, through the Two Tunnels, on a loop to Cleveland, from Exeter to Plymouth via Dartmoor… We had some great rides together.
We also had some terrible ones, which resulted in bruised egos and bruised skin. The first time I fell off her was right at the beginning, when I got a bit cocky descending Henbury Road and allowed myself to pick up enough speed to just make the light before it went red. Unfortunately I hadn’t at this point learned that the bike follows the eyes, and I didn’t quite make the angle when turning right at the bottom, resulting in me hitting the curb at high speed and flying over my handlebars in quite a spectacular fashion. Remarkably not one person stopped their car to ask if I was okay.
The next few falls were also entirely my own fault, slipping over in ice or approaching a curb at a silly angle. I was definitely turning out to be a clumsy cyclist and was almost relieved when I had my first altercation that involved another vehicle, because finally it wasn’t my fault. Thankfully no broken bones just yet, just silly drivers not checking their wing mirrors before deciding to suddenly take a detour into another lane. The saddest occasion was when I had my birthday cake strapped to my rear rack, and a man with no sense decided to drive into the back of me, resulting in a slight squash.
Generally though she served me very well for three years, and helped me to fall in love with cycling. Obviously I’ve since fallen head over heels in love with Regina, but taking Ripley on that last ride this morning really helped me to appreciate how easy and pleasant she is to ride. I hope wherever she ends up, she offers someone else the opportunity to build their confidence and fall in love with cycling.
On Saturday we got up at the crack of dawn and set off on our (what turned out to be) 80-mile journey from Bristol to Oxford. Regina was loaded with ridiculously large Vaude panniers, which I grew to hate with a passion by the end of the weekend, but at this point I was feeling positive about it all.
Thus began the climb out of Bristol! I definitely noticed the difference, climbing with all the added weight on the back. Regina is lovely and light, which is so refreshing after riding my clunky Ridgeback hybrid for three years, however with the added 15kg or so on the back, climbing became quite a chore after a while. Lesson learned #1.
Having said that, something huge happened for me. The first 40-50 miles were undulating hills, which meant I had to get used to descending pretty quickly. If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m terrified of picking up speed whilst going downhill. It all stems from a mountain biking accident I had a couple of years ago, that I’m yet to write about.
(Side note: I actually bumped into that ride leader this weekend, and am going to slowly get back into it. More of this to come.)
So, when we hit the first descent, I had a minor freak out. I rode the brakes all the way down, which felt a bit arduous with the Tiagra shifters, particularly because my winter gloves are too tight across my palms. Lesson learned #2.
However, after I was warned that there would be a lot of descending, I told myself to get a grip. Gradually I held off the braking, just feathering them lightly to keep my speed in check. Eventually I let go altogether, and was rewarded with a thrilling descent through a tree-covered section of road that opened out to a gorgeous, misty area with a farm on the left and a great hill to the right. My description won’t do it justice, it just looked beautiful, and for the first time ever, I felt a real sense of elation from descending. Regina is a lot of fun. Lesson learned #3.
The route we took went through lots of countryside and beautiful little villages. We stopped in Malmesbury for a coffee and snackage, and had a little wander into the Abbey to visit the tomb of King Æthelstan (a big nerdy moment for me). Malmesbury is beautiful, and we agreed we’d head back there at some point to explore it further.
We also stopped in Fairford for lunch, and had a really lovely meal at The Railway Inn. We were immediately greeted with a warm welcome, and it was such a nice surprise to find they had a vegan option on their menu, so we loaded up on vegetable tagine with cous cous (and an extra helping of chips, because carbs) before heading off on the final leg of the journey.
One thing that was really nice about cycling through the countryside was encountering a huge number of other cyclists who smiled and greeted us as we passed. I’m just not used to that, cycling around Bristol, and it made me feel like I was part of some special club.
We eventually made it into Oxford, arriving around 5pm. There was one final climb that I honestly struggled with so much, to the point where I stopped halfway up because I had nothing left to give. Thankfully after that it was all downhill into the city.
