My first bike was a Boxer. It was royal blue, with chunky tyres and these days would probably be called a mountain bike (for kids, it was tiny). It was the smaller version of the Grifter, which itself was a BMX/off-road kinda thing with the most totally awesomest twist-handle gear shift just like an actual motorbike! My best mate’s big brother had a Grifter and ohhh how I would covet that bike. Not that I’d ever have touched it, he was a bit scary…
I can’t remember learning to ride my bike beyond vague memories of my Dad running along behind me telling me to pedal faster, nor can I recall when the stabilisers first came off and I flew solo for the first time. No doubt there were scraps and cuts and bruises but I didn’t lose any limbs so it can’t have been that traumatic. But that little Boxer was just the stepping stone to my first proper grown-up bike; The Enterprise (note: I am not a Star Trek fan so this wasn’t as big a deal as it may sound).
The Enterprise was a black behemoth with straight handle bars. I desperately wanted a racer (drop handlebars) but no, it was the touring bike stylings for me. I’m still not sure why my parents bought me it, probably because it was cheaper, but I have a sense that I was a bit disappointed by it, such was my desire to NOT have a BMX like all the other kids. I’ve always been contrary that way, and is largely why I have no fashion sense at all because going WITH the crowd is so dull! The Enterprise was the first bike I had that had gears, all three of them, and that opened up an amazing realisation.
Gears mean you can go faster, and going fast is FUN.
The first time I did Pedal for Scotland, some 8 years ago, I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for. I’d done some training, and my friend had done it the year before so I felt that it was at least achievable. And I finished it with tears in my eyes as I rolled through Murrayfield Stadium but my god it was a bit of a slog at times. And that’s before you get to the hill on the way out of Avonbridge; a never ending beast with a sharp incline at the start (8%), which eases off to a mere 6% as you climb to false summit after false summit. But it did not defeat me! and hey, thigh muscles are SUPPOSED to feel like they are on fire, right?
I don’t get out on my bike often enough, and it’s been a few years since I attempted cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh but a year or so in the gym had me feeling reasonably confident about tackling it this year, despite having only managed to get my bike out for three short training rides.
I was right, being a bit fitter this year definitely helped and made the good bits of the ride, and there are many, all the better. For all the hills you climb, you are rewarded with some stellar views and the best bit of all…
Going fast is fun.
And being a fairly large chunk of human being, with thanks to the laws of gravity and some reasonably slick tyres, I reckon I was easily above 25mph at some points, including one utterly glorious section where I didn’t pedal for about 5 mins, carrying enough momentum to coast up the small crests on the way before gathering speed again on the next downhill section.
It was utterly joyous; out in the fresh air, whizzing down a long straight and when I started absent-mindedly weaving to and fro across the road I realised that this is why I like cycling and I silently admonished myself for not doing it often enough. For all the painful hills, the rattling vibrations through your hands (that no gloves seem able to quell), the accidents, punctures, and aching legs, those moments, when the sun breaks through the clouds as you coast magnificently along are magically carefree and childlike.
As we neared the finish the sun started to break through the day long grey, a last hurrah for a fast fading summer. We crossed the line, collected our medals, then found a quiet spot to rest our weary bones. And what better way to end a day out than collapsing in a sweaty heap on the grass, lying there as the sun shone through the endlessly scrolling clouds. A rare indulgence, and yet another forgotten childhood pleasure.