My neighbour had a bike in her front garden, half-hidden under a scruffy tarpaulin. From what I could see of it, when the wind flapped the cover up a bit, it looked the sort of bike I might be tempted by.
The bike seemed to nag at me – ‘please be tempted to buy and ride me’. Eventually, I gave in and several weeks ago I asked the neighbour if she would be interested in selling the bike to me. She said it belonged to her mother who’d bought it new a few years ago, had ridden for a while, and had then moved somewhere. Where she is, she can’t store the bike, so it had landed next door.
It’s been there a good while – over the winter and perhaps longer. I couldn’t tell how much work it would take to get it going. Her mother agreed to sell it to me, but didn’t specify the price. I said I would make an offer when I’d researched how much a bike like that went for second-hand.
The bike was locked. The neighbour knew she had the key somewhere. But she also had a new baby, so looking for a key for a bike lock, wasn’t a priority. After a few weeks I started to hunt around for someone with bolt cutters to cut off the lock. Bolt cutters don’t seem to be something in an ordinary household toolkit. I drew a blank. My next idea was to ask any of the many local workmen doing building work round where I live if they had some I could borrow for a moment.
The day I was about to go off and look for someone, the neighbour appeared with the bike, unlocked, and with the lock and key. She’d found the key.
Both tyres were totally flat, so I walked it to Halfords for a service. Apparently, you can’t just drop in – you have to book a service online. I stood in front of the bike mechanic booking in a service on-line. He took the bike, suggesting a ‘silver service’ and probably new inner tubes, etc. as well. The service costs more than I intended to offer for the bike.
Collecting it I realised I needed a rack for the back and a decent lock. The bike had no rack and the lock that came with it was too flimsy to be much of a deterrent. I also needed a bike cover to store it outside. The costs of a second-hand bike mounted. It’s not just the bike! It’s both the bike accessories and the rider safety – helmet, hi-viz jacket, lights, bell.
As my bank balance dipped I began to wonder whether getting a bike was a good idea – why hadn’t I costed it all up beforehand? But I like cycling. I’ve done it since I was about 3 and got my first tricycle – a blue and white one that I still remember the joy of riding. I’ve owned a bike for all my life bar the last 6 years when I moved to a flat with no suitable storage, but convenient Santander bike hire availability right outside my front door.
Where I now live has no Santander, though I often see dead Lime bikes flung to the ground any old where – sometimes mid pavement, and often mid green space. So I haven’t ridden in London for about 3-years now.
People tell me that they’re scared of cycling in London. I wonder if I’ll feel nervous as I take to London roads again. Where I live there are no cycle lanes at all, although the local council does have free cycle training courses, and there are programmes in London to brush up on cycle skills. I like the sound of Urban Cycle Skills or Advanced Cycle Skills on the advanced one you learn ‘how to improve your cycle skills at complex junctions, in heavy traffic or at night.’ Complex junctions and heavy traffic are both in my current cycle area.
Looking back at my cycling past – I’ve done a fair bit. Sustrans has some great routes and I’ve cycled several of them. The Coast and Castles one is fantastic, and I’ll always remember the Eden Project that we visited on one cycle trip. Then there was the trip from Boise, Idaho to Casper, Wyoming that we did. Nearly 700 miles over a week of intense cycling on a proper touring bike. We were testing one leg of the trans-America cycle route to see if we were up to doing the whole way across (no!).
This trip was also one that made me vegetarian. Cycling through Idaho we passed mile after mile of cattle in feedlots, their necks clamped between bars forcing their heads down into food troughs. They were trapped, unable to do anything but eat or not eat. Talking about this to friends led me to Peter Singer’s book, Writings on an Ethical Life. He’s also written and talked extensively about vegetarianism. I took to heart (and practice) his injunction to not support practices that knowingly cause harm to animals or the environment, and not to support the methods of high intensity agri-businesses. A few years, and more reading/research later, I stopped eating cheese and other dairy products.
My routes now are not across America, but suburban London. I won’t be on a lightweight, carbon fibre, dropped-handlebar touring bike, but on a chunky, step-through, town shopper bike. I’ll be wearing my everyday jeans, tee shirt and shoes, not the padded lycra cycle shorts, special cycle top or the clip cycle shoes. I’ll be making 1 mile not 100 mile trips.
I saw a mushroom crate outside the local veg shop – perfect to fix to the bike rack on my shopping bike for securing the shopping in. I now have it ready with 2 bungee ropes for my first shopping trip on it.
There remain some questions in my mind. Will I actually use the bike, now I have it and have got all the accessories for it? On accessories – collectively they have cost more than the price I’m paying for the bike. Bike locks, for example, are ridiculously expensive. I was lucky though and bought a good quality one at a fair price on Gumtree.
Will the bike or parts of it get stolen? Once I came out of the gym to find my bike that I’d ridden to the gym on now had no wheels, another time the saddle had vanished.
Will I enjoy cycling in London or have I lost the confidence (and will) to cycle in heavy traffic? Cycling has to be an enjoyable experience.
I’ve long had a yearning to do a triathlon – I wonder if this excursion into bike ownership again will lead me towards a triathlon bike, swimming lessons and a registration for a beginner event?
Right now though, I’m going on my inaugural cycle ride down to the tube station.