Not everything was perfect though. We were blessed with gorgeous weather and beautiful views, but still encountered a few atrocious drivers. They were merely drops in the ocean, however. The only really bad thing was how I felt when we arrived. I honestly think I hadn’t drunk enough water and my blood sugar was terribly low. I actually experienced some distorted vision, and making my way through the city was quite scary.
It was like looking through a fish-eye lens – on the bike I felt like I was really high up, and the ground was really far away, but when I looked down it suddenly gained on me very quickly and appeared closer than it should have done. I saw cars with double vision, and signs were a blur. I was in a terrible state for a while and really scared of endangering myself on the city roads. Thankfully Adam got us there in one piece, and then brought me cinnamon knots from the Papa Johns across the road, which completely sorted me out! Sugar to the rescue, would you believe.
Otherwise I felt fine. I was ridiculously tired, had developed some weird hard lumps on my little toes and a blood blister on one of my palms, but my legs and bum didn’t complain too much. On that last note, I took bgddyjim’s advice and invested in better padded shorts. Solid advice, I’m so glad I did. I’m now considering getting bibbed shorts, now I’ve caught the long ride bug. I may have foolishly agreed to sign up for a 200km audax in April… Watch this space.
In part 2: Of course, the reason we made this ride to Oxford was to attend the Women and Bicycles festival, hosted by The Broken Spoke Co-op. In part 2 I’ll tell you all about that. Spoiler alert: I met a hero of mine, and she was freaking awesome.
It’s time to try a longer ride. I commute 10 miles a day, and cycle around Bristol whenever I’m out and about in the evenings and weekends. On average I clock around 55-60 miles a week, which isn’t very much.
Clocking the miles
I’ve tended to limit longer rides to Bath (14 miles) or The Jolly Sailor in Saltford for chips by the river (20 miles return). Last year we cycled from Exeter to Plymouth via Dartmoor, which totalled around 69.5 miles over three days, and the longest ride I’ve ever done in a day was a round trip to Clevedon, which clocked me at 42 miles.
Now I want to start riding for longer. I’ve not had a lot of experience but I’ve certainly got the bug. We keep talking about different UK cities that we’d like to cycle to and explore, and now it’s time to make it happen.
So this weekend I’m setting off on my longest trip yet. We’re leaving at the crack of dawn to ride from Bristol to Oxford, which is around 70 miles, and it’s all in an effort to attend the Women & Bicycles festival, hosted by Broken Spoke Bike Co-op.
It’s always about women
Yes, my #WomanCrushWednesdays have all been leading up to International Women’s Day on 5th March, and BSBC have decided to mark the occasion with a weekend-long festival celebrating women who ride. The weekend will comprise panel discussions, group rides and workshops, and I’m super duper excited!
If you’re around on the Sunday, let me know so we can say hi.
Doing the prep
I haven’t exactly been clocking up miles in order to prepare for the ride, but I’m doing my best to make it as painless and enjoyable as possible.
I’ve rebuilt Regina!*
So, I went back on my plans to paint her blue. Yes, I’m still perving over every blue bike I see in the street, and I’m still a Hawkeye when it comes to spotting the exact shade of blue I wanted. But the fact of the matter was, I didn’t have time to cycle around visiting all the powder-coating places I’d spoken to, who all happen to be closed at the weekends. My desire to ride her won me over, so I’ve embraced the orange, she’s back in one piece and I’ve been taking her out on the roads so we can get to know each other.
When I bought Regina second hand, she came with a male-specific racing saddle, so when I rebuilt her, I swapped it for my trusty Ridgeback saddle. I’ve since discovered that while this saddle was perfectly comfy in an upright position, for a more forward-leaning position it is REALLY uncomfortable. That’s why I’m in the process of hunting down (and test riding) a woman-specific saddle with a cut-out section. It’s all about keeping the lady bits happy.
Cushion for the pushin’
I’ve bought some padded leggings. They’re not fancy and they’re not expensive. In fact they’re cheapo ones from Sports Direct, but it’s my first time trying them and I wanted to have a practice run. Not that Oxford is a practice run. I may regret this decision later.
