‘Wait, what? You don’t know how to ride a bike?!’
I had successfully avoided this question for most of my life, up until recent. Cycling in the city was booming and it was the transport topic on everyone’s lips (particularly Boris Johnson’s). In August 2012 I had to man up and face my fear during a group weekend away to Centerparcs. If you have never been, the main method of moving around the resort is by cycling! Yup. it was not going well for me.
Upon arrival at Centerparcs you are welcomed by someone who points you in the direction of ‘bicycle hire’… great! I hadn't even made it to lunch.
My friends were full of encouraging words;
‘It will be fine you’ll see’
‘You can drive, you will pick it up in no time’
‘It’s as easy as riding a bike!’
I suppose it is once you know how to, but seriously, did you really just say that?!
Now, I have never been a quitter, so I wasn't going to start here. I walked in, grabbed my designated bicycle and hit the road. Head up, full of confidence I jumped on - “I could do this, I could do this!” I repeated to myself. Within a millisecond, I felt myself rock to one side, a sudden feeling of imbalance and unease coursing through me. I could not do this! It just did not feel natural! How does anyone even sit on this thing let alone balance and move their legs?!
I continued to persist - moving then tipping, falling then stopping until I finally managed to stay on for more than four pedal turns. I was impressed - a grin began to form. That was when one of my friends popped his head out to say we had an activity booked that we would have to cycle to that day. I hopped off the bike momentarily and that was when I felt it. Woah - was I sore, errr nobody had warned me about this?! Trying to stay on yet constantly falling off this tiny bike seat had absolutely battered my... ouch! Time was not on my side and neither was the placement of our many pre-booked activities which happened to be on opposite ends of the resort. Admittedly it was taking me longer to ‘try-cycle’ than to walk, I felt seven pairs of eyes look my way as I realised I would just slow everyone down. I had no choice but to forfeit. We walked back to bicycle-hire and I took my seat on the back of a tandem - sore, deflated & very hungry.
For a long while after that trip I wondered if I could ever get back on and continue where I left off. I didn’t feel as though I had the confidence nor the motivation and to be quite frank I was simply too embarrassed - a grown woman learning to ride a bike in London!
I stopped thinking about it and resumed my day-to-day life until the monumental Hula Hoop class. Vicki had just bought a new bike, Kate was like ‘super cyclist’ and Nat had inspired me with her life-changing stories. It re-ignited my determination to learn.
A few days later Chris, my fiance was shocked to hear that rather than a new designer bag or a sparkly gadget, this Christmas, I wanted to have my very own a shiny bicycle. On the 28th December 2013, we drove to Evans Cycles, Canary Wharf in the hopes of finding just that. Luckily I had a fantastic salesperson who helped me try on every bike that would fit my 5ft frame. He walked me through the different types of bikes, cycling gear and helmets and despite all the advice I received beforehand I opted for a hybrid over a mountain bike. ‘Mr Evans’ also lowered my seat as low as it could go so I could learn to cycle and fall side to side without feeling like I was jumping ship!
To everyone’s amusement the bike I came home with was not flash, colourful or sporty at all. It was a plain silver ridgeback. I was comfortable and that was all that mattered to me. The evening of that same day I took it out for a spin. I walked my bike up the hill to an off-road pathway where I used to see kids learning to cycle.
Within half an hour I was cycling the entire length of the road. Within the hour I had learned to begin pedaling from a stationary position, cycle non-stop and slow down to a stop whilst in control of this alien two-wheel vehicle. By the next day I was making turns and riding over bumps. Today, I am changing gears, cycling through gates without stopping (well occasionally!) and taking my hand off the handlebar to adjust my sunglasses. I have also just upgraded from the low-seat setting and I have now raised my seat to a ‘normal / correct’ height for a person of my size.
This year I want to be able to cycle with one hand, ride on main roads confidently and partake in one fun cycling event with my fourfits ladies.
I still have a long way to go, but this is part of my journey so far.
- four that strut