Free Wheeling – A celebration of cycling
I got my first bike (as opposed to trike) when I was 7 or 8. Like many I found it a daunting experience to learn how to ride it and initially I have to admit I couldn’t much see the point. But I did learn and for most of my life cycling has provided a great source of pleasure.
I come from cycling stock. My maternal grandfather was an inveterate cyclist into 70s and my father used to regale us as kids with youthful cycling feats including a trip round the coast of Wales, something I still have a strong ambition to do myself.
I really got the bug myself as a teenager when I used to go out cycling in the country lanes of leafy Warwickshire, with occasional day trips to places like Warwick and Stratford. Oxford leant itself to cycling and as a student I migrated to longer distance ventures, especially once I had acquired my first really nice bike as a 21st birthday present. Finally when I moved to London to work I was persuaded to take up commuting to work by bike something I still do to this day.
On its day cycling is a very wonderful feeling. I am sure there is a chemical rationale for that but I prefer the more poetic explanation. There is something special about being able to generate such speed from one’s own exertions. The very sense of movement on a bike is pleasurable, especially when one is travelling downhill or on the flat.
There is something about cycling which makes it a supremely good for enjoying and absorbing the scenery through which one is passing. The seat of bike is an excellent point of observation and the pace of cycling makes it ideal for appreciating the changing scenery around you. In a car you notice far less and on foot it is rarer to see the changes in landscape which one can inevitably do on a bicycle.
As someone who lives a busy life the opportunity to cycle during the working day gives me the perfect opportunity to incorporate physical exercise into my daily routine. Cycling does not have the tyranny of some forced exercise such as going to the gym (nothing against it but I wouldn’t manage it in a thousand years). Best of all it is simultaneously good for my mental well-being. My time in the saddle is the time I have to process what’s happened to me in the day and often to fill my head with bigger and better thoughts. It is metaphorically (though clearly not literally) the time I have to follow W.H.Davies’s advice “to stand and stare”.
Beyond the individual domain cycling is a public health issue. Increasing the take up of cycling is clearly one of the best ways of ensuring more people still fit and healthy (both physically and mentally). But this will only be possible if we create the conditions for safe cycling. In 2012 122 cyclists were killed on Britain’s roads, the highest total for 5 years. This is despite significant investment in improving cycling facilities which are in many cities are much improved from when I first started serious cycling in the late 1970s. It’s part of the imaginative thinking which is needed on public health in this country to see investment on encouraging cycling and making it safe as a very good use of public money.
Cycling like all things in life has its downsides. The times you are caught in a sudden shower and soaked to the skin. The days when the wind is blowing powerfully into you face and pedalling becomes a hard slog. The antics of a white van driver cutting you up at a junction. They are far outweighed however by the joys it can bring.
So get pedalling!