I love the summer months, particularly when we go through a spate of long, hot days. And what better way to enjoy it than to get out and about on a bike. Even if you haven’t ridden since you were a child, hiring a bike while on holiday may be an exciting option. Or perhaps you might consider buying a bike so that you can leave the car behind. Everything works.
Riding a bike is healthy and fun as a low-impact form of exercise for all ages. You can easily fit it into your daily routine from riding to the shops or work, or taking a social jaunt with like-minded friends. Research has shown, and this is something that I’ve proven to myself, that cycling is beneficial for your physical health as well as your mental well-being. It also protects you from serious diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, some cancers, obesity, diabetes and even depression.
Of course, you can make cycling as hard or as easy as you like. From personal experience, I can say that the first time on a bike can be amazingly easy, and great fun. What could be better than going for a ride on a sunny, warm day and ending up stopping somewhere for a picnic?
My own love for cycling began early when the first bicycle I had was bright red and had my name along the drop bar – I was 12. My father worked at an engineering company and he arranged to have an old girl’s frame resprayed. I loved that bike although the furthest I could ever go on it was about two or three miles because I wasn’t allowed to leave the suburb where we lived.
Fast forward some years and I shelved the bike to concentrate on the serious business of growing up, meeting my “knight in shining armour”, having children and simply getting on with life. At one time, we moved overseas and when we arrived back in the UK, this time with three young children, we decided that instead of buying a car, we’d invest in bikes.
My husband had always cycled and already had his own bike. We bought a new bicycle for me, and three second-hand ones for the children as they were all still growing and would need replacements as they grew. We used our bicycles to get everywhere.
Our oldest boy soon got himself a job as a paper boy and would be up and out of the house long before anybody else was even stirring. He mentioned once that he must have ridden a good 100 miles a week delivering papers before he rode home to get some breakfast and then ride to school. No matter what the weather, he’d be off on the bike to the newspaper shop.
Once I watched him returning home on very icy, snowy roads and I thought “If he can do it, so can I”. So the following day I got my bike out to ride to work. I ended up getting off after about 500 yards because I couldn’t keep on it without slipping everywhere. I ended up pushing my bike all the way to work that day.
Our two youngest children also rode their bikes to and from school. When my husband and I went on short bike rides the two youngest children would join us, although once he was old enough, our oldest son refused, saying the newspaper job was enough for him.
We joined the Youth Hostel Association which allowed us to enjoy cheap holidays. Sadly, many of the hostels owned by the YHA have now fallen into disuse or sold on. But back in the 1980s and 90s they were very popular with both cyclists and walkers alike. Even if you had just ridden or walked miles to reach the Hostel, one of the requirements of staying at the hostel was that everyone had a job to do. Either clearing the kitchen after everybody had eaten, washing the dishes, or tidying and sweeping the floor. Another time, you might be given the job of sweeping out the dormitory you had stayed in before leaving. The children were as eager to do their bit as well. This kept the price of your night’s accommodation to a reasonable cost. These days things have changed and the hostels hire professional cleaners. The clientele has now changed as well. Of course, Youth Hostels, by definition of their name, cater for young people and are now popular places for groups of children from schools on Outreach courses.
Without the use of a car, both my husband and I rode to work on our bikes and we eventually joined a cycling club for social cycling on Sundays. We persuaded our youngest son to join us but once he turned 15 he declined, saying he didn’t really enjoy riding with a group where he was the only person younger than 35. He said “All you ever do is ride from coffee to coffee”. We had to give him that – generally we’d ride about 10 miles to stop for coffee. Then another 10 miles to a lunch stop. Finally, if we were lucky, and it wasn’t raining or too cold, we’d set off to find somewhere to stop for a cup of tea and cake before eventually riding home. Usually around 30 to 40 miles every Sunday.
One of my bikes was one my husband had started to build for our youngest son. Light green, by the time it was completed, it was too small for him! But just the right size for me. It can be seen in the picture with our son who is fixing a rear light to his bike.
After the children had all grown, my husband and I still carried on cycling and even went on holiday with friends to organised cycling events. The important thing was that we had found a past-time that we both enjoyed and our love of cycling has given us many fun and exciting memories. I remember riding passed a sign outside a church in an Oxfordshire village. It said “If you want to stay together, pray together” and I thought that, for us, our motto could be “If you want to stay together, ride together”.
I’ve had quite a few different bikes over the years and have fond memories in particular of my Chris Boardman bike. I always gave my bikes names and the one in the photo was “Thumper”. The Boardman was definitely “Stallion” because it was incredibly responsive and rode beautifully. This is hardly surprising because the designer was Christopher Boardman, a former British racing cyclist who won an individual pursuit Gold medal at the 1992 summer Olympics, and went on to win three stages of the Tour de France. For these achievements, he was awarded an MBE.
Sadly, my Boardman bike was eventually too big for me so I sold it on to a friend, who still uses it
during the summer months. The fact that it’s a ladies’ Boardman – differentiated by a nice large “C” in Pink – doesn’t seem to bother him. I now own a Racing Green (no pun intended) Dawes. The style has changed as the bike I ride now has a sloping down-bar and is easier for me to get on.
We no longer ride our bikes as much as we once did. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Nevertheless, we do have the odd day out and may even take the bikes with us this year when we go on holiday. Not everybody, of course, needs or wants to ride everywhere but for those who see it as a fun way of exercising, investing in a bike might be the best thing they ever did. And these days there is such a wide range of bikes to choose from. You can pick up a nice ‘about-town’ bike quite cheaply. Or if you want to join a social cycling club you will need to consider spending more money on a lighter bike with a generous set of gears to help you up those pesky hills. If you can afford to go one further, an e-bike might be the way forward.
I have a friend who bought a second-hand e-bike that only does 12 miles on one charge. This is enough for her as she uses it to get to the shops and back. Other friends have e-bikes that easily do 100 miles before needing a charge. Me? I’m waiting for one that self-charges as I pedal.
What skills or hobbies do you have? Has Jacqui’s article inspired you to write about one of your own interests?
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