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Childhood Memories – part four

A guest post from Mark forms part four of a series on Childhood Memories. You can see the rest of the posts by clicking on the ‘memories’ category at the top, under the title.

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My closest shave

After my Claud Butler mountain bike was stolen, that’s a whole other story, my Dad arranged a new bike from the house contents insurance.  We went to Halfords together and I picked out a bright red Saracen ‘Sahara Elite’ – complete with front fork suspension and all the trimmings.  By 1993 standards this was an expensive bike at nearly £500, even if it was from Halfords.

My only mode of transport when I was 15/16 was my bike – most of my friends lived 3 miles away or more.  One night, at nearly midnight, I cycled back from a friends house in Oakridge through Popley to Chineham – in those days lights were considered optional, and besides I was careful where I cycled which was usually away from the road – I always had to summon up all my bravery to pass under the railway bridge at the bottom of the Reading Road as it was in pitch darkness; the scene of many sexual assaults and a popular haunt of the flashers. Nothing ever happened to me but there was always that threat.

The Reading Road has a slight ascent, at the top of the hill was the old Q8 garage (no longer there), where we used to steal sweets on the way home from school, 50 or so yards beyond the garage was an alleyway that left the Reading Road to connect by foot to Mattock Way – caution usually made me stop at the end, Mattock Way was a busy estate road and the narrow alley was shielded either side by 6ft garden fences, but on this night I threw caution to the wind…

…as I shot out of the alley, with a bunny hop and half twist off the curb, a Ford Fiesta was travelling at speed along Mattock Way.  I collided with the rear bumper of the Fiesta, tearing it off, and I was hurled from my bike landing 30 or 40 feet away from the scene of devastation, my stunt roll was 10 point perfect.

I was shaking but I wasn’t hurt.  When I got to my feet, for some reason, I picked up the bumper – the young lady, in her early 20′s perhaps, who had been driving the car had stopped and had got out, she was visibly shaken.  I handed her the bumper and she put her arms around me and asked if I was OK - “God, you shit me up” was the expression that she used, she was kind, reassuring and she smelt nice.  Out of embarrassment and guilt I made my apologies and sheepishly collected my bike together; the front wheel was crumpled beyond repair having borne the force of the impact, but the rest of the frame seemed intact.

I carried the bike the last half mile home.  Through fear of my Dad’s reaction I hid the bike in the conifer trees by the side of the house rather than putting it away in the garage.  I didn’t really know what my plan was.  My memory is somewhat hazy about what actually did happen, though I remember having to walk most places for a year or so.

It was a foolish thing to do and almost 20 years later my cheeks still blush with shame.  I was lucky.  I still feel absolutely awful for frightening that poor woman, I doubt she will ever forget the incident.  I sorely regret that I didn’t take her name and details to apologies properly.  Other than the recent incident with a car nearly hitting me from the rear this has been my closest shave with serious injury or death whilst riding a bike – the lessons learnt have been invaluable.

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Mark also posts some rather good stuff over at Vélo Morphē.

“I don’t ride bikes”

In a turn of events that surprised us both in equal amounts, I convinced my friend Sabrina to join me for a bike ride through Sussex yesterday. Big thank you to George from Future Cycles in Lewes for lending Sabrina a bicycle for the day.

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I don’t ride bikes. Best put that out there as a starting point. I live and work in london but I have never used a Boris bike, I don’t take advantage of the cycle highways and I refuse to put flat shoes on to walk to the tube. I am the worst kind of city girl.

Lois and I in more usual circumstances (eg: not in Lycra)

My only real memory of cycling as a kid involved me falling into a car (the car was parked and I was stationary). My brother constantly enjoys reminding me of this incident 12 years later. I do actually own a bike, but it appears I buy bikes in the same way I buy my shoes; pretty, but completely unfit for purpose. The thing weighs an absolute ton and so has been used approximately 3 times as a result.

So, why yesterday did I find myself riding (nearly) 20 miles on a road bike through the Sussex countryside? Well, one Miss Lois May-Miller is my best friend and she promised me cake. I was putty in her hands.

Seeing Lois on a bike was something I never thought that I would see. When she first mentioned she would be taking part in 30 days of biking I had my reservations (perhaps don’t tell her that). The only things I had seen Lois stick to for more than 30 days was her love of gin, her distaste for poor grammar and her hatred of Nigella Lawson. However, as we all know, Lois has found a true passion in cycling and it has changed my friend for the better in more ways than I can recount here.

Coffee in Steyning. I can get on board with this cycling tradition.

