Friday 7 August 2015

Why Start Cycling

Much has been written recently (Guardian, BBC, others) about the legacy of the 2012 Olympic games and how sports participation increased in a couple of bursts to do with the games. Since it hasn't really gained much traction and is seemingly in decline.

This seems like it was all a waste of money and time. However, I'd argue there are some good things that came out of the Games, and possibly added to by the delights of the Tour de France being in Britain last year.

The very nature of the comment about people being involved in sport starts from the wrong premise. What we should be looking at is how many people have more active lives. This is not "sport". It's who chooses to do things using motor vehicles less and their own legs, be it riding or walking, more. Whether that's doing it as a way of getting around, or as a leisure activity, or as a race, it doesn't matter. Why are we only counting the last category? It's a perculiar British failure to see the full picture here.

I got involved in some of the legacy planning for the Tour de France in Cambridge. It was full of people talking about having a new cycle racing, about building up cycle clubs, measuring our sportiness, and many less, being slightly drowned out, trying to ask for better facilities for all. True, the former does have more substansive ideas and is less prone to "hidden benefit" syndrome, where no-one can monetise how it will help.

Into this mix I bring three stories about how some people I know went through this and created their own legacy. These three took up cycling in very different ways in different places.

Althea's Story.

Althea is from Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, Yorkshire. A most stunningly beautiful dale. And with that goes some stunning hills and steep inclines to scare the chocolate off a Yorkshire Teapot.
I need to lose 4 stone and get fit. That’s the idea anyway. I tackled giving up smoking and won the battle last year – this year it’s about giving up food. Food and slothfulness. I’m a large-boned Yorkshire woman – I reckon I can kick slothful (walking to the post office involves a hike up hill and down dale with crampons and the Mountain Rescue Team on speed dial), but giving up food is going to be way more tricky. Drastic measures are called for.

I digress here but back in February, someone gave me a pattern to knit tiny jumpers for bunting for the Tour de France. Isn’t that a bicycle race in Europe? What’s that you say – it’s starting in Yorkshire this year? Really? Ok, I’ll knit 1. Then it got competitive and I knitted a nice round dozen. On my knitting journey, I got interested in the race itself. To be fair, I didn’t get a choice in the matter as my spare bedroom and those of my neighbours started being booked out with friends and relatives for the great weekend in July.

I used to cycle everywhere in my youth. It isn’t that difficult. I’ve cycled a tandem across the Golden Gate Bridge. Twice. Not that long ago either. Nobody pointed at my capacious bottom and laughed. Or if they did, it was only some skinny Californian on some joyless macrobiotic diet, and they did it quietly and politely. And who cares what they think anyway?

Not only that, but if I need an extra incentive, some kind person somewhere in the local planning office has given us a cycle track between Ripley and Harrogate and Knaresborough. The word on the street is it’s flat. On an old railway line. That sounds good. I smoked far too long to consider cycling up hills at my time of life.

So – off to Decathlon in Sheffield to get a nice cheap ladies bike with shopping basket and extra large comfy saddle, then to Halfords to get a cycle rack fitted to my Fiesta. Ready to roll. I won’t cycle the road between Pateley Bridge and Harrogate because it’s a nightmare to drive along, parts of it are so narrow and it’s infested with the world’s worst drivers – suicidal boy racers, rear-ending young women, crawling geriatrics who retired to somewhere pretty when they were 60 and are now wholly reliant on their cars to travel 15 miles each way to their Outpatients appointments at Harrogate Hospital, 30 years later. I kid you not. Then you’ve got the juggernauts which have started cruising this B road for something to do when they’re not driving side by side on the 2 lane sections of the A1. Cycling this road would be an exercise in expediting death. Where can I take my bike? Ripley in my car with my cycle rack.

The first time, I went by myself and it was just great. Off road but on a largely flat, tarmacked path, all the way into Harrogate. I came back raving about it and as a result, got my husband, daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson all enthusiastic – we’ve since been out many times and it’s always great fun. Safe, great fun. I sing as I cycle, they pretend they don’t know me, and each time I go, I manage a bit further, or a bit faster. I haven’t lost any weight by the way. I can’t give up food, but I reckon that cycling is preventing me from having to undergo bariatric surgery. That has to be a good thing, right? However, I think the council needs to open up more of these paths if they’re going to encourage us to cycle more – at the moment, there aren’t nearly enough safe places to go with my bike.

