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Getting on my bike

I used to love bike rides when I was a kid. I was lucky enough to live in a rural area, where it was ridiculously easy to enjoy lovely bike rides around lovely countryside. As a kid, I vaguely remember watching Olympic action from the velodrome, marveling at the speed and excitement of the cyclists as they thundered round the wooden banked track, urging them on to catch the opposing team in the team pursuit. The 80s were the era of the domination of the Soviet Union, Germany (East then West) and the steady rise to prominence of the Australians; Great Britain didn’t win any medals. Then came 1992, when Chris Boardman triumphed over Jens Lehman in the individual pursuit. I only really remember the end, with Boardman cycling around the top of the bank, and the emotions of such an amazing victory.

It took another 8 years for Great Britain to get another gold on the track – Jason Queally in the 1km time trial; Jens Lehman was still winning medals too. 2004 saw names such as Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins on the gold medal list and the rest, as they say, is history. The success of Team GB in the velodrome at the London Olympics this year has, to be quite frank, been absolutely amazing.

So where’s this all leading? Well last year, as part of my drive to regain a modicum of fitness, I dusted off my bike and decided to use it to commute to work – just on nice days you understand, not when it was raining. I fully intended to remain a Fair Weather Cyclist. I had been enjoying walking and rambling about Yorkshire and Wales, but it was dependent on the weather and, more importantly, the availability of a walking partner. Cycling is, by definition, an individual ‘event’. Sure, you can ride with groups but it’s just you pedaling.

My bike was an old Trek mountain bike frame, painted in green Hammerite and kitted out with basic kit. It had big chunky tyres on it and the seat post had seized, about 1″ too high for my short legs; pedaling was fine but whenever I stopped I had to leave the saddle. The bike had languished in the spare room for a good few years and initial rides confirmed that I was a. unfit and b. lacking in balance. The balance element was quickly rectified, the fitness is still on-going.

My commute is only 2 miles door-to-door but when I first started I’d arrive at work out of breath and sweaty. A change of clothes and the essential baby wipes were a godsend. Over the summer period, on the non-rainy days that I cycled, I slowly improved; I got a little quicker, sweated a little less. I bought some cheap cycling pants and I wore my walking t-shirts because they afforded better wicking. I began to really enjoy the brief rush of endorphins and the realisation that the morning cycle set me up for the day and the cycle home meant I could be back in less than 10 minutes. I have a very good lightweight Gore-Tex waterproof that I bought for walking – that started to find its way into my rucksack and, shock horror, I even cycled when it was a bit drizzly!

Last year, for various reasons, I ignored the Cycle to Work scheme that was offered. Amongst other things, I didn’t think I warranted a new bike with the few miles I did. Instead, I bought slicker tyres for the Trek (affectionately known as The Green Shed) and I noticed the difference almost immediately. I started to really enjoy cycling. I started to be ‘not so bothered’ about the weather (though a torrential downpour would still see me, brolly in hand, trudging to the bus stop). I started to get faster and my ‘recovery time’ (which seems rather grandiose for the amount of cycling I was actually doing…) improved. I sweated less.

This year I thought ‘Why not?’. I would never normally consider spending lots of money on a bike, especially as I already had one and, well, you know, it had two wheels and it worked. But I’d got to thinking about weekend bike rides and I knew that 20 or 30 miles on The Green Shed would be hard work.

I’d only ridden a ‘racing bike’ once, when I was about 12: I’d found it wobbly and unstable to ride, the riding position was uncomfortable and didn’t feel natural. I just presumed I’d get either a hybrid bike or a flat bar road bike but, oh, how wrong I was. The nice man in the shop convinced me to have a go on a drop bar bike and within about 10 seconds I was loving it! So, road bike it was – a Giant Avail 2, with carbon forks and Shimano Tiagra gearing.

I’ve had it for about 5 weeks now and I absolutely love it. I’m still getting used to it – the front end is so light compared to The Green Shed – and I will admit that I fell off it the first time I took it out (for a short test ride, which ended up being 16 miles!). The toe clips have now been removed.

In the space of 5 weeks, my average speed has increased from less than 13mph to over 15mph. I aspire to the ‘standard’ club speed of 20mph, but that’s a way off yet. My fastest commute speed has increased from 17mph to over 21mph. I’ve done a couple of 20+ milers and I’m aiming towards regular 30+ milers. My latest ride, up to Beverley and back, though not featuring the killer hills of the Skidby route, does still feature some challenging slopes (for me) and, do you know what? I’m slowly getting better at those too. Sure, I’m still painfully slow and I still get overtaken by tight-arsed blokes with calf muscles like solid concrete and sure, I still have to stop now and again to get my breath, and sure, I’m still a sweaty mess by the time I get home. But I’m certainly recovering quicker, stopping less, and stopping for shorter periods of time.

As the Olympics draw to a close, after superb success in the velodrome (amongst the general success of Team GB), I am inspired to continue to enjoy my cycling. Victoria Pendleton I ain’t and I never will be and probably never could’ve been, but if my brain wants to pretend to get me up a hill, I’m more than happy to let it dream.