I love how light Regina is, but I don’t love riding her with a heavy backpack. I already feel like my body’s been folded in half as I acclimatise to the forward-leaning position, and adding a heavy load to my back is the last thing I need. So this week I’m investing in a rear rack, some mudguards and, of course, a bottle cage. She’ll be touring ready in no time.
*I feel like I should clarify something here. I had every intention of blogging about the rebuilding experience (hashtag ProjectRegina), however things didn’t quite go to plan. The original idea was for me to build her, with my boyfriend’s supervision and guidance where needed. Unfortunately because he’s well known as a knowledgeable volunteer, his time was taken up with helping a lot of other people, and I got stuck more than I thought I would, meaning I spent a lot of time waiting around. By the time we were actually able to make progress, it was 11pm and we were tired, so in the end he quickly threw her together for me. I was upset to not actually build her myself, and as a result I don’t feel like I know her as well as I could, but I’m also grateful to have a boyfriend who knows this stuff, and who is there to help me out in such a hurry, to make sure I’m not stuck walking home at midnight with a half-built bike. In time, I’ll get to know her better.
It’s week 3 of Femme February where I’m chatting to other women in Bristol’s bike community, to explore our place in the workshop and the industry.
I met Erin whilst volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project. One evening we were paired together to work on a bike, and while she’s more experienced than me, we’ve got a good way of working where we discover and learn things together. You may remember me mentioning her here.
Do you remember learning to ride a bike?
Not exactly. I know that my dad taught me when I was about 5 or 6 years old, and there were definitely tears and tantrums!
Have you always ridden or did you take any breaks?
I’ve pretty much always ridden a bike, whether I was playing around with my brother or riding to and from school. I’ve always commuted on two wheels, to university and now to work. I bought my first road bike in the summer of 2009, and that was definitely a turning point in my cycling passion!
Tell me about bikes you’ve owned.
I used to ride a BMX, and then a Malvern Star (Aussie brand) urban bike through school and university. That one was known as ‘the Beast’. Sadly it was stolen and replaced, and then stolen, found, and stolen again. Now I have a Giant TCR C2 road bike which I used to use it for racing, and it was known as ‘the Rocket’. Now it’s my commuter, and known simply as ‘My Precious’.
Where were your favourite spots to ride?
There was a pretty awesome track down the street, I vividly remember the ‘really steep’ start slope and being terrified the first time I went down it. Having an older brother means not getting away with wussing out. We’d also take the bikes to the local park, think Aussie bushland, dry and dusty with loads of rocks and gum trees and gullies.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
It was while I was at university, when I relied on the Beast for commuting, and was too cheap to go to a bike store for repairs. And my personality is such that I like knowing how things work and being able to take care of myself, which includes knowing how to fix my most important mode of transport!
Did anyone teach you?
Many people have shown me bits and pieces of bike maintenance. Dad showed me the basics and then friends with bikes and the odd helpful person at a bike shop. I also learnt a fair bit from the internet. It’s all trial and error – I got more tips when I joined the uni cycling club. I’ve by far learnt the most from volunteering at the Bristol Bike Project though.
Can you tell me about your experience of volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project?
It’s been great so far. I’ve met a bunch of friendly fellow-bike-lovers and learnt a lot about fixing bikes. As an immigrant/expat/foreigner, volunteering at the BBP has helped me feel part of the Bristol community.
What was the first break-through you had?
Understanding how the limit screws work! That was a pretty exciting day.
Have you ever felt like people were surprised when you told them you tinker with bikes? How dopeople generally react?
People who don’t know me are usually a bit surprised, though they always react positively. Reactions vary from ‘that’s cool’ and ‘what a great thing to do’ to ‘I’d be good at that’ and ‘do you want me to show you how to fix bikes’. Yes, the latter two are from blokes. *eye roll*.
Do you feel there’s any discrepancy between the way men and women are perceived or treated in the workshop?