Since writing this, Althea has really taken to riding. Still riding on quiet roads but she's started to conquer steeper and steeper hills and longer and longer distances. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of her joy of finding her ability. She is the first to say the only thing that held her back was her fear that somehow she couldn't do it.

Daniel's Story.

I know Daniel from the pub. You know that place of high sporting ideals, lean diets, early nights and early starts!
I travel everywhere by foot or public transport all the time. Which can be time consuming, if I had to travel somewhere that took a while to get to. The reason I decided to start cycling was, talking to people down the pub and we talked about the benefits of having a bike. Also it was a few months before the Tour de France stage came to Cambridge, so a lot more people were talking about bikes than normal.

My initial thoughts of having a bike was a little apprehensive as I have never rode a bike before. I did not know what sort of bike to buy because at the time to me a bike was just bike. I just wanted something to bike around Cambridge that would get me from A to B and didn’t cost the earth.

I started saving some money to put towards buying a bike, which by coincidence happened to be the day after the Tour De France passed through Cambridge. For a while it just stayed in the hallway of my flat, as I was slightly nervous about going out by myself. However I have now been out on my bike practicing a few times with a friend who has been teaching me. Despite not being on bike for a long time I now fell a lot more confident than I started. I feel with a bit more practice I will be able to start going out on small journeys such as to the shops, and then gradually go a bit further.

My concerns now would be going on the road. You have to be a lot more aware of everything around you. I also have concerns about using cycle lanes a few of them don’t seem that wide, and how close thing cars and buses get to people on their bikes.

Daniel travels further and further by bike and, ta da, has had his first fall! What is great about Daniel's spirit is that he immediately got up, dusted himself down, and got back on the bike. Again, a very personal spirit, although I'd suggest the positive experience of riding also helped in this return to riding.

From The Guardian, What makes Cambridge a model cycling city?

Sue's Story.

Finally Sue. I know Sue, as many others will, through BBC Cambridge Radio. She's interviewed me about cycling and the Tour dr France project #CamBuntingTdF several times in the past year or so. Sue lives in the country well to the south of Cambridge.

I started cycling as the organiser of the fledgling City of Cambridge triathlon sort of ‘dared’ me to give it a go, so I borrowed a friend’s hybrid to get some basic fitness, had a go at the Wattbike (a thing of torture) in the gym. I then took a big breath and bought a road bike … and all the kit and caboodle! I was also inspired by the inaugural Women’s Tour which came right past my front door this summer and the Giro D’Italia in my native Northern Ireland.

The biggest worry was how to handle the roads – I’m lucky in that I live in a rural area so I tend to cycle on less busy roads, and those well frequented by recreational cyclists but I needed to get road confident, learn how to clip in and out properly and safely negotiate even apparently quiet junctions. I also worry sometimes about the safety of being a lone cyclist and a woman out on the roads by myself but try not to get too hung up on that!

After starting I realised how it requires a very different style and level of fitness than running! But I’m up to a good level of fitness and confidence now. The, er ‘undercarriage’ discomfort takes a bit of getting used to, as well! I’m probably more often on my bike than out running at the moment, quite a change for me!

I found time the biggest hurdle. Working fulltime and often alone with a small child at the weekend, it’s just sometimes difficult to get out there. I invested in a pull along trailer so my son comes too.

The roads quality where I live are quite good, well lit and relatively safe. I do find it tricky in village situations, negotiating parked cars and the like. I’ve not cycled in Cambridge city itself but there are junctions I know I would be loathe to tackle – but my overall impression is that Cambridge is worthy of its cycle-friendly city badge.

I’m a keen runner anyway and I know the benefits of being outdoors and of exercise. I’ve found myself cycling around villages I’ve only driven through and it’s good to see the countryside in a very different way.

Sue continues to ride and run and did confess she'd got some lessons from Olympic Gold Medalist, Vicky Pendleton and, UK National Time Trail Champion, Michael Hutchinson. She loves her sporting side, which is welcome. As is all people who've worked out that challenging yourself makes you enjoy your life more. This could be in sport or could be just getting to the shops under your own steam where you thought it impossible before.

So when I think of legacy, I think of these three people. And the many more people challenging themselves it whatever way they can.

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