I’m on the wrong side of 40, actually I am the wrong side of 45; you might even say that I am on the right side of 50. I live in Essex now, but I grew up around East London. All of my mates had bikes, I remember my first one, a red Raleigh Tomahawk! All the older kids had Raleigh Choppers, but it was the Tomahawk for me, and I got great use out of it, trying to keep up with the older kids. We’d head over to Wanstead Flats and go exploring there on the hot summer days of the late 70s and early 80s. Those were the days.
I remember the freedom the bike gave me, it was just such a huge, unexpected freedom – I really thought I could go anywhere on my bike. I spent many hot summer days as a kid, out exploring on my bike. What perfect days they were, I suppose we all remember days like this when we were kids, on bikes or off of them.
Later, my Mum and Dad bought me a road bike and that was ridden and polished aplenty – it was a big step up from the Tomahawk and it really made me feel like a ‘real cyclist’. My Dad one day taught me how to repair a puncture, and how to remove a cotter pin, I started to teach myself the rest of essential bike maintenance. None of the older kids could catch me on the road bike. They had got lazier, I had got faster, it was my little triumph over the older kids that I kept to myself.
Despite all of the above, that’s not what got me into cycling, but maybe it laid the foundations for later on.
Later came (laying under) cars, looking at girls, drinking and smoking. The cycling scene went dormant for some time. I started working for a living and my parents divorced. There were other things to concentrate on (girls, mostly).
At around the age of 24, I took up cycling so that I could ride to the pub with my college lecturer, Bob, who had taken pity on me due to the fact that I had to pay for my own course, and do it all in my own time, whilst holding down a full time job. I didn’t do well at school; I left to start work at 14 years old. For this reason, my learning really started a long while after I had left school.
Bob took me under his wing and we met every Tuesday to iron out any problems I had with the theory, at his house, which was a few miles from where I lived. We always went to the pub after studies. Bob was a regular cyclist, commuting the 20km to work every day, all year round. He got me hooked on engineering, he got me hooked on cycling. Thank you, Bob, wherever you are now.
We found a nice Peugeot bike at a second hand shop near to where Bob lived and just up the road from my house, and Bob did much raving about its oval, aero tubing. I bought it for about £120.00, I think, which was a fair amount for skint younger me, and soon after I went down hard on a fast descent on the way to the pub one summer’s evening. I had serious amounts of skin missing from my forearms, and my legs were bruised and battered but we went to the pub anyway and the landlord’s wife patched me up.
I took this bike on my first “long distance” ride, racking up what I thought was a massive 87 km in one day. I did this by visiting my friend, who lived in Rayleigh, Essex. It made me think that I was some sort of long-distance hero, but that was when I was younger, and long before I’d heard of Audax, or ultra-distance cyclists.
I later started the 25km commute to work and stuck at it.
I was on and off the bike ever since, until about 1999, when me and my fiance rented our first flat in Chadwell Heath and money was tight. The motorcycle that I used for work packed up and I didn’t have the money to repair it, so it was back on the bike for the slightly longer 27km commute.
I did it in all weathers; sun, rain, snow, whatever. We saved for a house, we married, we moved out to Essex and had kids, and the commute grew to 35km. I missed out on cycling when the kids were young as it stopped and started, interrupted by sleep deprivation and the huge adjustment to your life that kids bring. A couple of years ago, I decided to get back into cycling on a more regular basis, just like the old days, when I was slimmer, and litherer (I know), and fitter than most, and so I did. The slim and lithe bit, I am working on.
So, here I am, and now the journey to bigger things begins. Next I will discuss the commute, that’s the backbone of my time in the saddle.