My cousin got a bike for her 5th birthday. It is red, with white tyres, and a seat for her dolly on the back. She loves it. Watching her do loops around the patio on her new dream machine got me thinking about my own memories of cycling as a child, and how the things that made it exciting back then are essentially the same as the things that make it exciting now.
Riding a bike was one of the few situations in which I was allowed to go out on my own as a child. My brother and I would spend whole afternoons in the school holidays just cycling around the quiet roads, or taking our bikes to the woods with friends to build dens. Nobody strapping you in to the back of a car, nobody holding your hand, or telling you which way to go.
I might be able to drive a car or take a train on my own these days, but there is still no feeling of independence quite like riding a bike. You don’t rely on petrol, and you don’t rely on timetables and schedules. If you have a problem, you fix it yourself. And if you get lost, you’ve only yourself to blame…
The woods near our house seemed like an endless expanse as a child. An endless expanse that, by the time I was ten, I knew like the back of my hand. There was the oak tree with the low hanging branch that you could climb onto and use as a giant see-saw, and the narrow gap between two rocks that grown ups couldn’t fit through, but led to our secret den. I recall feeling very close to those woods, and feeling a sense of comfort from the fact that nobody could take them away from me.
Now I have all the roads of this country for my playground, and I have never felt closer to Sussex than since I started exploring it on a bike.
Hemingway sums this up with more eloquence than I could ever manage:
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
I can still remember the first time I went on a ‘proper’ bike ride with my dad. We got out an OS map, and worked out exactly where we’d go. With hindsight, he already knew where we going with no need for a map, but let me help him plan the route anyway. We were off on an adventure! It was 5 miles, that ride, but it felt epic. We passed streams and bluebells and pubs and tractors. We stopped on the side of the road for squash and biscuits. We got home and I told mum every detail, over hot chocolate, of course.
This morning I was pouring over the very same old OS map, planning a route. And I had just the same feeling. I’m off on an adventure!
You remember that feeling when you were a kid; you’d take your old battered hand-me-down bike, brakes rubbing on the wheel rims, saddle split at the seams, if you had gears only 3 of them would work, but it didn’t matter, you were off on an adventure with friends, to build a dam in the stream or to tear it up in the woods, or build a ramp out of bits of plywood you found in your dad’s garage …
[Mark Tearle, 30 Days of Biking UK.]
At the field near our house.
On holiday, aged 4(ish)
New bike! And I have animal stickers on my bicycle helmet. So all in all, pretty fly.