Saturday, 31 May 2014

How Did I End Up Here?

For the inaugural post it seemed appropriate to put down some sort of personal introduction and how cycling became a part of my life.

Despite the repetition and predictability of other people's tales of how much they enjoy cycling, for some reason I always end up reading them with enthusiasm and empathy. I hope you find yourself doing the same with mine.

In the beginning...

In my younger days I was 'into' bikes with all the aimless enthusiasm youth benefits from, switching between BMX and trials depending on how I felt that day.

Truth be told at that age I had little appreciation or interest for what different types of bike were intended to be used for. My chrome finish GT BMX with its much prized three spoke mag rear wheel was taken on off-road adventures around the local woods, similarly my 20" trials bike was thrown around the local dirt jumps. To hit the first cliché of this post, riding a bike at that age was just innocent, carefree fun.

At that age I viewed road bikes as the most uncool of all bikes, reserved for parents and silly looking men in fluorescent vests.

"Riding on the road to the local dirt jumps is the worst part of the day out, who would choose to do that for hours on end?" I wondered.

For one reason or another biking faded out of my life as the teenage years set in and fast forward 10 years through A-Levels, university and lots of cheap cider and I am 25 years old and unfit beyond belief. An office job, car and lack of athletic hobbies ensure almost total sedation of my cardiovascular system.

It dawned on me how awful my body felt and it was time for a change, the love of cycling which had flourished in my youth was withered but not dead and the seed was beginning to (re)germinate.*

*I should probably apologise now for any cheesy/unoriginal metaphors which appear from this moment onwards. 

I scoured eBay for an old road bike, not wanting to spend too much in case my enthusiasm was short lived, riding it would be for casual enjoyment rather than the pursuit of speed - so I thought.

Being 6" 4' tall (193cm for the metric folk) made finding something suitable hard but in the end I came across a 1984 Raleigh Team Panasonic Replica after a bit of a bidding war it as mine for just over £100.

It changed gear and the brakes *just about* worked - I was happy. The retro aesthetics were a bonus. It was autumn and on the next dry day I donned my newly purchased helmet from Halfords and took to the roads, I had planned what I considered at the time to be a not insignificant route of 9 miles. 

To my disappointment, this first outing was not the cool and effortless experience I had romanticised about. 

My vision of elegantly gliding through traffic was cruelly shattered approximately half way up the first substantial hill when my fresh enthusiasm and incredible lack of fitness crossed paths resulting in a near vomit experience.

A slow and wobbly few miles later I arrived back at home feeling like i'd just run a marathon after not eating for a month. After about an hour I was starting to feel slightly more like I wasn't about to collapse but it definitely was not an 'enjoyable' experience by any stretch of the word. Where were these bloody endorphins everyone kept banging on about?

Over the next few months I carried on riding around the city once or twice a week, no lycra, no jerseys, no clipless pedals, that was far to serious I thought. It was getting easier but my fitness was so bad I was still struggling to see the pleasure in riding this cruel machine of torture.

Looking back, the 'go faster' bug had bitten and even though I didn't admit it to myself at the time, my main aim was just to ride everywhere as fast as possible. I found it frustrating that the fun of riding at what I considered a fast pace was always so short-lived, limited by my lungs, heart and legs. 

As the months ticked over and the weather improved as spring came around the rides got longer, 15 miles, 25 miles, 40 miles. Items of clothing I saw as previously reserved for 'serious cyclists' crept into my wardrobe. First were cycling shorts worn under casual shorts with a t-shirt, clearly I was not ready to be branded as one of those lyrcra wearing roadies just yet. 

Next came clipless SPD pedals which, despite 'the traffic light incident' many people will empathise with, made a huge improvement to pedalling technique. The physical join between man and machine also strengthened the affection I had for my bike and riding in general, no longer were we two separate entities. Wherever the pedal was going, my foot was with it.

As my fitness improved and not collapsing from exhaustion became less of a concern I was able to appreciate the pleasurable aspects of cycling more. The beautiful views which are easily missed when travelling by car, the almost meditative repetition of turning over the pedals to the same cadence, the first warm sun of the season on your back to name just a few.

The seed which was slow to germinate was now surging and quickly outgrowing its surroundings. Within a short time period of making the change from flat to clipless pedals I had purchased bib shorts, jerseys, gloves and arm warmers. The vintage charm of the Raleigh was also wearing thin on the undulating roads of Devon and Cornwall - especially the lowest gear of 42-24.

After much deliberation I purchased my first 'proper' road bike - a Cube Peloton Pro from the LBS and my unwitting transformation was now complete - casual cyclist in a hoodie and plimsolls to roadie in 9 months.

Since then I haven't looked back and continue to ride as much as time will allow, my physical and mental well-being is hugely improved and I've made some friends along the way.

I can't speak for why other people love cycling so I thought I would just write down some of my reasons and hope you can empathise...

Thinking you are at your physical limits but somehow refusing to let the pace drop. Feeling the warm sun on your back and cool breeze on your face. Easing into that hot shower after a winters day in the saddle. When it starts to rain and you crack a wry smile and just ride faster. The soothing hum of tyres at a fast pace on smooth tarmac. Having time away from the busy, noisy, smelly city streets. Getting lost and finding a great new descent or climb. Simple freedom.

The innocent naivety of youth might cast a pleasurable glow over everything we experienced at the time and consequently few things are equally enjoyable in both youth and our often pessimistic adult minds - but cycling is certainly one of them.

If you made it this far, congratulations and thank you. Ride safe.

All comments welcome below.

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