My bike changed my life

I’m dead lazy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “started exercising” and then stopped, due to the aforementioned laziness, due to boredom, due to generally just not liking it. Let’s see: I thought I liked swimming for roughly three months in 2011. Turns out no, it was really boring. When I first moved to London two years ago, I joined my local gym and went three times a week for a few months before dreading it and then quitting. When my boyfriend started running seriously a few months later, I tried to join him, running laps around the park in a terrible, sweaty attempt to do some kind of couch to 5k thing, but everything hurt, I mean everything, and I looked terrible and I just hated every. single. second of it.

So let’s backtrack a bit. About a year after we moved to London, we rented bikes through our local council’s bike hire scheme (loads of London boroughs do this if you care, we live in Lewisham and cannot fault the scheme). Basically you pay a tenner and in return you get a decent bike for a month, plus a lock, and whatever other equipment you need. You can also get some free training if you’re a bit unsure about cycling on London’s roads. We spent the month venturing out into our little bit of south east London and also further afield. We discovered it didn’t take ages to cycle into town (an hour on our first attempt along a signposted route), and who even knew there were loads of quiet cycle paths taking you through scenic paths, past herons and kingfishers and stuff right on our doorstep? We certainly didn’t. It was a great month. When we returned our bikes four weeks later we were both sad, so quite soon after we bought bikes.

Then followed a year of Cycling A Bit. It was fun. The more I cycled a couple of miles down the road to the shops, the more I felt I wanted to do it on a more regular basis. I made a resolution that for 2015 I would try to find a job I could cycle to (semi-seriously, I don’t actually ever keep these things… except for this time). In July last year we entered the BHF’s London to Brighton ride which was an amazing experience. I rode it on a road bike with flat bars and the pain I had in my hands while descending Ditchling Beacon made me buy a new road bike a couple of days later (disclaimer: it also had stupidly high gearing, meaning I could barely get up any hills). A month later I’d managed to find a new job, seven miles from my flat. So: perfect commuting distance!

Things escalated pretty quickly from there. I joined a local cycling club (Penge CC). I bought some lycra. Actually, a lot of lycra. Turns out specialist cycling clothing is actually really comfortable. I had an hour’s taster session in the Olympic Velodrome. I bought clipless shoes and pedals. I put new bar tape on my bike. I got a GPS computer for Christmas. I cycled every day to work and back. I bought my club’s jersey. I actually started riding with Penge CC at weekends, doing around sixty kilometres every Sunday morning with a group of lovely people who make it a joy to ride around Kent with. I signed up for the BHF’s London to Brighton ride again, and for the Isle of Wight Randonnee. I got accepted in the ballot for Ride London. I started taking pictures of my bike and where it was taking me all the goddamn time.

[My bike on a Penge CC ride, somewhere in Kent, December 2015]

I started keeping track of everything on Strava, logging the distance, the speed, the hours spent struggling uphill and laughing going back down. I also started noticing how cycling was making me feel. I’d come home from work feeling like I’d done something, feeling really satisfied and happy, but also far more relaxed than when I commuted to Kingston via two trains which I normally found incredibly stressful. I don’t miss the reading or music time. I started getting marginally quicker every time I rode. I can now cycle to work in under forty minutes which would be impossible for me using public transport. Sure, there are a few terrible drivers and mopeds and motorcycles can be incredibly erratic but the more you cycle in a big city the more you get used to sharing the road, even if sometimes you are sharing the road with people who don’t know how to share. But commuting’s only a small bit of it. Waking up early on a freezing Sunday January morning and doing the ride out to the Kent lanes might seem a bit much for most but it’s now turned into the highlight of my week. Seeing hundreds of cyclists doing the same thing, many going past me (I ride in one of the slower Penge groups) and giving a wave and a “good morning” to everyone is lovely. We own the road at these hours. It clears my head. I’m back at lunch and have the whole day ahead of me.

The first time I went out with Penge CC I struggled a lot. I had to push my bike up a few hills, and I ached for days afterwards. I must admit though the experience wasn’t intimidating in the slightest (honestly everyone is lovely) I did feel a bit embarrased so vowed to only return when my fitness improved, when I wouldn’t be the person at the back. I am quite proud to say I’m no longer at the back pushing my bike up a 13% incline. The aches only last for about an hour now once I’m off the bike. I’ve been really shocked at how quickly it took me to improve.

I never ever thought I’d be able to get into doing some kind of sport on a regular basis. Like I say, I’m lazy. But cycling has made pretty much every single aspect of my life better. I’m generally happier (I’ve always been a bit of a sadsack and a depressive). I now have a proper hobby. I’m meeting new people all the time. I’ve cut back on drinking as cycling on a hangover is horrendous. I feel fitter than I have ever been in my entire life. And though I have a long long way to go before I’m going to feel comfortable doing the one hundred miles for Ride London, I think I’ll get there.

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