"I love my bike, cycling to work is good for me, lifts my mood and puts everything into perspective on the way home."
I still remember doing my Cycling Proficiency on my Raleigh Chopper aged 10. I learned on the suburban streets amongst the mock-Tudor 1930’s houses, the roads wide and quiet and not too hilly. By that age, I was well used to cycling around the local streets with a bunch of mates, just mucking about up and down the street, practicing riding hands-free, soaking up the sun and loving the feeling of the wind in my hair.
At secondary school we ventured further, meeting at my house on old jalopies in various states of repair to ride the few miles to school. If you didn’t have a bike, it didn’t matter. We could easily fit three on a bike – one standing and pedaling, one on the saddle, and the third hitching a backie on the rear rack. The school bike sheds were a hive of activity, a place to linger before and after lessons, or have a sneaky fag. My first ever Valentine’s card was left in my bike basket at school, with a swooningly romantic message inside, you diffuse the edges of my synthetic world. I never did find out who sent it. At weekends, we’d ride out to parks, or further afield. We didn’t really think about our means of transport, but bikes always meant freedom, sunny days, laughs with friends – and they still do.
The school boneshaker travelled with me to uni, then on to London where I cycled to work across Hyde Park, then the less salubrious route from Stoke Newington to Oxford Street. On sunny evenings, I jumped on my bike in dresses and high heels to go the local pub. I don’t remember ever oiling the chain the entire time I worked in London and I couldn’t even tell you what brand the rusty old thing was. Luckily most of my routes were pretty flat and not too far.
Fast-forward twenty years and I’m still riding my bike and loving it, but I’m very much aware of which brand it is, and amazed at what a difference a decent bike can make. Through the early years of having children, working and just trying to keep it together, I didn’t manage much cycling, but as they got a little older, it became my wonderful escape. A friend of mine and I met every Sunday at 7am with a view to training for a 60-mile sportive in my local area of Bath. Those cycle rides were like therapy. We put the world to rights, complained about our bosses, sympathised about the stresses and strains of being working mums. We went out in all weathers, just for the chat, really. Bath’s hilly and we had rubbish bikes, so when the going got tough, we got off and walked. Looking in the mirror when I got home, my eyes sparkled and my skin looked fresh. I was hooked on cycling again. I did the sportive on a bike with a basket, wearing a summer dress. I looked around me. There was lycra everywhere and while we lolled on the grass at the feed stations sipping coffee and chatting, we realized that no one else stopped. They just grabbed a sandwich and an energy drink and powered on, anxious to whiz around the course in record time. We finished, and felt great, but it was hard going, and we were a good couple of hours behind everyone else. I understood that there was a whole big world of bikes out there.
At the same time, I was working at the top of a very big hill. Bath’s packed with them. It doesn’t matter which way you go, there’s always a big bastard of a climb. I borrowed a friend’s bike to cycle to work one day, and it was a revelation. Spend a few hundred more on a bike and the difference is worth thousands. The boneshaker had to go.
Money was tight, but my company subscribed to Cyclesheme. I shopped around, read a few reviews, tried a few, and got a few quotes. It was wonderful to start bike shopping from zero, knowing I could max out the budget, buy a decent lock, indulge in a bit of lycra and still afford the children’s school shoes. I love the aesthetics of cycling, so I went for a bike from Temple Cycles, complete with leather d-lock holder and a shiny rose gold bell. It was great to be able to build it for myself, with a step-through frame, semi-swept handle bars (the first time I’d come across those words!) and enough gears to get me up those hills without getting off. I can’t stress highly enough how much difference a good bike makes. Even going along the flat is less effort – the bike rolls along with barely a pedal, going uphill is a whole different experience, and even downhill is different – I feel safer with a decent bike and good brakes. My bike came to £900, an outlay that’s out of many people’s pocket, but Cyclescheme makes it possible with a monthly, tax-free salary sacrifice that spreads the payments and reduces the overall cost – the actual cost to me was around £600 without the tax.
I love my bike, cycling to work is good for me, lifts my mood and puts everything into perspective on the way home. I don’t cycle every single day, but I try to at least twice a week, and I’d never miss my early morning Sunday cycle. It’s what keeps me sane.
Every time I get on my bike I’m reminded of my childhood self and feel that wonderful sense of freedom and simple, childish pleasure. It’s the best part of my working day, even on those pesky hills!
Helen Fripp runs Velocci, a cycling website for women who love cycling – and those who don’t know they love it yet - exploring lovely, safe routes with coffee stops, finding best gear and bringing you a blog that celebrates the joy of cycling for everyone. Take a look and sign up for the newsletter for all the latest news and reviews.