It was when my most resolutely anti-exercise friend launched into a paeon of praise for her bike (‘Your WHAT?!’ was my initial response), that I knew Something Was Up. Our conversation continued thus:
Her: “It’s great, you get exercise, you don’t have to use public transport, you feel like a kid again”
Her: “And it’s cheap, and I’ve lost weight, and I feel better, and you can look at nature, and I’ve been sleeping better, and…”
Sleep. Sleep is a significant thing in my life, as I oscillate between being akin to Sleeping Beauty, but with a lie-in tacked on just in case, or because I can’t get to sleep at all. The idea of getting eight hours sleep, regularly, is as foreign to me as having a regular manicure: I know it exists, I know people who do it, but….Nope. Not happening.
On top of which, I was rather ill earlier this year with pleurisy, which led to my lung function heading downriver, and the Black Dog’s pawsteps coming a little too close to mine for comfort. Not a serious depression, I hasten to add, just a…..sad filter over my feelings more often, and to a greater degree than was comfortable. I’ve been there. I’d rather not revisit, thanks.
So, I got a bike. A (very) cheap, secondhand mountain bike, albeit with an improbable number of gears. The first thought I had was ‘It’s true, you do never forget how’, the second was ‘Bloody hell, Colchester is hilly’ or to be strictly accurate, ‘OW, my ARSE’. To which it replied ‘1:4 incline. First time in twenty years. Can we go home now?’
Once my derrière and I had resumed normal diplomatic relations, it was clear I had Found My Thing and within a fortnight riding a bike everywhere became as reflexive as (my suddenly much easier) breathing. Whizzing around, I was freshly defiant of the Black Dog, ‘Right, you bastard, try catching me now’, as I changed into third.
For most of us, bike-riding is something discovered in childhood, a time of being carefree, a sense of unmediated joy, of not having anything crucial to do other than be, and discover. Of seeing the world without the patina of experience,and having the time to actually notice the world, rather than rushing through it on the way to our very important jobs.
I defy anyone to freewheel down a hill, and to not hear even the most distant tinkle of that childhood joy. Being on my bike gives me the feeling that if only for a little while, I’ve side-stepped the pressures of my everyday, bog-standard, stressy life, and am slip-streaming alongside them. In addition to which, gritting my teeth in determination to make it up the next sodding hill was a new sort of goal, and one that much to my surprise I actually relished setting myself.
Then of course the inevitable happened. My bike got nicked. I didn’t so much walk home as grump my way there. The next two months consisted of feeling like every journey was going too slowly, glaring at those fortunate souls who still had their bikes, and feeling all the improvements in my mood, and sleep, and general me-ness slip away.
So I got another bike, from a lovely, small local bike shop. And TWO enormous locks, and panniers, and headlights, but I need to get some rear-view mirrors and oh God, I’ve become a bike person. I’ve even given it a name; Zebedee, who is faster than despair.