Hmmm, yes and no. I think the workshop coordinators at The Bristol Bike Project are very good at treating women equally and not making gender-based assumptions of a lack of knowledge. The other volunteers are a bit hit and miss. If I’m introduced as someone with experience to a male, newbie volunteer then they tend to listen to what I say and are happy learning from me. If it’s someone on a similar level to me, then I sometimes don’t get listened to. There have been a few times when I’ve said ‘I think it’s the limit screw’ and they’ve ignored it or continued with cable tightening to then get a coordinator’s help and, hey! It was the limit screw. I could be pushier about it, but I hate confrontation.
What advice would you give to a new female volunteer at the Bike Project, in terms of asserting herself?
Good question. My technique is to keep asking questions and be persistent in suggesting what you think needs to be tried.
At what point did you learn to trust your own judgement and assert yourself?
I’m not sure I’ve reached that point! I am getting better and each time I discover (usually by workshop coordinator intervention) that I was on the right track, it builds my confidence. Regular practice is key.
Do you feel Bristol has much of a community for women cyclists?
Yes, somewhat, and I think it’s grown over the 5 years I’ve been here. There’s definitely been a global increase in women cycling communities since I got into road cycling in 2009. My focus is road cycling, so I’ve noticed the difference in the number of women with Strava segments over the years. Although, on the road I’d say 90% of fellow cyclists that I pass are blokes. No idea when the women are out!
What could there be more of/less of?
For women cyclists in the Bristol community? Ummm, I don’t really know. It’d be good if bike shops increased their stock of women’s kit and accessories. More options than pink and purple would be nice.
Do you also build bikes?
Other than at the BBP when we end up building a bike because all the components end up getting binned? No, not yet. It’s been my intention for a couple of years, but I haven’t found the time or frame.
What would you like to build?
For my dream bike I’d like to build an urban road bike. I’m not bothered about the brand as long as it’s a quality frame. It should have drop bars and a svelte, cherry red frame with shiny aluminium pannier rack and a gorgeous tan leather pannier. I’m moving back to Melbourne this year, which is flat, so I can make it a single speed! Easier build and maintenance. I’d also like to build a mountain bike, but that’s just because I want one and am too cheap to splash the cash on a new one. So I need to get some experience with shock absorbers…
It’s the second instalment of my Femme February theme, where I’m talking to Bristol bikey ladies about the industry and local community.
This week I’m chatting to Hattie Pullen, who I met last year during a maintenance course at The Bristol Bike Project. She was working at the stand next to me, and over lunchtime we got chatting about the Project, and I managed to persuade her to come along for Volunteers’ Night.
How old were you when you learned to ride a bike?
I don’t remember the exact age I learnt to ride a bike but it must have been around 4 or 5. I have a very clear memory of the first time I rode without stabilisers, as I remember finding a hedgehog on the side of the road and taking him into the garden and giving him cat food!
Who taught you?
My mum and dad, I’m not sure who had the most input, that part isn’t very clear.
Do you remember how you learned?
I started off like most kids did in my day, with stabilisers. This then progressed to a parent running behind with one hand on the saddle and one on the handle bars, until they felt confident to let go. I was very fortunate to grow up in the countryside of Lincolnshire, and the tiny village where my parents still live has very little road traffic so we had quite a lot of freedom to learn on the road. Lincolnshire is very flat and I remember thinking that the small slope from my parents’ house to the bottom of the road was super steep.
What’s your ‘cycling story’?
Growing up I always had a bike at home. I wouldn’t use it as transport to get to places, but I would often go on a Sunday afternoon bike ride with my mum.
I didn’t take the bike to Plymouth University; the city’s small enough to walk everywhere. I moved to Whistler in Canada straight after uni and ended up staying for nearly 3 years: skiing in the winter and enjoying the lakes and mountains in the summer. Whistler has a massive downhill mountain bike scene, so I had a couple of goes in the bike park but I was too scared. I stuck to the cross country trails, but never bought a cross country bike. I just borrowed from friends; a friend of mine used to work in a bike rental shop so we could always use the bikes for free!
I had a pink Raleigh for getting around on. A cheap ride-around-town bike was always difficult to get in Whistler, so I treasured her. There was a rack on the back which I used to give my friends backies on, especially after a few beers at the lake. Always great fun!