The route we decided to take was along the Brighton seafront from Lois’s flat, through to Shoreham and up into Steyning (where the aforementioned cake would be found, at Steyning Tea Rooms). The flat seafront was much appreciated as I found my balance on a new bike with some rather fancy breaks and gears. I drive an automatic car: gears are a foreign language to me. Soon though, there were hills…many hills. I swore and cursed Lois’s existence several times but I am a stubborn woman and refused to give up. Slow and steady wins the race and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually do it. The sense of achievement is absouloutly huge when you reach the crest of a hill and realise that neither did you stop but you did’t fall into a bush either.

Moments after cursing Lois’s existence at the top of a hill

Amazing views from the road at Coombes

After the going up, comes the going down. The sense of liberation you get speeding down a hill is something I have never experienced before. Bugs in the mouth aside, it was brilliant fun and made me feel like a kid again, the kind that doesn’t fall into parked cars.

So how do I feel about cycling the morning after? Well, some unusual parts of my anatomy are a little sore but that aside I feel bloody brilliant about it. From the personal sense of achievement to the obvious community spirit which pervades the sport (we said hello to so many other cyclists en route), I can see why I have lost my friend to a bike named Claud.

Proof that I rode a bicycle!

From the nervous novice…

I have to admit that whilst I’m ever eager to hear about my friend Lois’s cycling pursuits, I was nervous about joining her for a ride.

For starters, I don’t own a bike. I haven’t owned a bike for 20 years and my last one was so rubbish that it eventually got cannibalised for go-cart parts by the boys in my street. Secondly, I’ve ridden a bike only once in 20 years – I hired an old fashioned bike for the afternoon to do some island sightseeing in Japan. But since Lois’s cycling passion has been so infectious this last month, I bit the bullet and boyf and I hired a couple of bikes so we could join in. Classic, what I think of as granny-style road bikes from Amsterdammers, under Brighton station – the bargain price of £10 per bike for the day.

We knew immediately that these bikes were a good decision – boyf said his was far easier to ride than the (slightly cooler looking) mountain bike he’d started the day with. My bike had 7 gears and a bell – that’s 7 more gears than I’ve ever used on a bike and whilst this terrified me, I worked out how to use them within 5 minutes (for which I expected applause).

I was mainly persuaded to join this ride on the promise of good coffee and pastries, but nonetheless after eating my fill I was genuinely excited to set off. From the bandstand, we headed along the super easy seafront cycle path up to Brighton Marina and on towards Rottingdean and I don’t think we could have picked a more beautiful and sunny day to be beside the sea.

In no time at all, we’d made it past the pier, behind the marina and up to the end of the under cliff path at Saltdean. We took a breather and enjoyed the sight of the amazing blue sky against the white cliffs and rock pools, where the tide had gone out. I’d forgotten how much I liked the under cliff path, but I’m just too lazy to walk it –a win for the bike, it took me no time to ride there.

We doubled back to the café at Ovingdean – bacon sarnies for the boys, cheeky flapjack for me (I could definitely see me joining more bike rides if they were book ended with cake). The ride had been so pleasant and gentle (all six miles of it so far), that I didn’t feel even slightly deserving of a cake stop –clearly, not that I’d let it stop me.

We cycled back to Brighton, waving goodbye at the pier to the hard core cyclists who were heading back to Uckfield (muchos respect for the distance, chaps), as we cycled back towards Hove (12 miles in total). Once we’d reached our starting point, I was sufficiently enthused to suggest we make the most of the day’s bike hire and continue to Southwick and back. With hindsight, I should have recognised my enthusiasm to continue might have outweighed boyf’s, but a total of 18 miles and two rather sore bottoms later, we returned our rented bikes feeling like we’d had good use out of them. Pretty respectable for novices, I think.

It’s definitely true that you notice your surroundings much more on 2 wheels. I was aware that I could smell the hedgerows and the sea salt and flowers that I’d never had noticed even on foot – I think cycling must heighten your senses. I also realised you have to take responsibility for yourself even more than you do in a car. A couple of times when I was spinning along, kids with scooters or bikes strayed into the cycle lane (I even saw a wheel chair in there), all of which are obstacles you need to negotiate or both of you will come to harm. I don’t think I’d stop to appreciate how frustrated cyclists must feel when people walk in the cycle lanes – it’s not easy to stop if they don’t move. As a pedestrian, I’m going to have to pay even more attention to the cycle lanes in future.

So how did I feel about cycling at the end of this? Genuinely interested. And if the next ride is on a sunny day and does similar wonders for my tan, I’m definitely in.

This is a guest post from my friend @georgecole, who came along for the Brighton Breakfast Ride on Day 22.

George with the hire bikes. (Photo by Cameron Cooke)