My late father was a cyclist all his life, going up the hill to work in the morning, down the hill at lunchtime, back up for the afternoon shift, and down again for tea. He liked hills, which was useful, given we lived quite a way down one from where he worked.
At the weekends he tinkered with his beloved steed in the shed, suspending it from the rafters with bailing twine to create a makeshift work stand.
My mum worked Sundays so once I was old enough to get a ‘proper’ bike, which for my dad meant a road bike with gears, thin tyres, and a crossbar, “because two triangles is stronger and safer and you shouldn’t be riding in a skirt anyway”, we had adventures. We went out on the country roads, going miles out with a packed lunch, then miles back. I was young, thin, fit, and often sunburned, much to my mothers constant concern.
The only weekends we didn’t cycle was when ‘the Tour’ was on. Then we would be watching other people cycling, all men, and usually very fast. Dad was only really interested in who would be the King of the Mountains, but he gave credit where it was due to the rest. As I said, he liked hills.
I would like to point out at this point, for the record, that I don’t like hills. Which is problematic when you live in a city built on seven of them.
Everyone had bikes when I was kid. Everyone’s parents usually had at least one bike in their shed too. People rode bikes to work, to the pub, to the shops. Few people on our council estate could even afford a car. We hired one for holidays sometimes, but mostly we got the train. So did everyone else.
For younger readers, this isn’t the dark ages by the way, just the 1970s, which probably seem as distant when you’re twenty-something as they do when you’re nearly 50, but just not in the same way.
For chain smoking, fish and chips eating, sugar addicts of the 1970s it may be surprising but they were probably the most environmentally sound generation, even if they were blissfully unaware of it. They were rarely overweight, in spite of their diets and not necessarily healthy lifestyles. They cycled everywhere by necessity, and they holidayed in the UK most often by using the trains. They didn’t need to think about their green footprints because they didn’t have a choice about their means of transit anyway. Package tours would soon bring ‘foreign’ holidays to some, but it wasn’t the norm by any means. You’d be more likely to have the mickey taken out of you at school if you DID get on a plane rather than if you didn’t.
Now, here at the end of the second decade of the next century we are only too aware of the whole environmental question when making our choices, and we have choices. We can, usually, choose to take our car, take a plane, take a train, or cycle, and walk. The tide is turning and it is the next generation that is leading the way. Greta Thunberg, sailing to an climate conference, for example.
I live in a city, and I have a city car. Since I bought it this time last year I have done around 4000 miles. These journeys have all been long ones of over a 800 miles a time. I don’t use it in the city, theres no point. There is too much traffic and nowhere to park. It is actually easier to get a bus, we have one every eight or so minutes.
A few months ago, I ran home from Edinburgh airport. I passed a very noticeable van on the way, not long after I joined the smoggy path that runs beside the main dual carriageway. (Yes, its nice to have cycle lane/pedestrian shared route, but its a shame you can’t breathe on it.)
I passed the van, and it didn’t pass me again until I was five minutes from my house. Six miles, and I did it in the same time as the van, and I am not a fast runner. I run to keep fit, not to beat Mo Farah. I average an 11min mile.
This got me thinking, this and sitting in another tailback behind another breakdown. Why am I doing this? Why I am in my car or on a bus? I used to cycle all over as a kid. I’m fairly fit, so why not get a bike. I was sure it would be quicker, and cheaper.
I bought myself a used road bike. Same as I had a kid, same as my dad, except his was Italian and French and mine was more oriental. I got on it and fitted it, and went for a ride; my back hurt, my neck hurt, my arms ached, and I couldn’t see what the traffic was doing around me without craning my aching neck. I felt silly dressed in lycra like an overstuffed sausage, and the helmet made my head hot. Yes, it was fun in places, but my fanny hurt so much afterwards I thought I’d never sit down again (let alone…well, anything else). I enjoyed the freedom but it was all a bit scary and a bit too much.
I considered going ‘Dutch’ but they are heavy and I didn’t want heavy after my 9kg road bike. They aren’t pretty either, usually. They’re functional, and practical. I try to be, but its just not me. I’m more funky, even for ahem…49.
Then, whilst I was casually pootleing along the seafront, admiring the seafront, a gentlemen, in a suit, with a briefcase strapped to the front of this odd small wheeled contraption, overtook me. I think it made his day to be honest, as I looked like ‘serious cyclist’ in all my gear (and no idea) with my fast looking road bike. I never went fast on it, scared the hell out of me, and I didn’t trust the brakes.
(Who, by the way, thought putting brake levers and gears together was a smart idea? Every time I braked I changed gear if I wanted to or more often not).
A few days later I saw something on the internet that really made me laugh – a London Brompton Race. If you’ve not see it then you really need to have a look. I finally knew what these machines were, and that nobody seems to take it or themselves very seriously. And I love the le mans start!
It was magical. It was cycling like being a kid again. Normal clothes, ok with a helmet if you insist, but just regular people using bikes to do regular things and have fun with them. I was hooked.
I did some internet research, and then I went and took a few for test rides. Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative couldn’t have been more helpful. They explained the different models and let me test ride them on the nearby cycle path. I settled on a six speed (Edinburgh has hills and this time I live almost at the top of one), and in a wonderful metallic purple.
I paid extra for colour, some thing I have never done before in my life of car ownership, but I see it as a investment. Every part of a Brompton is serviceable and they last for decades. We will be together for a lot longer than I normally keep my cars. Of course they need to be long term investments when they start at £750 and go a long way up from there!
I couldn’t wait to collect my steed, and the best thing was, it fits in the boot of my car. Not on the boot, IN the boot, and I have a small city car (which has a glass tailgate and can’t have a cycle rack fitted because of it, but that’s another story). Road bike is up for sale if anyone is interested. It’s a lovely bike but not for me.
So I’m now that slightly wacky “Girl on a Brompton”, cycling around the city doing everyday things, and smiling ear to ear for every fun moment of it (and with no lycra in sight).