Thirty six years after it happened I can still remember the exact second that I fell in love with riding bikes.
It wasn’t a gradual thing that took place over a few weeks, a few months or a year or so. Instead, It happened at one precise moment in time. Precisely one turn of the pedal and I was hooked.
I have not lost that love even now, almost four decades later.
I was 10 years old and in my last year at a village primary school in the middle of the Herefordshire countryside.
My normal journey to school was on a bus that picked me up from outside my house, and then meandered its way down lanes and over hills that seemed to be the most awkward way possible to get to school that a 10 year old could imagine. I usually spent the journey playing a handheld video console called Godzilla. It was the height of technological advances with 3d screens that flipped open when you reached the next level.
Several years earlier I had been handed down a 3 speed “Raleigh Racer” from a cousin who had outgrown it. It was too big for me to get on at the time, and so spent a few lonely years gathering dust in my dad’s garage. I would often walk into the garage just to look at this bike and wonder how long it would be before I would be able ride it.
When the time finally come and I was actually tall enough, I tested the waters by swinging my leg over the bike to see if I could stand astride it without the cross bar (or top tube for the millennials) trying to cut me in two. Those that believe in fate may well say that the timing of this coinciding with the other catalyst for my new love was pre-determined. That other catalyst was my friends staying late after school. You see, these were different times and kids did not have to be permanently under an adult’s protection. We were free to roam the countryside, and do as we pleased so long as we were home before dark and in time for tea.
Once the end of school bell rang we were free agents. There was no hand over from teacher to parent. The group of kids who were driven to school by their parents would play football, cricket, or a game called British Bulldog (until it was banned because of a rumour of kids having their legs broken whilst playing it) while waiting to be picked up by their mums an hour or so after the end of the school day.
Not wanting to be left out of all the fun, I figured out that if I rode my new bike to school instead of catching the bus then I could stay behind to join in, before riding home in time for tea. The only problem was home to school was a 7 mile journey and I had never ridden further than the end of our garden before. The efficiency of travelling by bicycle came as a surprise to me and the distance was quite easy to cover and took no more than half an hour.
I made this journey for a couple of weeks whilst enjoying the extra time with my friends and the games of football or cricket we played together. The independence of being in control of my own time and my own movements was rapidly showing its appeal. But, every journey home was marred by the fact that I had to get off and push up one particularly steep hill. With just 3 gears on my bike it seemed like an impossible task. I decided to make it my mission, to get up this hill without pushing, without being beaten by it, without surrendering to its spiteful gradient.
On each attempt I managed to get a little further, but the hill always got the better of me.
Then it happened. There was nothing different about that day. It was the same journey home, on the same road as many days before it. Only this time I refused to give up. Struggling up that hill, the same hill I had pushed up every time previously. My legs screaming with every turn of the pedals. I stood up and continued to grind it out. Blocking the pain out, refusing to give in to the overwhelming desire to climb off. Not this time. Not today. I was going to make it, not matter how much it hurt. That was the day that I made it to the top.
And that was it. That was the moment. The moment I fell in love with cycling. It was the moment I realised that the pain could be overcome. I could continue. Mind over matter if you like.
And so began my lifelong love of riding bikes.