After Whistler, I moved to Bristol where I’ve been for the last 5 years. I bought a bike within the first 6 months, but it’s a lot hillier here than Lincolnshire! Until last year I would never have called myself a cyclist, I was just someone who rode bikes to get around and occasionally for fun. I don’t think I’d ridden more than 20 miles in one go until last year.
One of my goals for 2016 was to raise money for charity. My mum had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease so thought Parkinson’s UK was a good start. I looked on the website for fundraising events and a London to Paris cycle caught my eye, so without further thought I signed myself up. I had no idea what I was doing, and just thought I’d give it a go. I told my friend Lis who already had all the gear, and she volunteered to join me, so I now had a training partner! We completed the ride in September 2016 over 4 days and it was amazing. Such an inspiring group of people and I managed to raise about £3,000. I was hooked after this.
What types of bikes have you owned?
When I moved to Bristol I purchased a beautiful looking blue vintage Peugeot with a split top tube. She was only a 4 speed but I absolutely loved her, though she just wasn’t that practical for the hills of Bristol.
I replaced her with a Trek hybrid, which I bought on my boyfriend Will’s Cycle to Work scheme. I still have her now and she’s my trusty steed, but not a looker! Will’s into downhill mountain biking, and he bought a second hand Orange Hitman that I could ride on cross country trails and he could use on the pump track.
For my London to Paris cycle I purchased my first road bike. I bought it off a lady in Clevedon who had ridden it maybe once or twice, for half the price she paid for it. It still had the factory grease on the chain!
I turned 30 in January this year and bought myself a new bike (Genesis Croix De Fer) to start my new decade. I only picked her up on Saturday but I’m in love already. I’m really excited to have some adventures with her. I’m hoping to cycle the North Coast 500 in September this year.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
I really want to do some more cycle touring, and thought I had better learn how to fix my bike so when I’m on the road I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always relied on Will when anything has gone wrong with my bike before.
Did anyone teach you?
I went on a maintenance course at the Bristol Bike Project in November last year to learn the basics. Other than changing a tube I literally had no idea about anything.
Have you ever felt like people were surprised when you told them you tinker with bikes? Howdo people generally react?
I have to say it’s not really something I’ve brought up much in conversation. Those who I have spoken to though tend to be close friends who have watched my passion for bikes and cycling develop, so they’re not really surprised when I say I’m learning to fix bikes.
Can you tell me about your experience of volunteering at The Bike Project?
I have to admit I’ve only made it 4 times since I did my maintenance course. Everyone is super friendly and welcoming. There are definitely more men than women, and it would be great to get a few more women involved.
I’m not afraid to ask for help though, as like you, I forget everything between sessions. I need to ask otherwise I wouldn’t get anywhere. It can be difficult though when everyone is doing their thing and involved with the bike they’re fixing.
I haven’t been often enough to work out who is a good person to work with yet, but hoping to become more of a regular face, especially now it’s two nights a week. I think maybe I need to buy a maintenance book and take it with me, then I can be a bit more independent and not ask for help every 5 seconds. It’s a great place to learn and for such a great cause. I’m hoping someday soon what I’m learning might stick!
These past couple of days have felt a bit like being in limbo. I finished at my job on Thursday – a job that I’d loved doing, for a company I’d loved working for, but was pretty much driven out of by an appalling manager. Tomorrow I begin a new job, for a new company, which I’m excited about and have high hopes for.
But the transition from one to the other has been a strange one, emotionally. While I was applying for jobs and attending interviews, I was absolutely adamant that I needed to get out of my situation, but as my notice period came to its end I felt a deep sadness at leaving behind something that I wasn’t quite ready to give up.
Friday was my one and only day of official unemployment, so I spent a good part of it riding my bike. It was the best thing I could have done for my state of mind. My boyfriend and I rode into town in the morning, indulged in soya lattes and banana bread from Small Street Espresso, and then off he went to work. I popped into Roll for the Soul briefly and bumped into a couple of familiar faces, then slowly made my way up to Clifton with an hour to kill before I needed to be anywhere.
