I still remember the warm glow when I found the two-wheeled, red bike Santa had left for me in a nearby park the Xmas I was five. But I have conveniently forgotten how long it took me to shed its training wheels. When I was nine, I got a pale blue and grey Raleigh, but I was not allowed to ride it on the road, only in the garden and not on the lawn which took up about 85% of our garden.
At university, I once borrowed a friend’s bike and ran it into a parked car. I dimly recall I rode to work during the late 80s, early 90s on those few days when all forms of public transport were on strike. I also indulged in a spot of mountain biking in Austria. Though, lest you get the wrong impression, this consisted of me cycling down the hill from the hotel, along the valley and back to the foot of the hill whereupon my husband went to get the car to convey me and the bike back up the hill.
So, not exactly an auspicious history on two wheels even though my father was a keen cyclist, frequently cycling from Birmingham to Portsmouth (and back) to visit family, and my maternal grandfather made bicycle frames. Indeed, family and friends continue to be bemused by my very recent love affair with two wheels.
When I first started cycling my husband would not allow me to ride unaccompanied. If only you could have seen me, you would have understood why. So for the first 6-9 months I rode only at week ends or on the home trainer. Once I had my first road bike, it took me almost three weeks to master cleats and pedals, not realising that the latter could be loosened to make it easier to disentangle the former from the latter.
Pushing off on my left foot, I would cycle around the gated domaine where we live, then position myself handily near to one of the flower beds as I attempted to kick either one of my feet free. If I failed, I would just keel over into the flower bed. During this period, the gardeners wisely postponed putting in the summer bedding plants and I do believe that my miserable attempts to cycle provided them, and my neighbours, with some amusing moments. But they were hugely supportive and gave me a standing ovation, when I finally triumphed. And, even now, they exhibit a lively interest in my cycling wanting to know how many kilometres I’ve covered and where I’ve been.
I’m now endeavouring to employ those same flower beds to cushion the impact as I try to cycle hands-free. I watch enviously as fellow cyclists ride along nonchalantly, answering their mobile phones, taking off or putting on articles of clothing without ever once wavering from the straight and narrow. Of course, when I ask them how they do it they all reply that they learnt when they were young. Is it simply a case that I’m too old to learn new tricks? Who knows? But I’m not giving up; not just yet anyway.