Category: <span>Cycling</span>

It starts when I get my leg over.

And it’s always my left leg due to whatever odd reasoning of biometrics and learned habits dictates such things, always the same one I swing up and over the saddle and, after a quick re-positioning of the pedals, we’re off. After the first few metres of making sure shoes get clipped in and the right gears are selected we are soon on our way and, without fail, a smile spreads across my face.

I always get the same feelings of nostalgia when I get on my bike, the simple childhood pleasure and sensation of speed all come rushing back, and isn’t it funny how we don’t remember all the scrapes and bruises we endured trying to learn to ride the damn things? Although not every child is the same, whilst I distinctly remember having stabilisers for a while, one of my friends was put on his new bike by his big brother, shoved off down the driveway and off he went!

Boxer bicycle

My first bike was a blue Raleigh Boxer. It was a solid little thing, almost like a small BMX (which were still a couple of years away from becoming mainstream) and with no gears it went as fast as my little legs would go. It was small enough that I could cycle round the back garden, round and round the large concrete slab that was the base of the old garage. At one end of the concrete was a grassy slope and my wonderful father added a small concrete slope at the other end so I could spend my summer evenings spinning in circles.

Many years later I’d help my Dad smash up that old concrete base with a sledgehammer. It was about then as a gangly 14 year old that I started to realise I was going to be bigger and stronger than him, an odd realisation for a boy who was still learning about his own body. I was already a little taller than him and had longer levers with which to swing the sledgehammer, sure it’s simple physics but it’s stuck in my brain as a ‘moment’.

Raleigh Enterprise

I’d moved on from the little Raleigh Boxer by that time, with my first almost full size bike being a Raleigh Enterprise*. A big black straight handled touring bike with three gears. Looking back it was a great bike, but at the time it was highly unfashionable with all my friends on Choppers or BMXs. Yet with thin tyres, a solid frame and three gears to use, I quickly started to appreciate the sense of speed it gave me as I weaved my way round deserted early morning streets, leaning into corners just like I’d seen the riders on Le Tour do, on my way to my piano lesson.

It was probably my first real sense of speed, self-powered and fully under my control. The sound of rubber on tarmac, the noise of air rushing past, clothes rippling, every sensation heightened with the threat of a sudden spill looming larger and larger the faster you went, the further you leant into a corner. I still get the same sense, with all the added weight of adult responsibility, when I’m out on my bike.

Falcon bike

That bike gave me love of speed and I started to read up on bicycle maintenance, techniques on how to ride faster (keep that inner pedal up when leaning into a corner) and as I got more engrossed in the sport so my next bike was an obvious, if not fashionable at all, choice. My friends moved from BMX to early Mountain Bikes, but for me it was all about speed, and so it was I got a 21-speed Falcon. I moved from three thumb controlled gears to 21 gears controlled by two frame mounted levers, and from straight handlebars to drop handlebars with two additional brake levers. It was a revelation and my cycling got much more fun and MUCH faster. Sure it helped I was growing bigger and stronger but once I figured out the fancy gears, and stopped flicking the levers too far and knocking the chain off the cogs, I was a veritable flying machine, at least in my own head. Trips to the town centre (slightly downhill) flew by, and the journey back was a breeze, that summer I spent a lot of time just cycling around and a recently opened local cycle path was perfect.

It was this same cycle path that I cruised down last weekend, it runs the length of the Forth & Clyde canal and winds its way through my home town before following the River Leven to Balloch (my destination on Sunday). The stretch from Bowling to Dumbarton always brings back memories of my childhood and that 21-speed Falcon flying machine.

I’d set off on a summer evening. From my house I’d have to make my way along quiet streets before I reached the sanctuary of the cycle path at the far side of town. Then it was a few miles of newly laid tarmac, only open to walkers, runners, and a young blond haired blur on his bike. The far end of the path at Bowling crosses a road, so that became the turning point as the path rose up to that junction. I’d stop at the top of the climb (it was a small incline but I hadn’t really yet figured out how to properly gear things) before turning around and tucking in for the descent, seeing how long I could free-wheel with the wind ripping past me, mindful to keep mouth shut after the ‘bluebottle incident’… .

And so it was again when I got to that spot on Sunday, as soon as I set off down that hill I was taken back to my childhood, the hot summers spent doing nothing of anything, cycling around the town and only stopping for a Fab lolly or a bag of chips. As I sped down the hill I could easily have been heading to my childhood home, turning up the driveway, bumping the gate open with my front wheel and dumping my bike in the back of the garage.

I’m wary that my increasing nostalgia is a sign of my advancing years and that all of these memories are tinged with the hue of fondness but I really don’t care. All I know is that when I’m on my bike with blue skies overhead, the world seems like a better place and for a couple of hours I can recapture that sense of naivety and innocence. Perhaps it’s because when you are on a bike that’s all there is, you, the bike (I will save my dislike of those who cycle with headphones in!) and the world around you. It’s an easy way to disconnect for a couple of hours and just enjoy this amazing world we live in, putting everyday life aside.

The bike I own now is far more complex and modern (and expensive) then any of the ones I had growing up but the real value of any bike, be it a carbon-fibre, razor saddled flying machine or a rusty old banger that creaks when you brake, is unlocking that feeling. As the tyres whirr on tarmac and the wind buffets your face, it’s hard not to smile. The best bike is the one you are using.