Always in a hurry
One of the things I struggle with when riding, is riding slowly. While I consider myself to be a ‘cyclist’ I’m for the most part a ‘commuter cyclist’. I’m also terrible at time-keeping, which means that generally when I’m commuting, I’m also rushing around like a maniac. I very rarely take the time to slow down and actually experience the ride.
Another reason for my maniacal riding is the fact that when I first took up cycling to work, it was purely driven by a need to somehow squeeze exercise into my daily routine. Therefore when I was cycling I had to be sweating, and any pootling or freewheeling downhill was a no-no.
Now I go to the gym, I take spinning classes, Body Pump, I’m training for a half marathon and just generally am very active. I have no problem burning an average of >2,000 calories a day, and yet when I mount my bicycle I automatically go into manic exercise mode.
Riding it out
Friday was different. For once, I had time on my hands. Plus I’ve been battling with the ill, so I’m allowing myself some time off from obsessive calorie counting and burning. For what felt like the first time (in a very long time), I simply pootled around Clifton’s side streets and took in the views.
I learned some road names and got my bearings, found myself cycling past a house where my friend used to live, noticed a lot of old church buildings now converted into flats, and also some of the strangest modern architecture I’ve seen in Bristol. I took nearly every turning that I came upon, shifted down to my granny gear so I could slowly climb the hills, and then allowed myself to freewheel back down them. For once I was actually just joy-riding my bike, with nowhere in particular to go.
That continued into yesterday, when I found myself with errands to run but again no real rush to get them done. I took a slow ride into Kingswood to pick up a parcel (my wondrous Vaude panniers which I’ll be writing about soon), and then wandered over to Easton to buy some food for the week. With my panniers loaded with more vegetables than I could physically carry, I had the perfect excuse to take an even slower ride back.
Throughout this pootling experiment I realised just how liberating cycling can be. Yes of course, it’s a way of getting around that takes you further than your feet can alone, but it’s also such a great opportunity to completely free your mind. I realised I was mindfully riding my bike, deliberately taking in the view, breathing the air, feeling the bitter cold on my cheeks and blinking the snowflakes from my eyelashes. I felt each turn of the pedals, thought carefully about my posture, and was completely aware of my surroundings. It was blissful.
So tomorrow I start my new job. I’m excited and nervous, and hopeful about the path that lies ahead. Most importantly, I’ve had time to shut down the old, and prepare myself for the new. By learning to slow down and take my time, I also allowed myself a period of much-needed mindfulness and meditation.
Now I feel ready to mount my bike and make the journey down a new path, and I’m going to take my time. Let’s see where it goes.
As I’ve said before, I’m not your average bike blogger. Bikes didn’t play a large role in my formative years.
I have an awful habit of setting myself impossibly high expectations, planning to be better at things than I actually am, which always leads to disappointment and frustration. What’s worse is that I have a tendency to compare myself to others (don’t we all?). As I gradually get more involved with Bristol’s cycling community, I get to know many confident cyclists and I wish I was more like them. I feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong among them.
I look at someone like my boyfriend and I see a fearless rider. I watch him approach a steep, loose terrain descent, and he gets straight into the drops and lets gravity do the rest. I see him jump on a bike that he’s never ridden before without a second thought, and within minutes he’s tested all the gears, done some bunny hops, some track standing, and weaves in and out of oncoming cars. He instantly gets to know the bike.
I have to remind myself that he’s been riding since his feet could reach the ground. He’s ridden all types of bikes over the years: BMX, fixies, MTB, single speeds, you name it. To him, riding is second nature and it doesn’t phase him to mount a new set of wheels.
Me? I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was at least 9 years old, and even then it wasn’t governed by a deep desire to ride. I most likely wanted a bike just because my cousin had one – we were always in competition with each other when it came to possessions. I think I was on a Dymchurch campervan holiday that summer with her and her parents, and I must have gotten jealous of her bike. My uncle spent some time with me in a field, teaching me to ride. The following September, on my 10th birthday, I received my very first Raleigh.
