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.