Against all expectations, not least my own, today I found myself going out on a cycle ride. It was a very short cycle ride, but nonetheless people who know me will appreciate the rarity of this event.
It is not that I am a complete stranger to the bicycle: when I was a kid I cycled everywhere. Then again, when I was a kid there was little option as the law frowns upon underage driving of motor vehicles and this was before the time when parents felt honour-bound to drive their children everywhere.
Once I got my first motorbike at the age of 16 the bicycle was quickly relegated to the back of the garage. A few years ago I did have a brief dalliance with a bicycle borrowed from my brother; this inspired me to actually buy a bicycle of my own. Naturally I put that in the back of the garage where it has largely remained ever since.
So, why get the bicycle out now? Well, cycling looks like a good way to keep fit. When the sun is shining and I am stuck in a traffic jam in my hot car watching someone glide effortlessly past on a bicycle it looks like a much better proposition than the gym. Also, I have a number of friends who are mad cyclists (read that any way you like and it will still be true) who keep trying to persuade me of the joys of cycling. Maybe they can’t all be wrong.
I decided, therefore, that maybe I should start cycling to work occasionally when the weather is good. It is about 6 or 7 miles so, theoretically at least, no problem. First though, I thought I should take the bike out for a spin to check a) it still works okay and b) I can at least get to the end of the road without dying. Today everything came together in a perfect storm as I had the day off with nothing particular to do, the sun was shining and I received some gentle Facebook peer pressure to just tip me over the edge.
The cycle ride itself was nothing to write home about, especially if you are used to reading the cycling exploits blogged by Russell or Jan. According to my long-owned but only recently fitted bicycle computer I covered a measly 5.84 miles at an average speed of 13.9 mph. Clearly no land-speed records being broken there, so why did I fell so knackered!
I deliberately set out at a leisurely pace, but even so, the effortless glide that I admire in other cyclists clearly failed me. My route includes what in the car feels like a slight incline but on the bicycle feels like the north face of the Eiger. As I struggled up it, crunching gears and trying to prevent my lungs escaping through my nose, I had to ask myself: why?
Bicycle gears trouble me. There I am struggling along, barely able to turn the pedal, so I change down one gear. Suddenly the pedals are going around at an alarming rate whilst the wheels turn almost imperceptibly slowly. I am caught between dying of exhaustion or dying of old age before I crest the hill.
But then I crest the hill and am rewarded with the downhill, travelling at what feels like dizzying speeds, but in any other situation would still be painfully slow – i.e. anything over 25 mph. The wind rushes through my hair – or it would if I had any – and it all suddenly seems worthwhile. Until I arrive back on the main road that is and have to play chase tag with the No10 bus.
I finally arrive home after what feels like ages but in reality is far less time than it took to write this blog of my experience. My legs ache, my lungs are still lodged in the back of my nasal passages and, bizarrely, my wrists ache. If there was any part of my body that you would think could take the exercise it would be my wrists!
So, am I going to be cycling to work any time soon? The jury’s still out.