In which the Reluctant Cyclist encounters the pain barrier.
It could be put off no longer. I had the kit, the bike, the weather and the time. It was the day of ‘The Big Ride’.
There are many debates over whether people on bikes are cyclists, commuters, bike-users or the vehicle-ularly challenged, but my personal definition is that if you are going on a ride and the point is the ride, rather than the destination, then you are a cyclist. The idea of this ride was to find out how far and fast I could actually travel on a bike, when unencumbered by destinations, deadlines, or 7-year-olds.
The question of what to wear loomed large in my mind. Having brought an array of options, the sunny day lent itself to a sports top and a pair of my partner’s old cycling shorts (happy now Christina?) well-hidden under an easy stretchy summer dress. To complete the outfit I niftily invented the ‘sock turn-down’ look, which neatly dealt with the potential for laces/chain disasters. Topped off with a helmet I was ready to depart.
Having added to my definition of a cyclist (you are a cyclist if you get the train to where you want to cycle) my partner and I transported our bikes from East London to the borders of Essex to start the actual ride. I was perfectly happy to cycle along the city roads but my other half assured me that it would be much more fun in the countryside.
Having spent much of my life living in the countryside, I wasn’t too enamoured with this idea, knowing as I do, that the quality of the road surfaces decrease and the amount of tractors increase once you head out of town. Neither of which I could see adding to my enjoyment of the day, but bowing to his experience we headed out to see if the green belt was still intact.
Off the train and onto the bike, I set off with a virtual dashboard of tracking devices: speedometer, milometer, timer, and of course iPhone for social communication purposes. The milometer worked in km, which was a bonus in that the numbers progressed quite quickly, but a fail in so much as giving me any idea of how far I had actually ridden.
The general idea of the day was train-bike-pub-bike-train-
To contextualise this, I calculated that as I live 60 miles (100km – thanks google) from London, it would take me about 6 hours to cycle home. As I have friends who ride this distance annually on charity rides in about half the time, I decided that my progress was somewhat underwhelming.
About 5km into our journey, my partner heard a shout of “*#!ing *#!*” from behind him. I had spotted a hill. He definitely hadn’t mentioned hills. Being from Cambridge they are a pretty rare occurrence in my life. This hill was preceded by a railway bridge shaped hillock and then ascended upwards in what looked through the summer haze to be much more mountainous than I had remembered Essex to be.
Use your gears, you’ll be fine, it’s not as bad as it looks!
My partner lied as he breezily set off ahead of me.
As I tried to remember which lever made things easier and which made things harder, I naturally chose the wrong one and made the initial assault on the hill rather harder than it ought to have been. This was quickly remedied and I began the long slog upwards, my legs racing round and round like Catherine wheels to no discernible effect.
Having kept a small distance in front for the ride so far, my partner now disappeared up the hill at a speed I couldn’t hope to match, leaving me breathing like an arthritic snail with a 40-a-day habit as I slowed to below walking pace to tackle the ascent.
I did get up the hill and didn’t walk, but I was too knackered to feel any sense of achievement, and anyway, this wasn’t Everest so it wasn’t even mission complete, there was more riding to be done.
After about an hour in the saddle, the nagging pain in my bottom started to build and I cursed saddle, ineffective shorts and, in her absence, Chris, from luring me away from my Selle Big Bum saddle happiness to the dark side of skinny saddles with minimal padding.
As the pain crescendoed from my sit bones through into my coccyx, which wasn’t even in contact with the saddle so was clearly faking sympathy pains. I had to admit defeat and dismount. My partner googled the nearest pub, but even the 3/4 of a mile of additional riding seemed too much as I lay on the grass, nursing my injuries and my pride in equal measure.
Deciding that the only course of action was to head for home, I covered my saddle in my partner’s favourite fleece (passive-aggressive, moi?) in an attempt to cushion my poorly sit-bones against the ride back. This did a little to alleviate the pain, as did utilising the bike’s tendency to roll on under its own steam for periods whilst I gratefully lifted my bum off the saddle and free-wheeled.
Not only did we fail to reach the promised pub lunch, I never got that bath either as I fell asleep the moment I hit the sofa upon arriving home. In the end I had managed 25km and felt that I could have gone for longer if I was more accustomed to the actual saddle.
Consulting Chris after the ride, her advice was to keep with it and ride until my bottom becomes used to it. To this end, I will be cycling every day for a week.
Expect pain and whining.