Was I overcome with a new found sense of freedom? Did I spend every waking hour on my new set of wheels, exploring the area and pushing the boundaries, to see how far away I could get before I was summoned back for dinner? No. I hardly rode the thing. Maybe up and down the garden a couple of times, and there was one occasion where I remember riding to the local park with some of the kids who lived on my street.
The next year we moved to Thanet, and my Raleigh took up its new residence in the garage, where it stayed for years. I dug it out a few times when I was around 13, to ride it down to the seafront. There was a little green area that we called ‘The Dip’ and I sometimes rode up and down the little hills.
I also did a couple of rides to Reculver, where there’s a Roman fort overlooking the sea. The path is completely off-road, along the seafront, and about 4 miles each way. That was probably the longest ride I ever did as a child, and probably the first time I really felt that sense of freedom the bike afforded me.
But even then, it wasn’t enough to keep me riding. The following year, I turned 14. I got into heavy metal, cut off all my hair, painted panda eyes on my face and dubbed myself a goth. Cycling wasn’t goth. Back in the garage it went.
I actually have no idea where it is now, or what happened to it. Maybe we sold it? Maybe it got dumped? I never had any kind of sentimental attachment to it, and honestly couldn’t pinpoint the last time I rode it.
I didn’t get back on a bike again until I moved to Bristol, at the age of 23. Naturally I was a bit shaky, had zero confidence, and relegated myself to the pavements. But with time (and a few free lessons from Life Cycle UK) I learned to indicate, to take the lane and ride with confidence on the road. I’m now a regular commuter and a reasonably confident urban cyclist.
I’ve still got a long way to go though! I know that over the coming years my confidence will grow, and my technique will improve. But I don’t think I’ll ever be what I’d describe as ‘fearless’. The childhood years are the prime time to push through barriers, when you’re scared of nothing. That’s what I unfortunately missed out on. Learning these things as an adult is so much more scary.
I have to confess, I’m not your average Bike Blogger. I haven’t been riding a bike since I could walk, I haven’t been tinkering with tools since I could talk, I’ve never ridden a fixie, drop handlebars terrify me, and I get nervous when riding downhill.
I’m a blogger at heart. I love writing and sharing my thoughts with anyone who wants to read them, but in the last year or so I’ve been short of content. My blogging habits depend heavily on what I’ve got going on in my life, and they tend to thrive when I’m learning something new.
I spent a couple of years blogging about food, because I was learning to cook and discovering ingredients I’d never heard of before. Now I cook on autopilot and I no longer feel the need to share my experiments in the kitchen.
I spent a year or so blogging about online dating because, let’s face it, the whole process can be hilarious and I had some horrific experiences that people could laugh at. My online dating days are over now.
I even had an academic blog for a while, when I was fresh out of my Masters and convinced I was going to be this renowned professor of Art History. That dream died, hard.
So last night, following another rejection from a job that I really wanted, in a moment of hopelessness, I asked myself: “what’s going on?”
What’s the story of my life right now? What am I learning about? What do I want to immerse myself in?
The answer was right there in front of me, leaning against the wall in my kitchen, with my helmet hanging from its handlebars and my hoodie draped half-arsed across its rear rack.
I’ve been commuting by bike for the last three years or so, and while I’ve always enjoyed cycling, it was never really much more than a way of getting to work and back.
That was until this summer, when I started volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project. Over the past 5 or 6 months I’ve been slowly learning about bikes: how they’re put together, how to fix them when they break, and how much more connected you can feel with them when you give them your time and attention.
Since then I started getting out on more rides, I’ve become more involved in Bristol’s cycling community, Critical Mass, and more. And now I feel ready to write about it.
This blog is a space for me to explore and learn. If you’re a seasoned cyclist or bike mechanic, it’s all going to seem pretty basic. But if you’re like me – if you know you like bikes but you’re not able to explain why, if you’d love to learn more about them, if you want to learn to fix them but you’re nervous about getting stuck in – maybe you can learn with me.