I really need to get out on my bike more often.

* I’ve always thought this is what it was called but Google suggests otherwise. I’m leaning towards the Executive but from photos it looked more like a Raleigh Sport… hmmmm

Cycling Life Personal Musings

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…

Free-wheeling downhill.

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.

Cycling Health

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Return of the bike

A couple of months ago my bike was stolen.

My bike was one of many stored down there. In fact, despite the note I put round every single one of my neighbours, there are still several bikes locked up the same way mine was, attached to a bracket that was bolted to the wall.

The brackets are there to protect the down pipes from getting hit by any of the cars, solid structures, each with four bolts to keep it in place. Perfect for attaching a bike to using a nice heavy Kryptonite D-Lock (with additional chain).

For a while I kept my bike in my flat, right next to the front door but it always seemed in the way so, having spotted so many other bikes down there, and knowing that it is a secured space it seemed to make sense to do the same.

You’ll imagine my surprise when, as I took the bins down one day, the lift door opened and there in front of me my bike wasn’t.

The metal bracket that was bolted to the wall, or more accurately, was screwed to the wall, was lying to one side, discarded. My bike, and the lock that I’d used to attach it to the bracket, was gone. All gone.

What an odd experience. I looked around thinking the bike might have been moved somehow, I could see all the other bikes were still there and with the metal bracket still there then, perhaps a maintenance person had removed it and a kindly neighbour had taken my bike in?

I rushed round the basement area to double check it wasn’t anywhere else, checked my post box – no notes, ransom or otherwise – and then climbed the stairs back to my flat, trying to figure out what had happened.

I phoned the police, gave them the details. I phoned the insurance company and gave them the details.

I started thinking about buying a new bike (I ended up ordering, then cancelling, a new bike through the Cyclescheme system, the same one I used to get my bike in the first place). I was certain I’d never see my bike again, I mean what are the odds?

Apparently they aren’t as high as I thought.

A phone call on Friday evening for a mysterious Glasgow number that you can’t call back turned out to be from Police Scotland where a friendly sounding man told me he thought he had my bike in the back of his van.

Apparently they’d stopped someone riding a bike and quickly ascertained that the man ON the bike certainly couldn’t have AFFORDED the bike. They asked the man to get off the bike then asked why the serial number sticker had been removed (a common occurence on a stolen bike) and without a reasonable explanation, took the bike from him to run some checks. One of those checks, thank the lord I had fitted non-standard SPD pedals, suggested it was my bike.

The guys turned up later that evening at my flat, I met them, identified my bike from the pedals, tyres (also non-standard) and a few other distinguishing features, gave them a written statement and lo and behold, I have my bike back!!

I received a further phone call yesterday to double check a couple of details because apparently they caught the man who stole my bike, who sold it to the man who was riding it, and he will be getting charged! Again, what are the odds?!

So, I have my bike back. I’m storing it in my flat and looking into ways to make it more theft-proof in the future. I’ve already replaced my stolen D-lock with something better, thanks to this amazing article on The Sweethome. Next up is something like Bike Register, and then further ways to personalise/customise and generally make my bike look cheaper – I’m even considering getting it completely repainted in matt black, chuck some stickers on and be done with it.

Regardless, I’m still amazed that I got my bike back. The Police get a lot of flak so it’s nice to be able to give them some credit and thanks.

Cycling Life

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Saturday was not a good day. It started with a broken bottle.

I’d ordered a replacement bottle of vanilla syrup, a little bit of decadence for my weekend coffee, but it arrived shattered and oozing syrup everywhere. Not a great start to the day.

I tidied it up, washed down the other items that were delivered in the same box and took the remaining, sticky, mess down to the bins.

I live in a block of flats with a basement garage under the building where some of the residents can park their cars and a side room where the bins are. The basement is used by many people to store unneeded or bulky items, and their bikes. There were several bikes down there the day I took mine down and locked it to one of the metal brackets that are bolted to the wall.

So it was some horror that I realised that my bike was no longer there.

I looked around, bemused, at all the other bikes still there and then back to the spot where my bike should’ve been. Not only was the bike gone, the bracket had been removed from the wall.

I walked around the entire basement, just in case it had been moved (somehow). It hadn’t.

It was gone. Stolen.

I felt sick to my stomach, a feeling that didn’t really leave me all day.

And that’s probably what impacted more, not the fact I have to replace my bike (that’s why I have insurance) but the fact that my bike had clearly been targeted. Ugh.

Anyway, in the vague hope that anyone who reads this might be able to help the bike was a Specialised Comp Disc Cross Trail, it’s black & white and has/had Shimano clip XTR pedals.

specialized-crosstrail-comp-disc-2011-hybrid-bike

Cycling

  • Activity: Cycling
  • Distance: 17.56 km
  • Duration: 00:50:54

Cycling Health

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  • Activity: Cycling
  • Distance: 4.9 mi
  • Duration: 00:20:00

Cycling Health

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Lost my front mudguard and may have a slow puncture in rear tyre but I did it!

  • Activity: Cycling
  • Distance: 10.87 mi
  • Duration: 00:57:54

Cycling Health

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  • Activity: Cycling
  • Distance: 7.5 mi
  • Duration: 00:31:00

Cycling Health

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