In which the Reluctant Cyclist actually goes for a ride.
Three bikes were hauled to London in, on and around my very small car: my youngest’s Frog bike, my eldest’s lilac ebay offering and my new loan Trek bike. We had decided to go for an actual ride, on a route chosen by my boyfriend for its lack of main roads and the ice cream stop in the middle.
This was my first time out on anything approaching a road bike, the purple bike of doom having been a faux-mountain job with thick tyres and fake suspension. My first concern was, naturally, the saddle. It was one of those skinny jobs that Chris Garrison favours, so I decided to pack my comfy big bum saddle for the return journey. When I say pack, I mean ‘put in my boyfriend’s rucksack’ as the sleek looking Trek didn’t come with either a pannier rack or a basket. How do these road cycling people get home with their shopping?
My second concern was the skinniness of the tyres. These, I am reliably informed were 28mm wide and quite frankly I failed to see how my large poundage could actually be carried by these whippets, let alone how I could balance on them.
Despite the threatening rain, and already down one rider due to illness, we set off from E14 along fairly quiet back roads towards the Lea navigation towpath. It soon became clear that although my daughter was fairly fast, she wasn’t very road-aware, so we flanked her like police outriders to protect her from the London traffic. It turned out that the lightness of my new bike made things a lot easier; I could pull away quickly at junctions and manoeuvrability was significantly improved compared to previous journeys.
We made it safely to the towpath with only one minor incident where a motorist, despite seeing we were cycling with a child, decided to sound his horn to let us know we weren’t progressing fast enough across a junction for his liking.
The towpath presented its own challenges to add to my lengthening list of concerns as it was a) narrow b) full of bridges to be ridden up and c) constantly threatening to present a rather wet encounter if I pulled any of my falling off tricks. I wasn’t the only one to be a little nervous and my daughter quickly developed the habit of coming to a dead stop in the face of any challenging terrain, forcing me to either hit her (risk of pushing her into the canal) or to swerve (risk of me falling in the canal).
Pressing on up bridge and down, err, bridge, we navigated past walkers, dogs and other cyclists along the gravel paths up towards Victoria Park. Going under the bridges added a Star Wars vibe to the ride, as they were fitted with glowing green light panels along the floor which appeared to turn on as you rode up to them.
It wasn't long before I felt I was rather getting the hang of the Trek, and having limited myself to messing about with only one of the two sides of gear levers, I even managed a short ascent up a sharply rising cobbled path which defeated a man in lycra riding a Giant mountain bike. It was probably not that appropriate to point at him and shout ‘I just scaled that’, but he seemed to take it in good humour.
Upon reaching the park and its wide open traffic free wide pathways, I suddenly felt the need for speed. ‘Race you’, I said, rather inappropriately to my daughter, and set off apace. This was how riding should be. Totally flat, no traffic, and fast enough to beat a seven year-old. I thought that I was up for entering the next Olympics until my boyfriend sailed past us both at what appeared to be cruising speed. However, this was the fastest I had ever gone on a bike and a distinct improvement on my last trip out with my daughter where she spent the time complaining about me holding her back.
Faster than a seven year-old. That’s good enough for me. Oh, and the skinny saddle? I kind of didn’t notice it after a bit so it stayed on for the whole eight mile round trip. Shh, don’t tell Chris.